Before we get into the new news, let’s take a quick look back at the top green IP stories of 2015.
5. Automaker Eco-marks
Branding of hybrid and electric vehicles remained important last year, and both Chevrolet and Toyota made progress in protecting and enforcing their trademark rights in 2015.
Chevy overcame some obstacles in its U.S. trademark applications for the BOLT and CHEVROLET BOLT marks. It seems these applications were filed as early as possible to secure registration based on Chevy’s planned production date of its all-electric concept car coming to market in 2017.
Toyota prevailed in an opposition proceeding, shutting down a Chinese company that wanted to register PRIUS as a trademark for tobacco flavors and smoking paraphernalia.
4. Biodiesel Tax Credit Greenwashers Plead Guilty and Go to Jail
Last year, a number of people were sentenced to jail time for charges related to schemes involving false production of biodiesel renewable identification numbers (RINs).
Four individuals in Florida were sentenced to prison time for representing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that they had produced biodiesel, generating fraudulent biodiesel RINs, and selling the fake RINs to third parties.
In Texas, the operator of a company called Green Diesel LLC pled guilty to charges of claiming to produce millions of gallons of biodiesel and generating and selling about 45 million fake RINs based on the claim. Under the plea deal, he faces more than 10 years in prison and will be responsible for $51 million in restitution to reimburse victims of the scheme.
3. EV Patent Commons
Picking up where Tesla left off in 2014, Toyota and Ford made opening up patents directed to electric vehicles and related technology a trend in 2015. Neither made open-ended, no restriction offers like Tesla, though.
In January Toyota announced that its patents related to hydrogen fuel cell technology would be available for use without any royalties. The hydrogen production and supply patents are open for “an unlimited duration.” However, the fuel cell patents are available for royalty-free licenses only until the end of 2020.
Ford followed in May with an announcement that it was offering its EV patents for license “for a fee.” This is not a donation. Far from it; Ford simply stated that other parties could pay to license their EV patents.
2. High-tech Greenwashing
A new trend emerged in 2015: that of technological greenwashing. Rather than making false or misleading statements in ads and other marketing materials, or providing express statements of inflated numbers, this new form of greenwashing uses technology to deceive.
The most prominent example was the major news of the Volkswagen emissions scandal in which the German automaker admitted to intentionally programming a number of its diesel vehicles to activate emissions controls only during testing. The vehicles’ software allowed the nitrogen oxide (NOx) output to satisfy U.S. emissions standards during testing while producing much higher emissions during actual driving conditions.
Another high-tech greenwashing case is the lawsuit accusing Ford of claiming that a software update for the Fusion Hybrid would increase performance and mileage. According to the plaintiff, the car’s monitor displayed better mileage and less gas usage after the upgrade but the numbers were inaccurate and the vehicle’s actual mileage did not improve.
A troubling trend, given that the entire deception is cloaked in technology.
1. Biobutanol Patent Warriors Settle
A significant green patent case settled in 2015. In August, Colorado-based Gevo and BP-DuPont joint venture Butamax entered into worldwide patent cross-license and settlement agreements.
The deal ended a massive patent dispute that began back in early 2011 and grew to comprise at least 17 lawsuits and 14 patents relating to methods of producing biobutanol.
The core of the deal was that Butamax takes the lead in the on-road gasoline market and Gevo gets the jet fuel market.
The litigation was notable both for its size and as the first foray of big oil into biofuels patent lawsuits.