Court rules against BP-DuPont venture in patent dispute

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 15, 2013

A federal court in Delaware this week ruled against joint BP PLC-DuPont Co. venture Butamax in a patent dispute over isobutanol, a drop-in biofuel that many in the industry see as a better alternative to ethanol.

In a final judgment issued Wednesday, Judge Sue Robinson said that Gevo Inc. didn’t infringe on one of Butamax’s patents and that some claims made by the joint venture on another patent were invalid. The judgment came after the court ruled earlier this year for Gevo in the dispute.

The lawsuit filed by Butamax alleged that Gevo had infringed on patents involving the fermentation of carbon alcohols and a method of making isobutanol using recombinant yeast.

“We applaud the final judgment, which allows us to focus on being the leader in commercializing renewable isobutanol and maintaining our freedom to operate,” Brett Lund, Gevo’s executive vice president and general counsel, said yesterday. “We feel vindicated that Butamax itself admitted that Gevo does not infringe when the court’s interpretation of the patent claims is applied.”

The decision by the U.S. District Court of Delaware is the latest step in a patent war between Gevo and Butamax, the two U.S. companies furthest along in commercializing isobutanol technology. Since January 2011, the companies have filed at least six lawsuits against each other and have asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine their competitor’s patents.

The two companies are expected to meet in court again in July over a patent that Gevo is alleging Butamax infringed. The patent, which covers Gevo’s separation technology, is currently under re-examination by the patent office.

Isobutanol is one of four compounds of butanol, an alcohol with a four-carbon structure and, traditionally, a primary ingredient in Scotch whisky. When the oxygen molecule is removed, isobutanol becomes a building block for petrochemicals that can be turned into gasoline, jet fuel, rubber products and a wide variety of materials (Greenwire, Oct. 2, 2012).