Butamax Advanced Biofuels (Butamax) is a Delaware-based joint venture between BP and DuPont formed in 2009 to develop biobutanol.
Biobutanol is an advanced biofuel which has some important advantages over ethanol, including an energy content closer to that of gasoline and the capacity to create higher blend concentrations with gasoline.
Butamax owns U.S. Patent No. 7,851,188, entitled “Fermentive production of four carbon alcohols” (’188 Patent). The ’188 Patent is directed to Butamax’s biobutanol production technology and recombinant microbial host cells that produce the biofuel.
Last month Butamax sued Gevo, an Englewood, Colorado, advanced biofuels company, for infringement of the ’188 Patent.
The complaint (Butamax_Complaint), filed in federal court in Delaware, alleges that Gevo’s isobutanol production pathway infringes the ’188 Patent:
On information and belief, Gevo makes recombinant microbial host cells by engineering DNA constructs containing isobutanol pathway genes and integrating them into the cells. These DNA constructs encode enzymes that catalyze conversion of 1) pyruvate to acetolactate; 2) acetolactate to 2,3-dihydroxyisovalerate; 3) 2,3-dihydroxyisovalerate to α-ketoisovalerate; and 4) α-ketoisovalerate to isobutyraldehyde. These host cells produce isobutanol through this pathway.
According to the complaint, Gevo has produced isobutanol using such microbial host cells in a retrofitted ethanol production facility and is converting another ethanol facility for isobutanol production.
Butamax is seeking an injunction and monetary damages.
As far as I know, this is the first instance of biofuel patent litigation involving a major oil company. With the oil majors increasingly involved in biofuels startups via research funding, buyouts, and JVs like Butamax, it won’t be the last.
Eric Lane is a patent attorney at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog. Mr. Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.