BP-DuPont Biofuels JV Takes Gevo to Court

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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 elane@luce.com.

About Author

Eric Lane is a patent and trademark attorney and the Principal at Green Patent Law in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog. Mr. Lane can be reached at (619) 818-6043 and at elane@greenpatentlaw.com.

  • jarvis

    The united states way of innovation, innovate to hinder innovation!

  • cyc0tic

    All sounds dirty dealings. I think BP and Dupont are two who are untrust worthy. They can burn in hell for all I care

  • Overmod

    And exactly why is this supposed to be ‘patent trolling’?

    Oil companies have a particular interest in butanol because, unlike the other power alcohols, it can travel happily through pipeline-based transport and distribution infrastructure.

    It also sounds as if Gevo is more than usually ‘infringing’ on the terms of a valid patent. Why precisely is there an assumption that BP and DuPont are not proceeding with a commercialization of isobutanol production, and merely blocking Gevo from producing to keep isobutanol off the market completely?

    Does the author know for certain that Butamax is not engaging in plans to produce and market recombinant isobutanol as a gasoline additive? I’m cynical enough to accept that this might be so… but it flies in the face of more than 15 years of discussion pointing out how valuable isobutanol can be as a renewable fuel that works in the existing oil-distribution system… oh, excuse me, why would that be of interest to just the ‘players’ in the alternative-fuel business who have large investment or stranded cost in that distribution system…

    • http://www.greenpatentblog.com Eric Lane

      Overmod:

      The author has not made any suggestion that this is “patent trolling” and has made no assertions about Butamax’s plans.

      Eric

  • http://www.GeneralPatent.com patent litigation

    It was a Slashdot blogger reporting this story who characterized it as “patent trolling.” This was, of course, a completely incorrect use of the term “patent troll.”

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