From the Frying Pan to the Gas Tank

Restaurant Technologies owns a patent for a waste cooking oil removal system.  The invention disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,249,511 can distribute and meter fresh oil, filter and recirculate used oil, and remove and store waste oil.  The system eliminates the need for manual handling of hot oil and the need to filter and dispose of the oil at selected intervals.  The system includes a filter station, a fryer station with a pair of valves, a supply station with a storage tank and an entrance and exit valve, and a waste station comprising a receptacle and an entrance and exit valve.  The stations are connected by piping, and a valve controller selects the pipe path among the stations.  The system can be operated electronically or manually; the operator either uses a microprocessor or a manual network of push-pull knobs to open and shut the appropriate valves and effect the desired operation.

Restaurant Technologies sued  and Klee’s Bar & Grill in U.S. District Court in New Jersey for using an allegedly infringing oil supply system.  The accused equipment was provided by Oilmatic, which came to the defense of its customers and sued Restaurant Technologies for unfair competition, antitrust violations and a declaratory judgment that its system did not infringe the ‘511 patent.  The Oilmatic system consists of a fresh oil tank, a waste oil tank, piping connected to pumps, a waste pipe nozzle and a dipstick nozzle to fill or remove cooking oil from a fryer vat.  The user controls operations by turning a switch on the dipstick nozzle to “fill”, “off” or “drain” and pressing a pump start/stop button.

The claims of the patent include the terms “control means” for operating the valves and selecting a pipe path and “means for metering oil” to the fryer.  These terms are written in accordance with the  “means-plus-function” provision of U.S. patent law, which permits a patentee to draft claims that recite a function to be performed without also reciting in the claims the structure needed to perform the function.  The patentee must disclose corresponding structure elsewhere in the patent.  A “means-plus-function” claim term is interpreted by determining which structure disclosed in the written description of the patent corresponds to the function recited in the patent claims.

The court determined that the corresponding structure for the “control means” includes microprocessor controls and the manual push-pull knob network.  The court held the Oilmatic system does not satisfy this claim element because it has no microprocessor controls and the dipstick switch and button is substantially different from Restaurant Technologies’ knob network.  The court found that the corresponding structure for the “means for metering oil” is a trigger valve with a nozzle which opens when the valve is squeezed.  Although the Oilmatic system uses a nozzle, it does not employ a squeezable valve.  Instead, oil is supplied to the fryer by pushing the start button on the dipstick to turn on the fresh oil pump, which operates by shaft rotation, not squeezing.  Therefore, the court found that the Oilmatic system does not infringe the ‘511 patent.   

Systems like those provided by Restaurant Technologies and Oilmatic could work synergistically with the business model of companies like New Leaf Biofuel, which collects waste cooking oil from restaurants and uses it as raw material for biodiesel production.  Waste oil recovery technology could help to increase the supply of raw materials for biodiesel and improve the pathway from the frying pan to the gas tank. 

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.