Archive for the ‘Biofuels Patents’ category

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More Green Patent PR: Aphios Announces Grant of Cellulosic Biomass Patent

February 18th, 2014

Readers of this blog know that I have a soft spot for patent PR, particularly green patent PR (see, e.g., here and here).  So I’m always interested in covering announcements by green tech companies about their patents.

Aphios, a Massachusetts company that develops technology for cellulosic biomass conversion, recently put out a press release announcing the grant of U.S. Patent No. 8,540,847 (‘847 Patent).

Entitled “Methods and apparatus for processing cellulosic biomass,” the ‘847 Patent is directed to methods and apparatus for making ethanol or other biofuels using what Aphios calls its Aosic process.

The apparatus (11) described and claimed in the patent comprises a first vessel (13) for receiving cellulosic biomass and conveying means (15) in fluid communication with the first vessel (13).  The apparatus (11) also comprises supercritical, critical, or near critical fluid means (17), which includes a source of gas, such as gas tank (41), holding carbon dioxide pressurized to form supercritical, critical, or near critical fluid.

The fluid means (17) is in fluid communication with conveying means (15) via conduit (31).  A pump (47) is connected to a heat exchanger (55), which controls the temperature of the supercritical, critical, or near critical fluid.

The cellulosic biomass is loaded into the first vessel (13) and becomes laden with the supercritical, critical, or near critical fluid.  Discharge means (21) is in fluid communication with the conveying means (15) for receiving cellulosic biomass laden with the supercritical, critical, or near critical gas and discharging  the gas to form a disrupted cellulosic biomass.

A second vessel assembly (23) may include a hydrolysis vessel (23a) and a fermentation vessel (23b) for further processing of the cellulosic biomass.  Discharge means (21), including a discharge pipe (71) is connected to a turbine (73), which captures the kinetic energy of the expanding gas.  The turbine (73) is coupled to an electric generator to recover and recycle energy from the process.

According to the press release, contacting the cellulosic biomass with the supercritical, critical, or near critical fluid or gas improves the process by separating the fibers of the biomass:

In the Aosic process, biomass is contacted with SuperFluids such as carbon dioxide with or without small quantities of polar solvents such as ethanol, both sourced from the downstream fermentation process.  Pressure is released and fibers are made more accessible to enzymes as a result of expansive forces of SuperFluids (about 10 times those of steam explosion) and carbonic acid hydrolysis.

The ‘847 Patent says the process provides biomass recovery yields between 95 and 99 percent.  Thanks to Biofuels Digest, from whence I picked up the Aphios news.

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The Top Green IP Stories of 2013

January 13th, 2014

Before we turn to new green IP issues as they unfold in 2014, here is a look back at some of the top stories from 2013.

 

No. 7:  Green Patent PR

Clean tech is competitive, and PR is one of the tools used to stand out in a competitive industry.  But who would have thought PR around green patents could be so prevalent and contentious?  After DuPont sued Heraeus for alleged infringement of a patent directed to solar paste, the chemical giant put out a press release about filing the suit and the problem of IP theft in clean tech.

Heraeus counterclaimed for unfair competition and later threatened a separate lawsuit over the press release.  DuPont then filed a declaratory judgment action asking an Oregon federal court to declare that the company’s press release and customer letters about its patent infringement suit against Heraeus do not violate unfair competition laws.

My research indicates that clean tech companies engage in a substantial amount of PR around patent matters, with the clean tech industry generating the fifth highest number of patent-focused press releases.  DuPont’s disputed press release notwithstanding, the vast majority of clean tech industry press releases relate to patent prosecution.

 

No. 6:  Boston University Leads LED Lit

LED patent litigation continued to grow in 2013.  Leading the way this past year was the Trustees of Boston University, which sued dozens of defendants including AU Optronics, BlackBerry Corporation, Dell, Fujifilm, HTC, Eastman Kodak, Olympus, Sharp, and Sony.

The patent in these suits is U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738, entitled “Highly insulated monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” and directed to gallium nitride semiconductor devices and methods of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber.

 

No. 5:  Criminalizing Greenwashing 2.0

As discussed in this space, a new greenwashing paradigm has emerged where cases are brought by or on behalf of commercial consumers and involve B-to-B communications and misrepresentations (as opposed to advertising of consumer products directed to individual consumers).

In 2013 we began to see a new species of greenwashing 2.0 case:  criminal actions brought by governmental authorities for environmental crimes and fraud (see, e.g., here and here).

In one case a Colorado company called Executive Recycling and some of its officers were sentenced to imprisonment and fines for falsely representing that the company would dispose of all electronic waste (mostly cathode ray tubes) in an environmentally friendly manner in the United States when it instead sold the electronic waste it received to brokers for export overseas to China and other countries.

In another, the feds prosecuted companies for allegedly generating and selling fraudulent Renewable Energy Credits (RINs), and Cargill separately brought a civil action involving similar allegations.

 

No. 4:  Sinovel Faces Criminal Indictment in US

The AMSC- Sinovel copyright and trade secret dispute involving wind turbine control systems was big news in 2012, but legally speaking, mostly civil.

That changed in 2013 when the U.S. Department of Justice filed an indictment in federal court in Wisconsin alleging that Sinovel, two of its employees, and a former AMSC employee conspired to commit trade secret theft and criminal copyright infringement.

The indictment said the purpose of the alleged conspiracy was to illegally obtain proprietary source code, software, equipment designs and technical drawings relating to AMSC’s wind turbine control systems., thereby cheating AMSC out of more than $800,000,000.

 

No. 3:  Greenwashing Costs LED Maker $21 Million

In an indication of how seriously the American justice system may now be taking greenwashing, a Los Angeles federal court enjoined LED maker Lights of America (LOA) and ordered the company to pay $21,165,863.47.

This followed a decision holding that LOA violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by making false claims about LED lamps replacing certain wattage incandescent lamps and about the lifetime of the company’s LED lamps.

The case was brought by the FTC, America’s competition and consumer watchdog agency.  The FTC was to receive the $21 million, and the court directed the FTC to deposit the money into a redress fund to be used for consumer redress.

 

No 2:  Burgeoning Biofuels Battles

While The Gevo-Butamax litigation was a major story of 2012, notable both for its size and as the first foray of big oil into biofuels patent suits, biofuels patent litigation in general makes the 2013 list.

Not only did Gevo and Butamax continue their “patent war over who can make biobutanol,” with big decisions starting to come down, but Danish enzyme maker Novozymes also was active in the courts, Danisco scored a big summary judgment win against Novozymes, GreenShift expanded its ethanol production patent enforcement campaign, and Neste’s biodiesel patent suits changed direction with the court staying the suits pending reexamination of the asserted patents.

 

No. 1:  Solar Patent Surge

Since the start of green patent history (admittedly a very brief era in the cosmic scheme of things), as recorded by the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI), fuel cells dominated other technologies and perennially led the green patent rankings.

That changed in 2013.  In its first-quarter report the CEPGI noted that the 217 solar patents granted were just one behind fuel cells’ 218, “the smallest differential on record [suggesting] that Solar patents are poised to pass Fuel Cell patents.”

As predicted, the Q2 report showed solar patents beating out fuel cell patents for the first time, surging ahead with 246 solar patents granted in the second quarter, with fuel cell patents in second place at 209.

According to CEPGI, “Solar patents’ quarterly win makes clear that innovation in this sector continues at a rapid pace despite the failures and consolidations of solar firms across that board that dominate cleantech media reports.”

 

Correction:  The e-alerts for the previous post announcing the opening of Green Patent Law indicated that they were sent from my old email address.  I think that problem has been corrected.  My new email address is elane@greenpatentlaw.com. 

 

 

 

 

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Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

September 13th, 2013

There have been a number of green patent complaints filed in the last several weeks in the areas of biofuels, LEDs, and smart grid.

 

Biofuels

GS Cleantech Corporation v. Aemetis, Inc. et al.

GS Cleantech Corporation v. Homeland Energy Solutions, LLC

GS Cleantech Corporation v. Little Sioux Corn Processors, LLP

GS Cleantech Corporation v. Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, LLC

GS recently fired off several new lawsuits involving its patented ethanol production processes.  A complaint filed August 14, 2013 in federal court in Fresno, California accused Aemetis Advanced Fuels of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,601,858, entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems” (‘858 Patent).

The other lawsuits, against Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (Southwest Iowa Complaint), Little Sioux Corn Processors (Little Sioux Complaint), and Homeland Energy Solutions (Homeland Energy Complaint), were filed in July and August in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. 

The asserted patents in these complaints are the ‘858 Patent, U.S. Patent Nos. 8,008,516 and 8,283,484, each entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems,” as well as U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517, entitled “Method of recovering oil from thin stillage.” 

GS also asserted U.S. Patent No. 8,168,037, entitled “Method and systems for enhancing oil recovery from ethanol production byproducts,” against Homeland Energy Solutions. 

The patents relate to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.

GS has been on an aggressive patent enforcement campaign over the last several years.  Multiple actions were consolidated in the Southern District of Indiana, where the asserted patents were construed and re-construed.

 

LEDs

Trustees of Boston University v. Hewlett-Packard Co.

Trustees of Boston University v. Vyrian, Inc.

Trustees of Boston University v. Sierra IC, Inc.

In August Boston University initiated some new lawsuits in federal court in Boston, continuing its patent enforcement campaign against various LED makers and electronics manufacturers.  The complaints again assert U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (’738 Patent) (HP Complaint; Vyrian Complaint; Sierra Complaint) . 

The ’738 Patent is entitled “Highly insulated monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” and directed to gallium nitride semiconductor devices and methods of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber.

The accused products are various LED devices and products.

 

Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Altair Engineering, Inc. et al.

Philips sued Altair in federal court in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin requesting a declaratory judgment that U.S. Patent No. 7,049,761 (’761 Patent) is invalid and unenforceable and that Philips’ LED-based replacement tube products do not infringe the patent. 

The ‘761 Patent is entitled “Light tube and power supply circuit” and directed to a light tube for a fluorescent light fixure having a plurality of light emitting diodes within the bulb.  According to the complaint, Altair has been trying to get Philips to take a license to the ‘761 Patent. 

The complaint also charges Altair with a Lanham Act violation for making false or misleading representations that the ‘761 is a “foundational” patent and only companies that have licensed the patent can make LED-based replacement tubes for fluorescent lighting fixtures.

 

Smart Grid

Emerson Electric Co. et al. v. Sipco LLC et al.

In what could prove to be an important case, Emerson is taking on a major clean tech non-practicing entity in Sipco LLC (and the closely related if not identical IPCo), an Atlanta patent licensing and assertion company that holds a number of patents, many relating to remote monitoring and control systems.

Filed in federal court in Atlanta on July 31, 2013, the complaint requests a declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement of at least one claim of each of eight Sipco and IPCo patents.

The listed patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,437,692, 6,914,893, 7,103,511, 7,697,492, 8,013,732, 6,044,062, 6,249,516 and 8,000,314, which relate to remote monitoring and control systems.

According to the complaint, Emerson subsidiary Rosemount received a subpoena from Sipco requesting information on products including various wireless communication protocol-enable devices such as Zigbee, WirelessHART, ISA-100, Z-Wave, EnOcean and JenNet.

Sipco has sued utilities and various smart grid players that make smart meters, EV charging stations, building automation systems, and other energy management solutions (see, e.g., previous posts here, here, and here).

 

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Betting on Biobutanol and Battling Butamax: A Conversation with Gevo’s General Counsel

September 11th, 2013

 

One of the biggest green patent stories in the last few years has been the burgeoning biobutanol battle between Gevo and BP-DuPont joint venture Butamax Advanced Biofuels.

As with other industries, clean tech companies engage in PR around their patent matters, and this patent litigation is no different.  Part of this green patent war has been fought through PR. 

So when I was offered the opportunity to speak with Brett Lund, Gevo’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, about this litigation I jumped at the chance.

For starters, this is a very important battle.  The email offer to interview Mr. Lund noted that it’s the “first-ever litigation in the industry of advanced biofuels, and it’s not just one patent – it’s a patent war over who can make isobutanol.”

Lund echoed this point, telling me there are just two main players for isobutanol (there is something called n-butanol, but it’s a less desirable fuel). 

Isobutanol is a very good petroleum substitute and the “ideal molecule” for both fuels and chemicals.  A a water insoluble 4-carbon molecule, it doesn’t get diluted and can be put in pipelines and directly into a refinery.

 Our conversation got into some of the details of the patents initially asserted by Butamax – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,993,889 (’889 Patent) and  7,851,188 (’188 Patent). 

Lund said the patents relate to a naturally occurring isobutanol pathway that has “been around forever.”  Known for over 50 years, Lund told me this 5-step pathway can be used to make very small quantities of isobutanol for things like sake or beer, but it’s hard to produce in large quantities suitable for fuel use.

Gevo’s patents, on the other hand, relate to new, non-naturally occurring pathways that boost isobutanol production.

Lund and I also discussed Gevo’s counterclaims for infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,017,375 (’375 Patent) and 8,017,376 (’376 Patent), directed to recombinant yeast that harbor a variety of genetic modifications helpful for isobutanol production.

While Gevo believes that Butamax’s design-arounds of the ‘375 and ‘376 Patents are covered under the doctrine of equivalents (DOE), a recent court decision held otherwise, granting Butamax’s motion of summary judgment that it does not infringe the patents, literally or under the DOE.

When asked why the proactive PR, Lund noted that Gevo is a public company with lots of investors and partners and “we want people to know the truth.”  He went on to say that Gevo highly regards patents and patent law.

With respect to Butamax’s patentsand applications, he told me Gevo knows about them, actively monitors them, and continues to be careful and cognizant not to use Butamax’s technology.

This important green patent war is likely to continue in the courtroom and the media.

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Butamax Avoids Infringement of Two Gevo Patents on Summary Judgment

August 27th, 2013

I’ve been covering the ongoing patent litigation between advanced biofuels company Gevo and BP-DuPont joint venture Butamax over a number of patents relating to methods of producing biobutanol.

The lawsuit started in January 2011 with Butamax’s initial complaint filed in federal court in Delaware alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,851,188 (‘188 Patent), later amended to include U.S. Patent No. 7,993,889 (‘889 Patent).  Gevo counterclaimed, accusing Butamax of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 8,017,375 (‘375 Patent and 8,017,376 (‘376 Patent).

Earlier this year, the court handed Gevo a partial victory when it granted the company’s motion for summary judgment of no infringement of the ‘188 and ‘889 Patents under the doctrine of equivalents. 

Now Butamax has notched a win in a recent decision granting its motion for summary judgment of non-infringement of the ‘375 and ‘376 Patents. 

The patents are directed to methods of producing isobutanol using a recombinant microorganism, achieving theoretical yields of greater than about 10%.  The claims of the ‘375 Patent recite a 5-step chemical pathway, and the fourth step in the pathway is conversion of alpha-ketoisovalerate to isobutyraldehyde.

The problem for Gevo was that it had initially filed a broad claim covering the use of any enzyme to convert alpha-ketoisovalerate to isobutyraldehyde and later amended the claim to specifically recite an “alpha-ketoisovalerate decarboxylase from Lactococcus lactis.”  Butamax’s process uses a Lactococcus grayi enzyme from a different source and having a very different amino acid sequence than the Lactococcus lactis enzyme claimed by Gevo.

The court noted that, with the amendment, Gevo had argued that its L. lactis enzyme showed unexpected results to overcome a prior art rejection during prosecution of the application that matured as the ‘375 Patent.  Therefore, to prove that the Butamax process infringes the ‘375 Patent under the doctrine of equivalents, Gevo needed to demonstrate that “the L. grayi enzyme or any other enzyme also yielded the unexpected results that it relied on to overcome the prior art.”

The court held that Gevo could not prevail on infringement under the doctrine of equivalents and granted Butamax’s motion for summary judgment:

To allow Gevo to allege that the enzymes are equivalent “would vitiate [the] claim limitation” requiring an “alpha-ketoisovalerate decarboxylase from Lactococcus lactis.”….Therefore, Gevo cannot assert infringement of independent claim 1 through the application of the doctrine of equivalents for enzymes other than what it specifically claimed, i.e., an “alpha-ketoisovalerate decarboxylase from Lactococcus lactis.”….Gevo does not argue that Butamax’s use of the L. grayi enzyme literally infringes independent claim 1 of the ‘375 patent.  For the foregoing reasons, the court grants Butamax’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement of the asserted claims 1-3 and 5-7 of the ‘375 patent.

The claim element at issue in the ‘376 Patent was the recombinant overexpression of the gene coding the Aft protein, causing an increase of Aft protein in the cell.  The function of the claim is to increase the enzymatic activity of the enzyme DHAD.  This is achieved through recombinant yeast cells engineered to provide increased expression of Aft1 and/or Aft2.

However, in Butamax’s strain, there is a deletion of an FRA2 gene, which does not directly produce excess Aft protein, but instead removes the negative regulator, allowing native Aft protein to be used in a greater amount.  Gevo argued that deleting the FRA2 gene is equivalent to overexpressing the Aft gene.

The court disagreed because the claim language of the ‘376 Patent requires overexpression of the Aft protein:

In the case at bar, to find that Butamax’s strains are the equivalent of Gevo’s strains would render the limitation of overexpressing Aft superfluous and would essentially negate the manner in which the limitation achieves transcription of the genes in the iron regulation.

The court further held there could be no infringement under the doctrine of equivalents because of the different functions and operations of the FRA2 deletion and the Aft overexpression:

The deletion of FRA2 does not perform the same function in substantially the same way as the overexpression of Aft1, as it does not increase the Aft protein levels as called for by the claim, in order to then increase the enzymatic activity of DHAD.  Instead the deletion of FRA allows native Aft1 protein to be used in the iron regulation.  As the claim language (and indeed the parties’ agreed upon construction) requires the increase of Aft1 via overexpression, the court concludes that the doctrine of equivalents does not apply.

So Butamax went two for two on non-infringement, succeeding on summary judgment for both the ‘375 and ‘376 Patents.

Butamax also achieved a partial victory on invalidity, as the court granted its motion for summary judgment that the ‘375 Patent is invalid for lack of enablement and written description.  The patent claims high yields of glucose of greater than 50% up to greater than 97.5% while the examples in the written description show a highest obtained yield of only 12.8%.

Thus, the court held the ‘375 Patent invalid for lack of written description support for the claims:

As to written description, the court concludes that Butamax has shown, by clear and convincing evidence, that persons skilled in the art would not recognize a description of the higher yields of the claimed invention.

And on enablement:

The court concludes that Gevo has only offered conclusory allegations to support yields above the reported 12.8% and, therefore, has not offered any evidence to show that the full scope of claim 1 was enabled.  There is no expert testimony that would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the higher yields would be achievable at all, or at least without undue experimentation.

On validity of the ‘376 Patent, the only success for Gevo in this decision, the court found the parties raised genuine issues of fact as to whether the patent has adequate written description and the claims are enabled and therefore denied Butamax’s summary judgment motion. 

 

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Novozymes Did Not Possess Claimed Biofuels Enzyme (and is Dispossessed of $18 Million)

August 23rd, 2013

Previous posts, e.g., here and here, discussed the patent infringement litigation between Danish biopharm rivals Novozymes and Danisco (now owned by DuPont), which are both active in developing enzymes used in the production of biofuels.

In the suit, Novozymes accused Danisco of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,713,723 (’723 Patent) by selling alpha amylase enzymes including Danisco’s GC358 product (see the complaint here: novozymes_complaint.pdf).

The ’723 Patent, which claims priority back to an application filed in 2000, is entitled “Alpha amylase mutants with altered properties” and relates to variants of certain alpha amylases that exhibit altered stability under high temperatures, low pH and other conditions.  The patented variants can be used for starch conversion in ethanol production. 

The case has seen some legal twists and turns.  In February 2011, the’ 723 Patent survived a close shave on Danisco’s summary judgment motion of invalidity based on a written description argument.  Then, in November 2011, the jury found that Danisco infringed the ‘723 Patent and awarded Novozymes over $18 million in damages.

There was a dramatic turnaround when Danisco’s post-trial motion succeeded in persuading the trial court judge that the jury verdict should be vacated and the patent declared invalid for failure to satisfy the written description requirement.

A U.S. patent must have an adequate written description to be valid.  This means the patent’s specification (which includes the written description and figures) must convey to a person skilled in the relevant technical field that the inventor actually invented and “had possession” of the claimed invention.

Danisco argued that the ’723 Patent – directed to a substitution of an amino acid at position 239 in the alpha-amylase protein – was inadequate because the written description lists position 239 as one of 33 possible positions for an “alteration” and lists a substitution as just one possible type of alteration.  The trial court agreed and invalidated the patent.

Novozymes appealed this final decision, and recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed that the ‘723 Patent is invalid, in all likelihood ending the case.

The Federal Circuit found that the written description of the original ‘723 Patent does provide “formal textual support” for the claimed enzymes, but it fails to describe the “actual functioning, thermostable alpha-amylase variants” recited in the claims.  There were too many possibilities, the court said, and no instruction on how to narrow them:

[O]ne searces the 2000 application in vain for the disclosure of even a single species that falls within the claims or for any “blaze marks” that would lead an ordinarily skilled investigator toward such a species among a slew of competing possibilities.

While the 2000 application does specifically describe a substitution at position 239 (S239W), that particular substitution does not confer increased thermostability in alpha-amylase enzymes as claimed in the ‘723 Patent, and there is no indication that “Novozymes had invented any thermostable alpha-amylase variants substituted at amino acid position 239 by the time of filing.”

To do so, the court stated, Novozymes would have had to actually make and test individual variants or at least identify subclasses of variants that would be expected to possess the claimed properties.  The 2000 application does not go nearly far enough in this regard:

At best, the 2000 application describes a roadmap for producing candidate alpha-amylase variants and then determining which might exhibit enhanced thermostability.

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment of invalidity for insufficient written description:

We hold that no reasonable jury could find that the claims of the ‘723 patent meet the written description requirement…and that the district court therefore correctly entered judgment as a matter of law invalidating those claims.  In contrast to the claims – which narrowly recite specific alpha-amylase variants that result from mutating a particular parent enzyme at a single amino acid position to yield distinctive functional properties – the supporting disclosure of the 2000 application provides only generalized guidance listing several variables that might, in some combination lead to a useful result.  Taking the claims as a whole rather than as the sum of their individual limitations, nothing in the 2000 application indicates that Novozymes then possessed what it now claims.

This case highlights a common patent prosecution practice used by technology firms to compete with their close rivals, that is, keeping an old patent application alive to preserve the early priority date and drafting claims to ensnare a competitor’s new product.

As mentioned above, the ‘723 Patent traces priority back to an application filed in 2000.  It was only upon learning that DuPont had introduced a thermostable BSG alpha-amylase variant substituted at position 239 that Novozymes filed a new continuation application in December 2009 with claims directed to variants substituted at position 239.

There would be nothing wrong with that if the newly claimed subject matter had been fully disclosed in the original 2000 application.  However, the courts found that was not the case here.  In its decision on post-trial motions, the trial court noted that a patentee cannot later flesh out the invention:

The concern is that a patentee may attempt to use later filed claims, relying on more recently discovered data, to expand the scope of his invention or to complete an idea.

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Velocys Biomass Reactors: Microchanneling Intense Reactions

August 15th, 2013

Velocys, part of the Oxford Catalysts Group, is an Ohio company that develops technology for the production of synthetic oil from waste gas, coal, and waste biomass. 

Velocys owns at least 84 U.S. patents and published patent applications, including a family of patents that issued from an application originally filed in 2003.  These patents include U.S. Patent Nos. 7,402,719, 7,744,829 and 8,106,249.

The patents are entitled “Catalytic oxidative dehydrogenation, and microchannel reactors for catalytic oxidative dehydrogenation” (Dehydrogenation Patents) and cover what appears to be the company’s first generation microchannel reactor technology.

Microchannel reactors contain thousands of millimeter scale channels that quickly dissipate heat from the chemical reactions so more active catalysts can be used.  Fischer-Tropsch (FT) reactors use effect heat dissipation by interleaving channels containing catalyst with water-filled coolant channels. 

According to the Velocys web site:

The use of microchannel processing makes it possible to greatly intensify chemical reactions enabling them to occur at rates 10 to 1000 times faster than in conventional systems.

The Dehydrogenation Patents are directed to apparatus and methods of oxidatively dehydrogenating a gaseous hydrocarbon in which the reaction chamber has walls (6, 6′), a process channel (2) contains a bulk flow path (4), and a heating chamber (10) is adjacent to the process channel (2).

The heating chamber is divided into several regions (7, 9, 13) into which various fluids flow to tailor the temperature profile in a process channel.  In one example, the Dehydrogenation Patents state:

[S]team or the return portion of [an oxidative dehydrogenation] stream could flow through region 7 to provide a preheat zone; an endothermic process stream can flow through region 9 to remove heat from the oxidative dehydrogenation reaction in a reaction chamber (a portion of the process channel in which catalyst 15 is present), and a cold fluid flows through region 13 to quench the reaction.

As shown in FIG. 3A of the Oxidative Dehydrogenation Patents, the channels may have apertures (38) forming passageways between channels (36 and 37) to allow flow of a reactant into the endothermic reaction chamber.

Velocys also has more recent patent applications relating to subsequent developments in its microchannel technology, including U.S. Application Publication Nos. 2012/0095268 and 2013/0127093, which includes the claimed step of ultrasonically packing particulates into the microchannels using an ultrasonic densification unit.

The Velocys FT reactor technology was recently selected for a biomass-to-liquids plant to be developed by Red Rock Biofuels and partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

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Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update, Part II

August 8th, 2013

The second part of this green patent complaint update covers the period mid-June through most of July, during which several new complaints were filed in the areas of biofuels, components for hybrid and electric vehicles, LEDs, energy efficiency, solar air conditioners, water technology, and waste treatment.

 

Biofuels

GS Cleantech Corp. v. Western New York Energy, LLC

GS Cleantech recently filed another lawsuit, this one against Western New York Energy in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on July 12, 2013. 

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,601,858, 8,008,516, and 8,283,484, each entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems,” and U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517, entitled “Method of recovering oil from thin stillage.”  The patents relate to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.

According to the complaint, Western New York uses infringing processes performed by ethanol production plants purchased from a plant designer called ICM.  ICM was involved in prior litigation with GS.

GS has been on an aggressive patent enforcement campaign over the last several years.  The multiple cases were consolidated in the Southern District of Indiana, where the asserted patents were construed and re-construed.

 

Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Northern Cable and Automation, LLC v. General Motors Co.

This is a dispute over ownership and inventorship of U.S. Patent No. 7,976,333, entitled “Laminar electrical connector” (‘333 Patent) and directed to an electrical connector specifically designed for use in hybrid and electric vehicles.

According to the complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan on July 11, 2013, GM claims that one of its employees should be named as a co-inventor on the ‘333 Patent and that Northern Cable, d/b/a, Flex Cable is obligated to assign certain rights in the patent to GM.

Flex Cable alleges that the inventor, Erwin Kroulik, conceived of the invention of the ‘333 Patent before the date of an agreement with GM, and therefore Flex Cable is not obligated to assign any rights in the ‘333 Patent to GM. 

 

LEDs

Trustees of Boston University v. Apple, Inc.

On July 2, 2013 BU filed another lawsuit in federal court in Boston, continuing its patent enforcement campaign against various LED makers and electronics manufacturers.  The complaint again asserts U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (’738 Patent). 

The ’738 Patent is entitled “Highly insulated monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” and directed to gallium nitride semiconductor devices and methods of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber.

The accused products are the iPhone 5, iPad, and MacBook Air that include allegedly infringing LED devices.

 

Energy Efficiency

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Dell Inc.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. IBM Corp.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Oracle Corp. et al.

On June 28 and 29, 2013, Efficiency Systems fired off four patent infringement suits in federal court in Delaware against Cisco (Cisco complaint), Dell (Dell complaint), IBM (IBM complaint), and Oracle (Oracle complaint).

Each complaint asserts U.S. Patent No. 6,986,069, entitled “Methods and apparatus for static and dynamic power management of computer systems” (‘069 Patent).  The ‘069 Patent is directed to a power authority system for manipulating the aggregate power consumption levels of multiple computer systems by managing the power consumption levels of the computer systems.

The accused systems include various server systems, computer systems and components containing power management features.

 

Solar Air Conditioners

Sedna Aire USA Inc. v. Eco Solar Technologies, Inc.

Sedna Aire recently sued Eco Solar for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,448,458, alleged cybersquatting, and alleged passing off in connection with use of the mark SOLAR COOL (and Design).

The ‘458 Patent is entitled “Solar collector and solar air conditioning system having the same” and directed to a solar air conditioning system including a solar collector.  The system superheats working fluid using radiant energy from the sun and delivers the working fluid as a superheated and higher-pressure gas to a condenser within the solar air conditioning system.

Filed June 24, 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the complaint alleges that Eco Solar is selling a solar air conditioner based on Sedna’s patented design and engaging in unauthorized use of the SOLAR COOL trademark.

 

Water Purification

Aquatech International Corp. v. Veolia Water West Operating Services, Inc. et al.

On June 27, 2013, Aquatech filed a complaint against Veolia in the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging infringement of two patents relating to water purification technology.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 5,925,255 and 6,537,456, each entitled “Method and apparatus for high efficiency reverse osmosis operation.”  The patents relate to Aquatech’s HERO water purification process, a high efficiency reverse osmosis water purification process which is used in many industries including power generation, petrochemical, and microelectronics. 

The accused process is Veolia’s OPUS technology, which the complaint alleges Veolia is using in various locations including a Chevron oil production field in San Ardo, California and the Arroyo Grande Oilfield in San Luis Obispo County, California.

 

Waste Treatment

Trunzo v. Grobstein

In this suit filed June 25, 2013 in federal court in Los Angeles, Michael Trunzo sued the trustee for the bankruptcy estate of debtor International Environmental Solutions Corporation (IES) and purchasers of IES’s assets for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,868,085 (‘085 Patent).

Entitled “Pyrolytic waste treatment system,” the ‘085 Patent is directed to a system for pyrolysis of hydrocarbon constituents of waste material including a heating chamber in communication with the atmosphere via a first valve and in communication with a pyrolysis chamber via a second internal valve.

The complaint alleges that the defendants have infringed the ‘085 Patent by reverse engineering a waste-to-energy unit, and the defendants have issued a distributorship/developers license to defendant Wayne Herling for the purpose of marketing, distributing and selling the the allegedly infringing units.

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Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update, Part I

August 5th, 2013

I will catch up on the new green patent lawsuits filed in the last few months with a two-part green patent complaint update.  The first part covers May through mid-June, which saw several new green patent complaints in the areas of biofuels, fuel recycling, smart grid, and LEDs, and other energy efficient lighting.

 

Biofuels

GS Cleantech Corp. v. Guardian Energy, LLC

GS Cleantech recently filed suit against Guardian Energy in federal court in Minnesota, alleging infringement of four patents relating to ethanol production. 

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,601,858, 8,008,516, and 8,283,484, each entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems” and U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517, entitled “Method of recovering oil from thin stillage.”  The patents relate to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.

According to the complaint filed June 7, 2013, Guardian uses infringing processes performed by ethanol production plants purchased from a plant designer called ICM.  ICM was involved in prior litigation with GS.

GS has been on an aggressive patent enforcement campaign over the last several years.  The multiple cases were consolidated in the Southern District of Indiana, where the asserted patents were construed and re-construed.

 

 Fuel Recycling

Yellow Dog Technologies, LLC v. Fuel Recyclers Arizona LLC

On May 15, 2013, Yellow Dog filed a patent infringement suit against Fuel Recylers, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,165,781 (‘781 Patent).

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, alleges that the fuel pump controllers used by Fuel Recyclers to provide automotive defueling services infringe claims 1 and 16 of the ‘781 Patent.

The ’781 Patent is entitled “Fuel recovery” and directed to fuel pump controllers and software for operation of a fuel pump of a combustion engine so it pumps a predefined amount of fuel in the fuel line directly to a drain conduit.

 

LEDs

Formosa Epitaxy Inc. v. Lexington Luminance LLC

On May 3, 2013 Formosa Epitaxy sued Lexington Luminance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts for a declaratory judgment that Formosa does not infringe Lexington’s U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851 (‘851 Patent) and that the ‘851 Patent is invalid.

The complaint refers to Lexington’s prior patent infringement suit against Google in which it is asserting that certain Google products containing LED chips and wafers manaufactured by Formosa infringe the ‘851 Patent.

The ‘851 Patent is entitled “Semiconductor light-emitting device and method for manufacturing the same” and is directed to LEDs having textured districts on the substrate such that inclined layers guide extended defects to designated gettering centers in the trench region where the defects combine with each other.  This structure reduces the defect density of the LEDs.

 

Trustees of Boston University v. Arrow Electronics, Inc. et al.

BU continued its patent enforcement campaign against various LED makers and electronics manufacturers with another lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston on May 3, 2013.  The complaint again asserts U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (’738 Patent). 

The ’738 Patent is entitled “Highly insulated monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” and directed to gallium nitride semiconductor devices and methods of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber.

The accused products are electronics that include certain Samsung LED devices.

 

Star Co. LED Technologies, LLC v. Sharp Corp. et al.

Star Co. LED sued Sharp, Sony, and Modia Home Theatre Store for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,964,489, entitled “Device for producting an image” (‘489 Patent).

Filed May 17, 2013 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, the complaint alleges that certain LED televisions manufactured, imported and sold by the defendants use LED and LCD technologies that infringe the ‘489 Patent.

The ‘489 Patent is directed to an LED device for background lighting in which an optical device for focusing and scattering light is arranged between the light source and the image reproduction apparatus.   A matrix point is formed by a number of LEDs, with four LEDs forming one matrix point and two green LEDs and two red LEDs provided for each matrix point.

 

Plastic Inventions and Patents, Inc. v. JS LED Technology Corp.

On June 19, 2013 Plastic Inventions and Patents (PIP) sued JS LED in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,114,830 (‘830 Patent).

The ‘830 Patent is entitled “LED Replacement for fluorescent lighting” and directed to a tubular LED lighting unit with a reflective coating.

According to the complaint, JS LED’s web site offers for sale LED replacements for fluorescent tube lighting, including the model JE-T8-4C15, that infringe the ‘830 Patent.

 

Energy Efficient Lighting

Richmond v. Walgreen Co.

Simon Nicholas Richmond filed suit against Walgreens for alleged infringement of three U.S. patents relating to a solar power lighting assembly.

The asserted lighting assembly patents are all part of the same family and consist of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,196,477, 7,429,827 and 8,362,700, each entitled “Solar powered light assembly to produce light of varying colors.” 

Filed May 6, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the complaint alleges that Walgreens is infringing the asserted patents by selling the Living Solutions brand Solar Fiber Optic Garden Snake solar-powered garden light.

 

Walton v. Solar Energy USA, Inc.

On June 12, 2013, Randal Walton filed a patent infringement suit against Solar Energy USA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The asserted patents are all part of the same family and consist of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,178,944, 7,390,106 and 7,748,871, each entitled “Lighting apparatus” and directed to enhanced illumination lamps utilizing low wattage fluorescent tubes having reflective surfaces for focusing otherwise lost light toward a target illumination area.

According to the complaint, Solar Energy’s T-5 lighting fixture adaptors infringe the lighting apparatus patents.

 

Smart Grid

 Allure Energy, Inc. v. Nest Labs, Inc. et al.

Allure Energy, a Texas company that provides home environment and energy management products, sued Nest Labs for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,442,695 (‘695 Patent).

Filed May 14, 2013 in federal court in Lufkin, Texas, the complaint alleges that Nest’s Learning Thermostat infringes the ‘695 Patent.

The ‘695 Patent is entitled “Auto-adaptable energy management apparatus” and directed to a smart thermostat device.

Nest has been involved in a high profile patent suit with Honeywell in which it scored some major initial victories in reexaminations of Honeywell’s patents.

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BP Off the Hook in Butamax Biobutanol Suit

August 1st, 2013

Previous posts (e.g., here, here and here) discussed the biobutanol patent war between advanced biofuels company Gevo and BP-DuPont joint venture Butamax.  Some of the suits filed by Gevo named DuPont and BP as defendants in addition to Butamax. 

One such Gevo complaint, filed July 30, 2013, asserts U.S. Patent No. 8,232,089, entitled “Cytosolic isobutanol pathway localization for the production of isobutanol” and alleges that BP “directs” Butamax to engage in infringing actions such as R&D activities. 

BP moved to dismiss the case against it, and the issue was whether BP as a parent of Butamax directs or controls Butamax’s allegedly infringing activities.  The court held it does not.

In a recent opinion the court found the pleadings in Gevo’s complaint deficient on this issue:

In its complaint, Gevo has asserted no underlying facts supporting its conclusory allegation of control; therefore, the court is not obligated to accept as true the proposition that BP controls the activities of its subsidiary defendants or the activities of any business venture owned by the subsidiaries.

Without adequate pleadings, the court was left with the conclusion that Butamax was the proper defendant, the entity engaged in the allegedly infringing activity:

Given the context of this litigation, where it is evident that Butamax is the business entity engaged in the “research and development activities related to the subject matter of this action”, Gevo’s allegations do not  sufficiently tie BP to the alleged act of infringement, that is, disclosing recombinant yeast strains that embody the patented invention.  To put it another way, Gevo has not sufficiently pled any act of infringement that plausibly could be related to BP.