Butamax files patent infringement action against Gevo

By Bryan Sims | January 20, 2011

Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, a DuPont-BP collaboration, has issued a patent infringement complaint against Englewood, Colo.-based Gevo Inc. for its alleged use of Butamax’s patented biobutanol technology. The lawsuit was filed by Butamax in U.S. Federal District Court in the District of Delaware.

The specific patent under investigation, according to Butamax, is patent 7851188 titled “Fermentive Production of Four Carbon Alcohols,” which was granted to Butamax by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in December. According to Butamax, “This patent encompasses biocatalysts developed to produce isobutanol and provides protection for Butamax and its pioneering work in this field. Butamax has filed an extensive patent portfolio for its proprietary technology across the biofuels value chain, including biocatalyst, bioprocess and fuels.”

In its release, Butamax added that a number of patent applications by the company have been successfully accepted into the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program for accelerated review.

“The U.S. patent system is designed to encourage research and development and to protect inventions,” stated Tim Potter, Butamax CEO in a release. “Butamax and its owners were the first to develop this technology and it is our belief that the protection of intellectual property serves the best interest of the biofuels industry, our customers and the U.S. energy policy.”

Gevo issued a rebuttal statement regarding Butamax’s patent infringement complaint. “Gevo believes it does not infringe on the Butamax patent and will vigorously defend against the claims asserted in the complaint,” said Brett Lund, executive vice president and general counsel for Gevo. “Gevo’s Integrated Fermentation Technology is a fundamentally different approach than the one described in the Butamax patent.”

Gevo has developed a proprietary integrated fermentation technology—coined GIFT. The key behind Gevo’s GIFT technology pathway is the utilization of a yeast biocatalyst developed by Cargill Inc., with support from the U.S. DOE, and a separation technology unit that’s designed to bolt onto existing ethanol plants to produce isobutanol from grain crops such as wheat, corn, sorghum, barley or sugarcane, including nonfood-based cellulosic feedstock.

Butamax said it wouldn’t comment on specific details related to any active litigation, but the company said it is confident it has a solid case, Potter said.  

“We are continuing efforts to bring out biobutanol technology to market,” he continued. “We are in active discussions with various interested parties in the biofuels industry and are excited about our prospects.”

In November, Butamax announced the start-up of a technology laboratory in Paulinia, Brazil. In addition, the Butamax Technology Demonstration facility in Hull, England, is expected to open soon.

That same month, Gevo received notification from the U.S. EPA that its isobutanol had successfully cleared registration for approval as a certified gasoline blendstock. The EPA’s approval makes Gevo the first company to have isobutanol listed in the EPA’s Fuel Registration Directory. Prior to receiving EPA certification, Gevo announced it had filed for an IPO and is currently awaiting closing. Additionally, the company acquired a 22 MMgy corn ethanol plant owned and operated by Agri-Energy LLC near Luverne, Minn., in August 2010, where it intends to integrate its GIFT technology.