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Oil Companies Patent Trolling Biofuel Production 183

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-that-doesn't-work-we'll-have-to-invade dept.
Whatsmynickname writes "Thought oil companies were done patent trolling to try to shut down any efforts to wean us off of crude oil (e.g. Chevron and NiMH batteries)? Think again. BP and DuPont (Butamax) have taken an advanced biofuel company to court over infringement of newly awarded patents for developing biobutanol. When an oil company advertises it is looking for alternative fuels, it's not necessarily because they want to be socially responsible..."
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Oil Companies Patent Trolling Biofuel Production

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  • This is silly. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU (699187) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:59AM (#35254178) Homepage
    Did you expect them to just donate the relevant patents for the betterment of humanity? I mean, in the nation's current intellectual property regime? You've got to be kidding.

    Fight the disease, not the symptom.

    • OK then, let's revisit this conversation 5-10 years from now and see exactly how far Butamax has gone in delivering biobutanol to the public for consumption. Bet you it won't be any further than me driving an electric car with large scale NiMH batteries.
      • I would be willing to bet Real Cash Money that within ten years (and probably much sooner), BP will be selling biobutanol gasoline blends at their gas stations. That's the whole point - it's a replacement for ethanol, which is already widely used in gasoline blends.

        • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Informative)

          by budgenator (254554) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:29PM (#35254684) Journal

          Butanol isn't a replacement for Ethanol, it's a replacement for gasoline!

          Butanol [wikipedia.org] may be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. Because its longer hydrocarbon chain causes it to be fairly non-polar, it is more similar to gasoline than it is to ethanol. Butanol has been demonstrated to work in vehicles designed for use with gasoline without modification.[1] It can be produced from biomass (as "biobutanol")[2] as well as fossil fuels (as "petrobutanol"); but biobutanol and petrobutanol have the same chemical properties.

          Historically Butanol and acetone has been produced by fermentation of starches and sugars by Clostridium acetobutylicum [wikipedia.org] what the Butamax patent [uspto.gov] claims is a method of spicing the genes from C. acetobutylicum that make butanol into other organisms. The patent is very specific about which gene sequences do what and are inserted into the host cell, rather than the typical overly broad patent from typical patent trolls.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Pathetically I can't seem to view the TIFFs of the patent referenced from Wikipedia. Hmm, actually, I can probably do it from this machine, but has anyone else already had a chance to compare that patent (1315585) to the patent referenced in TFA?

            • go to patent (1315585) google patents [google.com] then download the PDF which has no drawings in it. That patent is WEIZMANN's original patent for the ABE method of fermentation using C. acetobutylicum. The Butamax patent splices the genes into other organisms more amenable to industrial fermentation.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                Oh, so it's another one of these bullshit patents that should have failed for obviousness?

        • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @03:53PM (#35255530)
          Why is BP going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new butanol infrastructure when they have perfectly working oil refineries already making tons of cash? BP's stockholders would slap these executives upside the head and ask "WTF is wrong with you"... Heck if I owned BP stock, I would do that. Oil companies producing butanol would only make sense when crude was expensive enough and people quit buying straight gas. There's no reason for oil companies to develop alternative fuels until it is economically feasible to do so. Until then, it's better for them to just sit on the technology from a profit standpoint.
          • And when we finally start hitting the ceiling on oil reserves, and BP has a solution it can roll out right away, you're allergy to R&D will look like what it is; pathetic and retarded.

      • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mysidia (191772) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:38PM (#35254426)

        OK then, let's revisit this conversation 5-10 years from now and see exactly how far Butamax has gone in delivering biobutanol to the public for consumption. Bet you it won't be any further than me driving an electric car with large scale NiMH batteries.

        No... because the patent trolls arrested development now.

        In 5 or 10 years, they will have the patents to a next critical step.... required to actually produce/use that Butamax.

        Alternative energy is dependant on more than just one specific technology.

        There are lots of technologies required to actually produce biofuels or to utilize them for the production of energy. And if you are artificially prevented by a patent from getting past any one critical step, the alternative technology won't be practical. There are and will be lots of places they can stop you from making/using Butamax.

        Due to the patents, there will be very few R&D attempts by others. Translation: less competition, less innovation, lower chance the technology develops, and with fewer people working on it -- it will be easy for the Oil companies to make sure they do any "development" / "invention" needed to get more patents FIRST. Their patent lasts 20 years from the date of issue (usually 5 or so years after the date of application), so for all intents and purposes, they have a lock on that one patented thing for 30 - 35 years.

        Oh right... each patent is just one small invention required to produce and use the biofuel.

        Plenty of time to figure out the 'next things' companies developing the technology need, and get patents for those before the patent they have expires.

        If they just make sure to get a new patent locking down a "next step" once every 10 years, then nobody will ever come up with the technology.

        That is, unless their competitor somehow works somehow in complete secret at a very fast pace, even somehow managing to avoid Oil company spies/corporate espionage, and then still comes out with completed technology and patents that.

        Still, it takes 5+ years or so for such R and D anyways

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by DRJlaw (946416)

          No... because the patent trolls arrested development now.

          They've obtained patent rights in every country in the world? They have the omniscience necessary to detect infringement in every laboratory in every industrialized country before it even happens?

          In 5 or 10 years, they will have the patents to a next critical step.... required to actually produce/use that Butamax.

          Only them. Nobody else could possibly conduct research due to the aforementioned universal scope and power of their mighty patent.

          Alte

    • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mysidia (191772) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:29PM (#35254364)

      They own the patents in the first place for the purpose of trolling.

      It's not a question of them donating them or not, they spent money buying up and getting patents to obstruct alternative energy in as many ways as possible, to protect their business of selling fossil fuels, which are more profitable for them to sell than to sell alternatives, let alone spending all that money actually developing any of the technologies they got the patents to.

    • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlie@hotmaiLIONl.com minus cat> on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:48PM (#35254472) Homepage

      Did you expect them to just donate the relevant patents for the betterment of humanity? I mean, in the nation's current intellectual property regime? You've got to be kidding.

      Personally I think they shouldn't even be allowed to patent such things. As the matter stands, the current, modern society can't stand without a proper fuel-source, our nations and basic functionality depends on it. If we do not find a proper alternative to crude oil before we run out of reserves our society will collapse. Thus it kind of is a real necessity for us to come up with a good, generally-acceptable alternative fuel-source that can fulfill all the different kinds of purposes for which we use crude oil-fuels. Thus being able to patent important research in the area only serves to hinder our progress and endanger our future, only because of temporary monetary benefit for limited parties.

      Fight the disease, not the symptom.

      Sometimes you cannot avoid fighting the symptoms first or else you'll run out of time.

      • Wha ??? Did you think anyone is going to spend millions to billions doing the research for a pat on the head and a thanks well done ?
        • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlie@hotmaiLIONl.com minus cat> on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:17PM (#35254606) Homepage

          Wha ??? Did you think anyone is going to spend millions to billions doing the research for a pat on the head and a thanks well done ?

          Even if they couldn't patent it they could still produce the biofuel and continue profiting from it. Hell, if they were doing the research they'd be the experts in the area and thus could sell services to other companies. And if they were the experts in the area that'd also mean they'd most likely still be the first one to start actually monetizing their research.

          You know, they didn't patent regular gasoline either and well, it DOES indeed look like they've been profiting from it for years even without patents so even that angle is well covered.

          So yeah.. sorry for tearing your argument to shreds.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by BitZtream (692029)

            Wha ??? Did you think anyone is going to spend millions to billions doing the research for a pat on the head and a thanks well done ?

            Even if they couldn't patent it they could still produce the biofuel and continue profiting from it. Hell, if they were doing the research they'd be the experts in the area and thus could sell services to other companies. And if they were the experts in the area that'd also mean they'd most likely still be the first one to start actually monetizing their research.

            You know, they didn't patent regular gasoline either and well, it DOES indeed look like they've been profiting from it for years even without patents so even that angle is well covered.

            So yeah.. sorry for tearing your argument to shreds.

            Being an expert in the area means jack shit when one guy can take all that knowledge out the door with him to your competition, and your competition is more than willing to pay handsomely for that person to do so.

            Define 'patent gasoline' ... actually, their probably was at one point, and there are beyond any doubt patents on what you burn in your car today. There are process patents, patents on the chemical additives, patents on the deep water extraction technics, patents on the transport pipelines that ge

          • Even if they couldn't patent it they could still produce the biofuel and continue profiting from it. Hell, if they were doing the research they'd be the experts in the area and thus could sell services to other companies. And if they were the experts in the area that'd also mean they'd most likely still be the first one to start actually monetizing their research.

            Yes, and if you waited till someone else did the research, you could still do all that. And it would save you the cost of the research.

            And if ev

        • Yes (Score:4, Informative)

          by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @05:43PM (#35256168)

          Wha ???

          Did you think anyone is going to spend millions to billions doing the research for a pat on the head and a thanks well done ?

          Yes, they will. The process that the patent covers is based on research from 1984 and includes work from Boston University and the University of Illinois. It was BP/Dupont who patented the process even though they didn't do the research. As it turns out, the original work was done by grad students (so they got to pay to do the research instead of being paid to do it).

      • by Byrel (1991884)

        A shortage of the one technology that is most economical now will not cause societal collapse. Shortages drive up prices (see 1973 oil crisis). Higher prices on oil means that other technologies will become more economical. We actually are seeing this now with LP vs. natural gas.

        We already have a dozen alternative fuel sources in the public domain. Take wood for instance. Its humanity's oldest renewable resource, and I haven't heard of any recent attempts to patent it. Or ethanol: another positively ancie

        • by spicate (667270)

          A shortage of the one technology that is most economical now will not cause societal collapse. Shortages drive up prices (see 1973 oil crisis). Higher prices on oil means that other technologies will become more economical. We actually are seeing this now with LP vs. natural gas.

          We already have a dozen alternative fuel sources in the public domain. Take wood for instance. Its humanity's oldest renewable resource, and I haven't heard of any recent attempts to patent it. Or ethanol: another positively ancient drug^h^h^h^h renewable energy source.

          If we run out of oil before something else gets cheaper, then energy will get more expensive. Big deal. Some current uses of energy might become less affordable. However, gas taxes are actually designed to make this happen. We know that society doesn't collapse when gas becomes less affordable; people drive less.

          Furthermore, electric prices are not strongly dependent on oil; coal is the big energy source there. Society, far from being dependent on oil, will survive and thrive even if oil is eliminated. And we don't even need new techs to do it.

          First, ethanol will never work as a substitute for oil. There isn't enough land area to grow enough biofuels to replace oil.

          Second, saying "people will drive less" totally neglects the fact that almost all our goods and services depend on oil to get them to their final destination. The transition to a new form of energy will only get harder as oil prices escalate.

          There's no easy replacement for oil on the horizon - only very expensive, time consuming replacements. The big question is, what will society look

      • by Hammer (14284)

        Patents have a reasonable justification. However 25 years? That is utterly silly, try 5 years. Then you are forced to use your invention right now to actually make money on it. That would kill patent trolling right away

    • by naich (781425)

      So BP and DuPont aren't a bunch of bastards? It's not their fault they were led astray by the possibility of screwing over the planet to make a few bucks? Are they the real victims here, maybe? Maligned, just for taking advantage of an opportunity to act like bastards. Poor things.

  • when getting money now matters more than the survival of the humanity in the long term.
    • by Maestro4k (707634)

      when getting money now matters more than the survival of the humanity in the long term.

      A.k.a. Business 101?

  • by dentin (2175) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:02PM (#35254196) Homepage

    Oil companies look for alternative fuels because they want to make money, and because there's a lot of money to be had in alternative fuels. Yes, there's a patent dispute here, and yes, patents are lame; but to imply that the only reason for the dispute is because the oil company wants to shut down alternative fuel production is absurd.

    BP and DuPont have a lot invested in this field, probably more than the entire opposing company is worth. I can totally understand their view that an upstart is attempting to profit from from their hard work.

    • No kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:10PM (#35254264)

      Every oil company I've seen seems to acknowledge oil is finite. Their estimates of when production will peak differ from environmentalists, but other than OPEC (who says it will never peak) they all seem to understand the concept.

      So, that being the case, what do you think they are going to do? Just wait until oil becomes extremely expensive and difficult to get, humans transition to a new power source, and then go out of business because they have to product to sell? Or do you think maybe they'll look in to other energy sources they can sell, be it biofuels, thorium, solar, whatever.

      Remember that companies aren't evil, they are just amoral. They don't really care one way or the other, they just want to make money. So no, oil companies aren't interested in the damage they cause, except to the extent the law requires them to be and to the extent the public cares. However that doesn't mean they just want to destroy the world to be evil. Likewise they'll happily sell a limited resource for tons of money today, but that doesn't mean they aren't thinking about what to sell tomorrow.

      The higher the price of traditional fuels, the more interest there'll be in biofuels. After all if I invent a process that can deliver a BioOil(tm) at $150/barrel with the potential to scale to $100/barrel in 10 years there is no interest when oil was back down in the $30/barrel range. Now that it is up in the $80 range, it is maybe something to look at, though it is still cheaper just to extract oil. If it went up to $200/barrel, there'd be tons of interest as it'd be cheaper right now.

      • Re:No kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:37PM (#35254420)

        They don't really care one way or the other, they just want to make money.

        They apparently fund the bulk of photovoltaic research too, for that matter. They're like Microsoft or Google in a way ... they have a core competency, and will milk it to the very last drop. That doesn't mean they aren't casting about for something, anything, that can be used to maintain their hegemony when their current money maker is gone.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        The higher the price of traditional fuels, the more interest there'll be in biofuels.

        Lets also not forget that fuel is not what most oil gets used for. Oil, its products AND its byproducts are used in more or less everything in the modern world.

        Forget fuel. Plastics use far more of the oil pulled out of the ground than all of the fuels combined.

        Completely replace oil as a fuel with something completely renewable and easy to get, and oil STILL is in demand ... that is as long as you want about 99% of the things in your life to stay as they are.

        Fuel is really the least of our concerns for o

      • by Nemyst (1383049)

        Which is why the patent system should, honestly, be amended to require usage. If you patent something, you have to use this patent in a commercial product within the next X years, with X being a small fraction of the full length of the patent.

        Thus, if oil companies (and any other company, for that matters) really do use the stuff they patent, they won't see a difference. If, however, they're just trolling, then they'll get their patents revoked. Likewise, trying to sue for a patent violation should be extre

    • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:29PM (#35254368)
      The one thing we know for certain is that the cost will not go down. When all the oil goes away, its replacement will cost more, and the oil companies want to be the ones collecting that money.
      • When all the oil goes away, its replacement will cost more, and the oil companies want to be the ones collecting that money.

        Competition should hinder that a bit, though I must admit that my belief in the market is by far weaker now than a few years ago.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      They may have done that, but it may also mean that they did it just to make sure that there is no competition coming up until they have milked the last drop of oil from the crust of the earth. In this case they may not even need to be the most efficient player, and what they really fear is a player that's going to be competitive at the current prices of gasoline.

    • by mellon (7048)

      Sure, except that the "upstart" probably wasn't even aware of BP's patents. BP can be upset all they want about this, but it doesn't make suing them into a smoking cinder beneficial to society. The purpose of patents is to promote science and the useful arts. This is the opposite. It's too bad that's not one of the tests that any patent has to survive when challenged in court.

      • Intellectual property [gevo.com]

        Gevo has a well developed patent estate consisting of over 250 patents and patent applications. These patents and patent applications cover isobutanol biocatalysts, alcohol recovery, alcohol conversion and use areas.

        Doesn't sound like Gevo is an ignorant upstart in the patent game so we're probably not talking about a mouse getting beat-up by an elephant but rather a Woolly mammoth [wikipedia.org] and a Woolly rhinoceros [wikipedia.org] having a go at each other.

  • Energy is a hugely capital intensive sector, and investors rightly expect return on investment. Exxon and Shell spent more money developing natural gas reserves on Sakhalin island than the US spent developing the space shuttle. If BP is expected to pump billions into developing advanced biofuels, I would expect them to protect their patents. Don't forget that BP was the oil company that helped support the radical new solar cells announced last year at CalTech. Protecting a properly granted patent is not tec
    • Protecting a properly granted patent is not technology suppression.

      Nonsense. You've obviously not been following what Congress and the USPTO have done and are doing with the patent system in the United States. The unfortunate truth is that quantity is far more important that quality nowadays, and the current position of the Patent Office is that patents should be granted without much examination and that it is up to the courts to decided if a patent is valid.

      That's just wrong, on so many levels, but it makes IP lawyers billions of dollars. And that's the point.

  • by KalvinB (205500) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:06PM (#35254230) Homepage

    Perhaps BP et al got patents on producing biobutanol because THEY want to produce biobutanol.

    You'll be buying BP biobutanol at some point.

    So what?

    These companies are investing ridiculous amounts of money into alternative fuel research and those wacky conspiracy theorists think it's just to prevent alternative fuels from hitting the market.

    Do you really think these *energy* companies care whether they get your money through BP oil or BP biobutanol? All they care is that BP is on the label and they're fueling your vehicle one way or another.

    • by Sir Holo (531007)
      They are not *energy* companies.

      They are *extraction* companies.
      • by russotto (537200)

        They are not *energy* companies. They are *extraction* companies.

        Nope, they are vertically integrated energy companies. They do exploration, extraction, refinement, distribution, retailing, power generation, research, etc.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      "I don't have BP here you insensitive clod!"

      And patent cases like these is why the the US is lagging more and more behind in development. Great ideas are stranding or shot down due to patent litigations and injunctions.

      The IP property protection may be a lot weaker in China (and other Asian countries) but the bandwagon is rolling on there because in many cases it's not worth the effort to bring an IP infringement to court unless you also bribe the judge and a large part of the legal system at the same time.

    • These companies are investing ridiculous amounts of money into alternative fuel research

      Citation?

      Chevron is investing about $300 million/yr in alternative entergy research. (http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/oil-companies-promote-alternative-energy/).

      Meanwhile, it posted 4th quarter 2010 profits of $5.3 billion, or about $19 billion for the 2010 year (http://www.pennenergy.com/index/petroleum/display/3120811156/articles/pennenergy/petroleum/finance/2011/01/chevron-profits_skyrocket.html).

      This amounts to 1.5% of PROFITS (not total revenue) is being funneled off for research.

      Exxon (201

    • When I was growing up it was 200MPG carburetors that the "Big Oil" companies was suppressing by buying up the patents. Of course now that the patents have expired, and the carburetors are commercially available we see that they don't get anything even close to 200MPG, are too temperamental for normal road car use, have no advantage over computerized fuel injection system we have now, but are actually pretty good for race cars that Joe Average races on weekends for fun.

  • Considering the insane amount of land and resources biofuels would require to replace fossil fuels I'd say these oil companies are being (unintentionally) socially responsible by patent trolling biofuel production.

    Biofuel is nothing more than an absurdly inefficient kind of solar power.

    • Biofuel is nothing more than an absurdly inefficient kind of solar power.

      You are pretty ignorant. The inefficiency is exactly why there is so much research in the area to try to make it less inefficient.

      Besides, it actually is very common that new technologies are quite inefficient in the beginning and get better with time. A really good example and relevant in regards to the audience here would be logic gates in computers: at first they were these really huge vacuum tubes, wasting insane amounts of energy due to converting so much of it into heat and took lots of space. With ti

      • The vacuum tube stage was back in and before WWII when the ABE fermentation [wikipedia.org] process was widespread, even at that it was still used in South Africa until the 1980's. There's boatloads of scientific papers about how to do it out there on the net. The biggest problems with the process is
        1 the feedstocks for the little crittters (C. acetobutylicum [wikipedia.org]) are expensive,
        2 The little critters are quite vulnerable to bacteriophages [wikipedia.org],
        3 it's difficult to make the jump from a batch process to a conti

    • by Svartalf (2997)

      Wrong answer...

      Much of what you're hearing about biofuels are from things like Ethanol or the current diesel production from things like oil-feedstock crops like corn, etc.

      What happens when you place a bunch of the left-overs from the crop, stuff you can't feed to the livestock, into first a high pressure (600psi) steam environment at 482 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes followed by flash boiling and thermal cracking at about 932 degrees Fahrenheit for about a couple of hours? You end up with a barrel of

      • by amorsen (7485)

        Plants are actually vastly more efficient than any solar process we've got right now for collecting solar energy

        This is not true. The best plants can do less than 9% solar-to-sugar conversion. A 9% efficiency for a solar cell is laughable.

        There is nowhere near enough left-overs from crops to fuel current cars, and then you have all the other things we use oil for.

  • The company suing is a JV funded by BP and DuPont in order to commercialize the technology described in the Patent. How is that an effort to shut down efforts to wean us off crude oil?

    http://www.butamax.com/_assets/pdf/butamax_advanced_biofuels_llc_fact_sheet.pdf [butamax.com]

    BP is actually the largest alternative energy company in the world with investments in solar, wind, hydrogen, and a variety of biofuels.

    http://www.bp.com/modularhome.do?categoryId=7040&contentId=7051376 [bp.com]

    Slashdot for the lose..

    • The article seems fine. The submitter is just trolling in the summary.

    • Posting propaganda from the websites of the companies in question is not a great way to further an argument on Slashdot. I don't disagree with you statement that TFA is trollish, however BPs token investment in renewable energy is minuscule in comparison to it enormous revenue stream. a ratio of about 4:1000 or 0.4% To call BP an "alternative energy company" is disingenuous and really just green-washing; which is especially irritating given BPs history of environmental transgressions (illegal dumping on
  • doing research on alternate fuels, just so they can patent them and then bury the technology?

    This has got to be the WORST way possible to abuse the patent system, whose core tenant is to encourage innovation. I've heard of companies buying and then burying things, but to actually R&D them and THEN bury them? wow.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      doing research on alternate fuels, just so they can patent them and then bury the technology?

      This has got to be the WORST way possible to abuse the patent system, whose core tenant is to encourage innovation. I've heard of companies buying and then burying things, but to actually R&D them and THEN bury them? wow.

      Yea, its like someone made it up its so unbelievable ...

      Oh wait ... if you read the article ... you'll find out that it too unbelievable to be true and is in fact just a lie in the summary.

      The actual article shows that the company that is suing 'the little guy' is a company setup in order to actually utilize the patent to make fuel ... not sit on it and kill it so no one else can use it ... and that the company suing is far further along in the process and much closer to market.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:10PM (#35254268)
    So, Dupont and BP have a joint venture that is developing biofuels. Said joint venture has patented a method of producing butanol using fermentation. This jont venture is suing another company for using a technique similar to the one they patented. How is this trying to "shut down efforts to wean us off of crude oil"? This looks like an attempt to profit from weaning us off of crude oil. There is certainly an argument to be made that the fact that the current patent system allows them to do this is contrary to the public interest. This is not Ford buying up the Los Angeles public transport company in order to shut it down and increase the demand for cars.
    • There is certainly an argument to be made that the fact that the current patent system allows them to do this is contrary to the public interest.

      The government would appear to disagree with that argument, because environmentally-beneficial inventions are one of the few kinds of inventions where patent applicants can request for free that their application be made "special" [uspto.gov] and therefore get examined sooner.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I am curious where you got the idea that all government action is that which they think are in the public interest? My experience is that while occasionally a government agent will take an action because they believe it is in the public interest, usually they take actions that serve their own interests in a way that can be presented as being in the public interest, but acting in the public interest receives little or no consideration in their decision making process.
      • There is certainly an argument to be made that the fact that the current patent system allows them to do this is contrary to the public interest.

        The government would appear to disagree with that argument, because environmentally-beneficial inventions are one of the few kinds of inventions where patent applicants can request for free that their application be made "special" [uspto.gov] and therefore get examined sooner.

        The government may disagree, but Congress and the United States Patent Office do not, and they're the ones that count. The problems with the patent system in the United States are very real.

    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:51PM (#35254486) Homepage

      This is not Ford buying up the Los Angeles public transport company in order to shut it down and increase the demand for cars.

      What the "greed is good" crowd seem to be missing here is that these energy companies are big. Really really big. And as a sector, the oil energy sector dwarfs all other economic sectors. If large players in that sector start to amass patents on technologies that could displace their core business, then will become increasingly able to stifle competition in this field. In other words, they will be increasingly able to decide to sit on those patents if it serves their immediate economic self interest. And the forces that are supposed to guarantee that the self interest of companies overlaps with the common interest of society, namely competitive forces, are made irrelevant by the huge size of these companies. They will become increasingly able to squash/buy-out smaller entrants to the market who might displace them. This is made even worse by the fact that many of these private interests seem to have captured the regulatory and governing systems, the very systems that are suppose to guarantee that the private activity of corporations overlaps with the public interest.

      So please don't cry that the poor companies are only doing what they are supposed to do, namely making money, because you are sidestepping the arguments made by many of us who are skeptical of the overlap of the activities of companies like BP and the public interest. You statements sound less like arguments and more like advertising slogans.

      • What the "greed is good" crowd seem to be missing here is that these energy companies are big. Really really big. And as a sector, the oil energy sector dwarfs all other economic sectors.

        Nonsense.

        Manufacturing, Heath Care, Finance, Construction, Retail are all larger than Energy.

      • BP isn't worried about alternative energy displacing their current core business. If alternative energy sources become economically viable, BP will be perfectly happy to supply them to the market. BP would live to be able to generate profit without having to do business in unstable regions of the world.
        As for "systems that are suppose to guarantee that the private activity of corporations overlaps with the public interest", there is only one system that does that. It is called the free market. The thing th
      • by Solandri (704621)

        What the "greed is good" crowd seem to be missing here is that these energy companies are big. Really really big. And as a sector, the oil energy sector dwarfs all other economic sectors.

        Here are all the economic sectors of the U.S. (2002) [census.gov]. Big Oil is a subset of the Mining sector, which was the fourth smallest sector if you sort by sales [wikipedia.org]. Only arts, entertainment & recreation; management companies; and educational services were smaller. The entire mining sector's sales comprised less than 1% of all

        • ...But it's still small potatoes compared to other sectors of the economy....

          I should have been somewhat more specific with my wording. However, I do assert that economically, oil plays an outsize role in the economy. Without it, most economic activity ceases. The only other commodities that are more important in our economy are food and water. And yet if you quantified the dollar value of trade in food or water, it would likely not be high on your list either. But I suspect that if you halved the food and water supply, you would realize the flaw in ranking commodities only by

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356)

      This is not Ford buying up the Los Angeles public transport company in order to shut it down and increase the demand for cars.

      "Roger Rabbit" is fantasy.

      The suburban electric line was in deep financial trouble before WWI.

      The operating cost of the Ford Model T was about a penny a mile. Portal-to-Portal for passengers and freight. It scarcely needed a road and could be re-purposed to do almost anything:

      The Model T was (intentionally) almost as much a tractor and stationary engine as it was an automobile, that is, a vehicle dedicated solely to road use. It has always been well regarded for its all-terrain abilities and ruggedness. It could drive down a rocky, muddy farm lane, ford a shallow stream, climb a steep hill, and be parked on the other side to have one of its wheels removed and a pulley fastened to the hub for a flat belt to drive a bucksaw, thresher, silo blower, conveyor for filling corn cribs or haylofts, baler, water pump, electrical generator, and countless other applications.

      Ford Model T [wikipedia.org]

    • It's just a matter of time, before the Chinese surpass the US in technology research. The way I see it, there is too much overhead running a company. You need spend the resources to file as many patents as possible, then you need to hire an army of lawyers to ensure fend off your competitor's patent suits. While the US companies have to invest many resources to fend off lawsuits, the Chinese will use their resources to reinvest in research. In the future, these Chinese companies may find it's not even worth
  • by Sir Holo (531007) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:14PM (#35254292)
    BP has been buying up solar patents for years.
    • BP has been buying up solar patents for years.

      So what? They sell solar panels. I install them all the time.

  • by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:23PM (#35254330)
    Seriously, isn't this the wrong time, for multiple reasons, for the U.S. to put all our research eggs in one big corporate basket?
    • The ironic part is, Slashdot routinely takes corporations to task for not spending on R&D - yet when they do spend on R&D, Slashdot doesn't want them to profit from it.

  • DuPont is not an oil company. They are a chemical company. They have lots of patents and lots of lawyers, but DuPont has always been good at making money by advancing science and technology, not suppressing it.

    • DuPont is not an oil company. They are a chemical company. They have lots of patents and lots of lawyers, but DuPont has always been good at making money by advancing science and technology, not suppressing it.

      Oh, there's no question that a large corporation, with the resources of a Du Pont or a British Petroleum, can do both. Matter of fact, it's the companies that have large R&D investments that are most into the "suppression" business. Why do you think they file for so many patents? It's to suppress anyone and anything that might want to compete with them. Now, the patent system is intended to permit just that, but because the patent system is so broken, and because it permits so much patent abuse, more an

      • by paiute (550198)

        DuPont is not an oil company. They are a chemical company. They have lots of patents and lots of lawyers, but DuPont has always been good at making money by advancing science and technology, not suppressing it.

        Oh, there's no question that a large corporation, with the resources of a Du Pont or a British Petroleum, can do both. Matter of fact, it's the companies that have large R&D investments that are most into the "suppression" business.

        I see. This explains why we are still using DuPont black powder in our muskets.

        • DuPont is not an oil company. They are a chemical company. They have lots of patents and lots of lawyers, but DuPont has always been good at making money by advancing science and technology, not suppressing it.

          Oh, there's no question that a large corporation, with the resources of a Du Pont or a British Petroleum, can do both. Matter of fact, it's the companies that have large R&D investments that are most into the "suppression" business.

          I see. This explains why we are still using DuPont black powder in our muskets.

          You might try reading the rest of my comment.

  • by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @12:30PM (#35254384)
    "We've looked into biobutanol, but it wasn't economically feasible to produce". Wanna bet? Know why? They are in the business of pumping oil from the ground and delivering it to your car. The infrastructure is already bought and paid for. All these alternative energy sources will NEVER be economically feasible to the big oil companies for this reason. That's precisely why you cannot leave ALL biofuel research to the oil companies.
    • They are in the business of pumping oil from the ground and delivering it to your car.

      What if that refined gas has 11.5% butanol in it? Then BP gets to be environmentally responsible and sell people gasoline at the same time.

      • by Svartalf (2997)

        This depends if the margins are right or the PR gain offsets the losses in the margins. If neither is in place, I can heartily assure you that BP won't be doing it.

      • by prefec2 (875483)

        As it is not responsible to use bio fuels, any percentage of butanol in gasoline will not make them environment friendly. Bio fuel is
        a) not environment friendly, as monocultures are used to produce the grain/corn/wheat/what ever with all their negative effects (e.g. pesticides, genetically modified crop)
        b) fertile land is used to produce fuel instead of feeding people

    • by prefec2 (875483)

      As bio fuel is not a sustainable energy source due to its use of farm land which should be used to feed the 7 billion people on this planet. Instead of bio fuel it is better to use wind, water and sunlight (e.g. in desserts, roofs etc.) which are not using fertile land for energy production. If driven a car or heating a house means someone else has nothing to eat than this is not a preferable solution. So by blocking research on bio fuels might even result in the right development after all. Even if that is

    • by spicate (667270)
      And what will they sell when the oil is gone? I'm not a fan of them using patents to shut down innovation, but don't doubt for a minute that they are serious about developing alternative fuels... so they can sell them, obviously. The oil companies know oil is running out.
  • They just want to make money and don't care how it happens. If we found out tomorrow that we could get electricity by plugging 13 ampere taps into the butts of angels, Shell would simply proceed to purchase the catholic church. Biofuels look potentially profitable? Buy the patents for a trivial sum and perhaps on day, skim the profits of those companies and individuals who do the actual work of development.

    Corporate feudalism is alive and well.

  • A patent troll is someone who owns patents and sues for infringement, but doesn't develop or market their own products.
    BP and Dupont do make and sell biofuels.

    BP most certainly don't want to hinder biofuel technology, it is their vested interest to promote them, as they require much of the same infrastructure that selling fossil fuels does.

  • by cartman (18204) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @04:06PM (#35255594)

    The article just repeats a bunch of silly leftist conspiracy theories. These theories crop up over and over again, and tbey're refuted over and over again, but they never seem to die.

    First, with regard to NIMH batteries. GM did not kill the electric car, nor did they buy nimh patents in order to bury them. GM discovered that electric cars costed $40k for a subcompact which was uncompetitive when gas costed $2 per gal.

    Second, companies never buy or develop patents in order to bury them. The reason some patents never show up in products is because most patents turn out to be non-viable or difficult to commercialize at current prices. Thus the company drops the patent. Just ebcause a patent languishes doesn't mean it's a conspiracy! Any company which had monopoly rights (through patent) to some revolutionary energy source would MARKET IT. Burying the patent would be throwing away something worth hundreds of billions to them. They could ALWAYS make more from the revolutionary patent than they could from selling gasoline because they don't have a monopoly on gasoline. Of course, genuine revolutionary breakthroughs in energy are VERY RARE, which is why we still use gasoline (not conspiracy!).

    With regard to the "patent trolling" allegation. The linked article says that this is the first patent lawsuit over biofuels from big oil EVER. That is not patent trolling. Also, the patent appears to be very narrow, precise, and un-obvious. Maybe it's a valid patent that was a product of their research. The orig poster provided no evidence for his claim that it was trolling.

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