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Oil Companies Patent Trolling Biofuel Production 183

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 @12:59PM (#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.

  • by dentin ( 2175 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:02PM (#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.

  • by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:06PM (#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.

  • No kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:10PM (#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:This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:29PM (#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.

  • by Whatsmynickname ( 557867 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:30PM (#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.
  • Re:No kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:37PM (#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.

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

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:38PM (#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

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:45PM (#35254458)
    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.
  • Re:This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <gaygirlie@[ ] ['hot' in gap]> on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:48PM (#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.

  • Re:This is silly. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @02:42PM (#35254756)

    Clearly, when a patent is being used to kill an industry, the value of the industry is thus zero. Giving nothing to the patent troll sounds like market value compensation to me...

    But it may generate profit for the patent holder in another industry, which taking the patent away would result in them losing money, and thus ... they would need to be compensated for that loss instead.

    Its really not hard to understand and is absolutely silly that you look at it as if such a simplistic view of the problem would actually fly in the face of any sane person.

  • Re:This is silly. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @02:46PM (#35254776)

    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 get it from the fields to the refineries ... So while their may not be a patent on 'gasoline', thats not what comes out of the pump either so it really doesn't matter.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @03:47PM (#35255164)

    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 []

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

    by Whatsmynickname ( 557867 ) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @04:53PM (#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.

Only God can make random selections.