Gevo v. Butamax: Judge denies injunction request

By Susanne Retka Schill | June 20, 2012

The latest chapter is near closure on the butanol patent dispute between Gevo Inc. and Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC. In an opinion filed June 19, U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson denied Butamax’s request for a preliminary injunction. Just 10 days earlier, the judge had requested Gevo maintain the status quo until her ruling.

Butamax said in a statement following the June 19 ruling that it would make an immediate appeal.

Gevo and Butamax are locked in a drawn out patent dispute. Butamax is suing Gevo for patent infringement; Gevo has won a round with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in challenging Butamax’ patent as being invalid and has counter sued. Butamax filed a motion in September for a preliminary injunction asking the court to stop Gevo from infringing on their patent. On June 13, Butamax quickly trumpeted the court’s request that Gevo not sell any of its biobased isobutanol produced at its Luverne, Minn., facility to anyone but the two initial customers. Yesterday’s ruling denied the request for an injunction.

Gevo describes the ruling as very favorable, quoting a statement in the judge’s ruling, “that plaintiff (Butamax) does not hold a valid patent, nor would the defendant (Gevo) infringe if it did.” Brett Lund, executive vice president and general counsel for Gevo, explained in investor and media calls following the ruling that it supports Gevo’s argument that it is using a different technology and that Butamax’ patents were deficient. Bloomberg Businessweek reported Gevo’s stock surged as much as 59 percent following the judge’s ruling.

Butamax, however, pointed out that this ruling is quite limited. “The court’s decision is not a final determination of infringement or invalidity concerning the 188 and 889 patents, as it is merely a determination that the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction is not available at this time. This is an early step in a long and complex litigation process,” Butamax CEO Paul Beckwith said in a statement. “We remain highly confident in the ultimate outcome of this case and our other cases against Gevo.”  

Both parties will continue to build their cases for the first trial, set to open in April, a second trial is set for December 2013.

Gevo anticipates the startup of its isobutanol production line at Luverne, Minn., will be completed by the end of the month, and they will then begin delivering product to their first two customers. Sasol will be buying the majority of the production for industrial uses and the U.S. Air Force will be receiving quantities suitable for testing as aviation fuel. In addition to the startup of the Luverne plant, Gevo is working on engineering plans for the retrofit at Redfield, S.D., and recently announced a collaborative agreement to develop a project in Malaysia that calls for a fermentation facility using their technology for biofuels and biochemical producer.

Butamax continues to develop its Early Adopters Group, recently announcing it has signed on four more ethanol producers, bringing the group to seven. All are Fagen/ICM-designed facilities. Butamax, a joint venture between BP and DuPont, announced a collaboration with Fagen in mid-April for retrofitting the corn-ethanol facilities to biobutanol production. So far, no retrofit schedules have been announced.