Indianapolis, Indiana — Patent lawyers for GS CleanTech Corp. of Alpharetta, Georgia (“CleanTech”) sued in the Northern District of Iowa alleging that Little Sioux Corn Processors, LLLP of Marcus, Iowa (“Little Sioux”) had infringed METHOD OF PROCESSING ETHANOL BYPRODUCTS AND RELATED SUBSYSTEMS, Patent No. 7,601,858, and its family of related patents, which have been issued by the U.S. Patent Office. The case was transferred to the Southern District of Indiana as part of Multidistrict Litigation No. 2181.
This lawsuit between CleanTech and Little Sioux is one of the most recent added to the Multidistrict Litigation currently underway in the Southern District of Indiana. It is being adjudicated by Judge Larry J. McKinney and Magistrate Judge Debra McVickers Lynch. At issue is CleanTech’s family of patents that claims a process that extracts corn oil from the byproducts created during the manufacture of ethyl alcohol.
Recently, attention has been given to the production of ethyl alcohol, also known as “ethanol,” for use as an alternative fuel. Ethanol burns cleaner than fossil fuels and can be produced using renewable domestic resources such as corn.
A popular method of producing ethanol is known as “dry milling,” whereby the starch in corn is used to produce ethanol through fermentation. In a typical dry milling method, the process starts by grinding each kernel of corn into meal, which is then slurried with water into mash. Enzymes are added to the mash to convert the starch to sugar. Yeast is then added to convert the sugar to ethanol and carbon dioxide. After this fermentation, the mixture is transferred to distillation columns where the ethanol is evaporated and removed, leaving an intermediate product called “whole stillage.” The whole stillage contains corn oil and the parts of each kernel of corn that were not fermented into ethanol. Despite that it still contains corn oil, the whole stillage has traditionally been treated as a byproduct of the dry-milling fermentation process and used primarily to supplement animal feed.
The ‘858 family of patents, which also includes U.S. Patent Nos. 8,008,516 (the “‘516 patent”), 8,008,517 (the “‘517 patent”) and 8,283,484 (the “‘484 patent”), relates to extracting corn oil from whole stillage. CleanTech claims that the method increases the efficiency and economy of recovering corn oil. Little Sioux is charged with infringing the ‘858 patent, along with the related ‘516, ‘517, and ‘484 patents (collectively “the patents-in-suit”)
This current suit seems to have its roots in a lawsuit filed by ICM, Inc. (hereinafter “ICM”), a Kansas corporation, which sued CleanTech in 2009 for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement and invalidity of the ‘858 patent. CleanTech asserts that ICM admitted in its complaint that that it “designs and builds ethanol production plants for customers and promotes, sells and installs centrifuge equipment to such customers for recovering oil from corn byproducts.” The complaint by ICM stated that it had filed the lawsuit to ask the court to determine whether ICM had the “right to sell and/or use equipment to practice corn oil recovery methods that are in part the subject of the claims of the ‘858 Patent.”
CleanTech asserts that ICM sold products and equipment to Little Sioux that infringe one or more of the claims of the patents-in-suit. Little Sioux is accused of using these products and equipment to infringe one or more of the claims of the patents-in-suit. In the complaint, patent attorneys for CleanTech assert:
· Count I: Infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,601,858
· Count II: Infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,008,516
· Count III: Infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517
· Count IV: Infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,283,484
CleanTech asks the court for preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting further infringement of the patents-in-suit; an award of damages adequate to compensate CleanTech for the infringement that has occurred, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty for the use made of the inventions of the patents-in-suit as provided in 35 U.S.C. § 284, together with prejudgment interest from the date the infringement began; and an award to CleanTech of all remedies available under 35 U.S.C. §§ 284, 285 and 154(d).
Practice Tip: Multi-district litigation affords consistency and judicial economy, as well as allowing plaintiffs and defendants to concentrate their efforts in one forum. However, lawsuits that are not settled before trial must later be remanded to the transferring court and to a judge who has had little opportunity to become familiar with the issues.