BASF Accused of Infringing Patent Used in Ethanol Plants

Kurita America Inc., a Minnesota corporation, claimed in a Northern District of Illinois complaint on Thursday that BASF sells products that use its patented technology used for preventing and clearing build-up on machines that turn crops into ethanol. 

Kurita America, which was formerly called U.S. Water Services Inc., explained in the complaint that it sells water treatment and purification equipment and that much of its business includes selling products to ethanol plants. The technology involved in the lawsuit deals with “fouling,” a term for the build-up of deposits on equipment that is used to process ethanol. The fouling reportedly causes the machine to be less efficient because it prevents some heat transfers. 

Reportedly, before the plaintiff’s technology was created, ethanol plants would close to manually clean the deposits or add “large quantities of expensive and toxic sulfuric acid” to the processing fluid. The plaintiffs claimed that these solutions would cost the entire ethanol industry millions of dollars each year, meaning its invention which provides a cheaper alternative is very valuable to the industry. Its solution, patented under U.S. Patent No. 8,415,137 and U.S. Patent No. 8,609,399, prevents the phytate salt deposits from forming or reduces the deposits. The plaintiff sells its products as the pHytOUT system. 

The defendants include BASF Corporation, BASF Enzymes LLC, and Illinois River Energy LLC which does business as CHS Ethanol. Each of the defendants are Delaware corporations, but they have headquarters in various states. The plaintiffs claimed that these parties began selling a product to ethanol plants in June 2016 called Fueltase which directly replaces its system, and uses its patented method. The plaintiff reportedly informed BASF of its patents but it has continued to sell its products that use the same methods. 

Additionally, Kurita claimed that the defendants have sold their system to ethanol plants that were using Kurita’s products. The plaintiff filed two claims of patent infringement and asked the court to enjoin them from continuing to infringe the patents and to award damages to the plaintiff. 

Kurita is represented by Perkins Coie LLP