FTC investigating whether Unocal's RFG patent hurts competition

Unocal Corp. has confirmed that the US Federal Trade Commission is investigating a complaint that the company's reformulated gasoline patents are anticompetitive. Separately, the US Office of Patents and Trademarks said it has opened an examination of Unocal's gasoline patents.


By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 15 -- Unocal Corp. has confirmed that the US Federal Trade Commission is investigating a complaint that the company's reformulated gasoline patents are anticompetitive.

The company disclosed the investigation in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Separately, the US Office of Patents and Trademarks said it has opened an examination of the gasoline patents it has granted Unocal.

FTC would not comment on the investigation or when it would reach a conclusion.

ExxonMobil Corp. and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association had asked FTC to investigate the issue (OGJ Online, May 9, 2001).

ExxonMobil said, "We contend Unocal gained a monopoly over a legally mandated product, and there are antitrust issues."

Last spring the Supreme Court upheld Unocal's reformulated gasoline patent rights by refusing to hear an appeal.

ExxonMobil and other oil companies have argued that Unocal participated in an industry-government consortium to develop cleaner burning gasoline and then used the information to obtain patents for RFG blending processes. Unocal denies the allegations.

Some refiners have agreed to pay Unocal's patent fees, but others are "blending around" the patents with less efficient processes.

Unocal Corp. has offered a uniform license to all refiners, blenders, and importers to use its cleaner burning gasoline patents -- except the companies that sued to declare the patent invalid.

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