Members of US Congress object to Unocal gasoline patent

Seven members of the US House of Representatives Thursday urged the Supreme Court to overturn Unocal Corp.�s patent for reformulated gasoline (RFG). Three oil industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, filed a similar friend-of-the court brief on Wednesday.


Washington, DC�Seven members of the US House of Representatives Thursday urged the Supreme Court to overturn Unocal Corp.�s patent for reformulated gasoline (RFG). Three oil industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, filed a similar friend-of-the court brief on Wednesday.

Unocal filed a brief supporting its position Thursday.

Lower courts have upheld a Unocal patent on certain gasoline formations that later turned out to encompass the composition of RFG meeting California regulations. Now, refiners outside the state fear they, too, may have to pay Unocal a fee of up to 5.75�/gal. One API estimate of fees due Unocal is more than $100 million/year in California alone, and the oil group said the patent could affect the cost of cleaner-burning fuels nationwide (OGJ Online, Sept. 13, 2000).

Filing the brief were Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), John Baldacci (D-Me.), Tom Barrett (D-Wisc.), William Lipinski (D-Ill), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.). Several of them have sponsored a bill that dictates licensing terms for the Unocal patent.

�The public�s experience with higher gas prices this summer, particularly in Midwestern and Northeastern states, justifies the urgency required to break the Unocal monopoly patent for cleaner gasoline,� Kucinich said. "Unocal�s monopoly on RFG is one reason for high gas prices, a problem the Supreme Court can help alleviate."

Unocal emphatically rejects this claim. The company said that, despite repeated offers to negotiate licensing agreements, no company has taken it up on the offer. Unocal is not collecting any royalties.

"The claims by refiners that Unocal's patents have been a major factor in today's very high gasoline prices are economic nonsense," said Roger C. Beach, Unocal chairman and CEO. He said several government agencies have reviewed and rejected these claims.

Unocal said it requested that the Supreme Court deny the petition to overturn its RFG patent. It said the petition raises no significant issues involving patent law, and the focus of the amicus brief filed by other refiners on the similarity of the patent to California regulatory requirements is "legally irrelevant and unsupported by the facts."

Unocal's brief also argued that the potential commercial value of the patent is not grounds for judicial review.

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