Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Justice, At Last
When Unocal first appeared to be destined for a Chinese buyer, I remarked on my concern about the fate of its obscure but pivotal patents on reformulated gasoline. When Chevron announced it was buying Unocal, my concern eased, because at least these patents would be in US hands, although they seemed to present a thorny problem for a company that had campaigned and litigated against their enforcement. Now, the best possible outcome seems to have been reached, with the FTC consent decree for the acquisition including Chevron's agreement to cease enforcement of the patents for the remainder of their lives.

For many of us who have followed this issue since its inception, the granting of those patents represented both an injustice against a group of companies that had cooperated, with government approval, to try to create the most cost-effective means for achieving California's stringent gasoline quality specifications relative to reducing air pollution. Although I wasn't involved in this directly, I worked in the downstream in California at the time, and people I respected were adamant that Unocal had patented work done by and with others, then turned around and attempted to collect royalties from the same companies that had contributed to the knowledge and formulations behind the patents. In this vein, the waiving of future rights under these patents--and perhaps even Unocal's absorption (and disappearance) into a larger company--seems like just desserts.

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