Amylase.jpgNovozymes has won a patent infringement suit against Danisco concerning infringement of a Novozymes patent on enzymes for bioethanol. Danisco has withdrawn the infringing product (Spezyme Ethyl) from the market. Spezyme Ethyl is a thermostable alpha-amylase enzyme for the liquefaction of starch at high temperatures and is used in the production of bioethanol.

Amylase (1,4-a-D-Glucan glucanohydrolase; EC 3.2.1.1) is a digestive enzyme (present in saliva, for example) that breaks down long-chain carbohydrates (such as starch) as an initial step in the production of ethanol from grain starch. In this type of production, corn or starchy grain is ground into flour (“meal”), which is then slurried with water to form a mash. Enzymes are added for the conversion of starch to sugar, the whole mash is processed in a high-temperature cooker and then transferred to fermenters where yeast is added and the conversion of sugar to ethanol and CO2 begins.

Most of the ethanol in the U.S. is made using the dry mill method. In the dry mill process, the starch portion of the corn is fermented into sugar then distilled into alcohol. The starch is usually heated at around 105°C or higher in the presence of thermostable alpha amylase, and then liquefied further at a lower temperature (around 90ºC). The high temperatures help reduce bacteria levels in the mash (high bacteria levels reduce yield).

In March, 2005, Novozymes A/S filed a complaint against Danisco’s subsidiary Genencor in the United States District Court for the district of Delaware for patent infringement under U.S. Patent No. 6,867,031. The complaint, which was filed the same day Novozymes’ patent was issued, focuses on the manufacture, use and or sale of Genencor’s SPEZYME® Ethyl, a high performance amylase enzyme that is sold to the fuel ethanol industry.

The ‘031 patent claims a variant of a parent Bacillus stearothermophilus alpha-amylase. The variant improves the stability of alpha-amylases which are obtainable from Bacillus strains and which themselves had been selected on the basis of their starch removal performance in alkaline media.

The court concluded “that the Defendants have infringed claims 1, 3 and 5 of the ´031 patent, that those claims are valid, and that the ´031 patent is enforceable. Accordingly, this case will proceed to the second phase trial to decide the issues of willfulness and damages.” The size of the damages will be decided in the fall. Novozymes has claimed several million US dollars in damages for loss of profits.

Danisco announced today that the company has withdrawn the product that infringed Novozymes’ patent (Spezym Ethyl)

Novozymes now plans to sell replacement products, Liquozyme and Termamyl, to customers replacing the infringing product that Danisco has withdrawn from the market.

We’ll leave the discussions of the politics and economic long-term viability of bioethanol as an alternate fuel to others.

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