Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chevron / Catchlight : "The Formula" re-visited??

In an earlier post Grist for a re-make of "The Formula"?, IPBiz ridiculed a Bloomberg post which suggested that Chevron was holding back on $2.18 per gallon biofuel.

Tina Casey at Cleantechnica followed in the path of the Bloomberg post and included text:

One Step Backwards, Two Steps Forwards

Jim Lane at Biofuels Digest tipped us to this story last week, and it caught our eye under the heading “Who Killed $2.18 Gasoline?”

That’s no accident, if you’re familiar with the 2006 documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” The film chronicles GM’s pioneering EV1 electric vehicle, introduced in California in 1996 to meet a state air quality mandate. Though EV1 was a hit with consumers, a loophole in the law enabled GM to end the EV1 experiment by 2004.

Part of the issue, as described by filmmaker Chris Paine, is an almost precision echo of the too-good-for-its-own-good problem that stymied the Catchlight venture: GM managers foresaw that electric vehicles would need far less maintenance and repair that gas vehicles, and that would cut into the company’s profit from the replacement parts market.

That’s how Lane sees it:

“Here’s the pattern: bend to public will when mandate efforts become popular, establish big projects, hire top R&D talent and bottle up IP to prevent technology spread, kill off the projects with absurd profit requirements, cite lack of feasible technology as a reason to kill or delay mandates, and then lobby like crazy to get back to the status quo.”

Well, not to end on a totally gloom and doom note but sometimes there is a happy ending. Not too long after the last (almost) EV1 was sent to the crusher yard, GM went on to develop the popular Chevy Volt gas-electric car. Rumor has it that the company is working on a 200-mile extended range all-electric car, and it has emerged as a key player in the Obama Administration’s efforts to develop sustainable fuel cell electric vehicles.

IPBiz notes several points:

#1. The relevant film to this story is more likely "The Formula" with George C. Scott (1980), than the 2006 documentary.

#2. Of the Chevy Volt, from green autoblog : Sales of the Chevrolet Volt have fluctuating wildly recently between record months (October 2012, when 2,961 were sold or December 2012 with 2,633) and noticeable slumps (1,519 Volt sales in November). Last month, January 2013, was one of the down months, with just 1,140 Volts sold across the US. Still, this is better than the 603 Volts sold in January 2012.
From CleanTechnica: As noted above, the Chevy Volt’s March sales (1,478) are down a bit compared to February 2013 (1,626).

#3. Of the intellectual property relevant text -- establish big projects, hire top R&D talent and bottle up IP to prevent technology spread --, patents do NOT "bottle up IP to prevent technology spread." Most patent applications are published, so they relentlessly enhance technology spread. ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics, for example, have published many patent applications in the biofuels area.

In the case of "The Formula" (1980), the technology in question was a trade secret, supposedly not easily independently derivable. The Bloomberg story, as further discussed by Lane and Casey, would have us believe that the Chevron / Catchlight technology is a secret that is not easily derivable. That's hard to believe.


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