Fuel tank cleaner launches legal battle

Tanknology pulled no punches in its reply to Leighton O’Brien.

Two Australian fuel services providers will lock horns in a legal stoush, with a new legal action prompting a war of words.

Global tank cleaning company Leighton O’Brien has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against rival Tanknology Australia, for an alleged infringement on a tank cleaning technology patent.

Leighton O’Brien sought relief by a permanent injunction this morning for Tanknology to cease using the fuel cleaning technology, and to also provide financial compensation.

Leighton O’Brien CEO Reed Leighton told C&I Week there were two parts to the alleged infringement.

“The first part is the physical structure of the equipment that they are using, and the second part is the process that they are following,” he said.

“Essentially it revolves around the use of a settlement tank, and the cleaning and restoring of fuel from that settlement tank back through the filtration system and returning it to the underground tank. That is the patented part of the process.”

Tanknology Australia director Noel Kennedy categorically denied using Leighton O’Brien’s intellectual property, and outright panned the effectiveness of their system.

“Firstly, it must be absolutely clear that Tanknology does not utilise Leighton O’Brien’s (LOB) patented process, or anything vaguely similar, as a means of ‘cleaning’ fuel tanks internal shells,” he said.

“It simply doesn’t work in our opinion.

“We believe the LOB patented ‘Tank and Fuel Treatment’ process is merely a replica of numerous fuel polishing methods that have been available in Australia and the rest of the world for many decades and the fact that it was granted a patent in 2008 seems frankly laughable and highly contestable.”

Mr Kennedy said he believed that Leighton O’Brien sought a monopoly over water and contaminant extraction in Australia, which “would be a travesty to the many dozens of small and larger contractors who have been performing such services since well before Leighton O’Brien were in existence”.

Mr Leighton said this was the first time in the company’s 22 year history that it had launched a lawsuit.

“We did investigate this, and have been trying to have various conversations with Tanknology, and then two weeks ago the managing director said he couldn’t see them working out a commercial arrangement,” he said.

Mr Kennedy disagreed, stating: “We were still in very much alive commercial talks contrary to Leighton’s highlighted statement. His statement is misleading and wrong in fact.”

Mr Leighton, in an earlier statement, addressed this point: “We’re not trying to stop competition, there are plenty of ways you can clean a tank. We welcome competition, but we can’t allow exploitation of our technology,” he said.

“We’ve invested millions of dollars in R&D for our technology. Global oil companies are focused on providing premium fuel to their customers, and having clean tanks is a big part of that strategy.

“We also know that 35% of tanks are dirty, so it’s a growing part of our international business.”

The process used by Leighton O’Brien to protect against accelerated corrosion and biological activity in storage systems involves gently vacuuming sludge and sediment material from the bottom of the tank, after which the fuel is agitated and taken out of the tank to be passed through various means of filtration, such as a magnetic filter for rust and a water block filter, and then use of a coalescer to spin water out of the fuel.

“It’s not just about desludging the tank and cleaning the fuel, but also the removal of water, which is the number one enemy these days,” Mr Leighton said.

“We have filed this claim for a very simple reason. We believe our intellectual property rights are being exploited and we wish to protect them.

“Our intellectual property is our core asset, and represents significant R&D investment. We welcome healthy competition, but we will not tolerate competitors copying our technology.

“It is necessary for our business to take this action to protect our investment that our Licensed Service Partners and customers rely on for industry-leading tank cleaning and fuel restoration.”

Both Tanknology and Leighton O’Brien are advertisers with C&I Retailing Magazine.

For Tanknology director Noel Kennedy’s full statement to C&I Week, click here.

For the full press release from Leighton O’Brien, click here.

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