Judge denies injunction in suit over Gulf oil-skimming technology

Alejandro de los Rios Sep. 1, 2010, 1:40pm

U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon on Wednesday denied an injunction sought by plaintiffs suing a rival company for allegedly stealing Gulf oil-spill cleanup technology.

Core 4, Kewbawk Inc. and Larry Howell filed suit against Ralph's Concrete Pumping Inc., Southern Construction and Development, Tim Henson, Michael Turner, Danny Blevins and C.J. Ogden Aug. 20 over a shallow-water skimmer and marsh-washing pump Howell claims he invented himself.

Plaintiffs sought injunctions to prevent the defense from using the technology in oil spill cleanup and to return materials that were allegedly stolen off of a barge just days before the plaintiffs were to demonstrate their technology for BP in the hopes of securing a cleanup contract with the oil company.

Judge Fallon, who presides in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, said at a hearing that the plaintiffs failed to meet the burdens of proof for granting a preliminary injunction, noting that "almost everything is in factual dispute" as to who is the real owner and inventor of the technology, and who has the right of possession of the equipment.

Throughout a day of testimony, at least four witnesses claimed to have either invented, designed or come up with the idea for the shallow-water skimmer and "washing wand" which were designed and built to clean Louisiana's sensitive coastal marshlands from oil leaked by BP's Deepwater Horizon well.

The plaintiff's first witness, Bob Brown, said he was hired as an engineer to help Howell come up with the design for the skimmer and washing wand. Brown said that Howell was the "primary visionary" behind all the designs and, last week, filed a patent for the technology under their names on Aug. 25.

The defense contended otherwise, stating that Henson and Turner had equal, if not greater input, into the design and construction of the skimmer and wand. Turner, who owns Southern Construction, testified that Howell took a team project "away from everybody" in an effort to get more recognition. Turner also said that the skimmer in question isn't even finished because it is too heavy to effectively float on top of the water while skimming for oil.

In his testimony, Henson claimed that the skimmer and the washing wand that Howell claimed were his sole inventions were almost identical to mechanisms Henson's company used while helping in the cleanup of the Exxon/Valdez oil spill in Alaska more than 20 years ago.

Judge Fallon noted the complexity of this case is best suited for a trial, rather than an injunction hearing.

Howell was employed as vice president of operations by Farrow Construction until Aug. 6. Then, through his company Kewbawk, Howell and Core 4 purchased the contract and obligations held by Farrow Construction to build oil spill cleanup devices in a joint venture with Ralph's seeking a BP contract for cleanup services.

After buying out Farrow's obligations, Howell and Core 4 claimed ownership and control of all the equipment and property being used in the joint venture with Ralph's.

Henson then ordered Blevins to go down to the barge, located on the coast near Venice, La., and remove the boom, skimmer, wand and other materials, which effectively disabled the cleaning system. The plaintiffs allege this action constitutes intellectual and physical property theft.

Case No. 2:10cv02792

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