Rejecting appeals by five major oil companies, the Supreme Court upheld a disputed patent for clean-burning gasoline that could add several cents per gallon to the price at the pump in California.

The oil companies will have to pay royalties for their use of the reformulated gasoline to Unocal Corp. of El Segundo, which sold its refineries and gas stations to Tosco Corp. in 1997 but retained ownership of its gasoline patents. The reformulated gasoline is standard in California and used in many urban areas around the country.

The impact on consumers is unclear because the licensing fee that major oil companies must pay Unocal for 20 years will be the subject of negotiations.

Unocal engineers devised a blending formula in the early 1990s that made for cleaner-burning fuel. At the same time, state regulators were working on a plan to require the use of a cleaner fuel. Before the final rules were issued, Unocal obtained a patent for its formula, which met the new standards. In 1995, the oil giants discovered that their refineries had little choice but to use a fuel formula that was owned by another company.

Unocal sued its competitors for infringing on its patent and won before a jury in Los Angeles in 1997. Experts at the trial testified that the blending formula was worth 5.75 cents per gallon of gasoline. For just a five-month period in 1996, a federal judge calculated, Unocal was owed $69 million in royalties.

Ever since, the major oil companies have been contesting the patent. They were joined last year by California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and his counterparts from 33 states. They said Unocal hijacked the regulatory process by patenting a regulatory requirement.

But the Supreme Court turned away the final appeals from Atlantic Richfield Co., Chevron USA, Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell Oil Products Co. and Texaco Refining Inc. The case goes back to a federal judge in Los Angeles to decide how much money is owed to Unocal.

Stan Lee Media Files for Bankruptcy

Stan Lee Media Inc., an online media company founded by comic book creator Stan Lee, has filed for bankruptcy protection and is up for sale.

The Encino-based company has had discussions with several potential buyers and investors since mid-December, company officials said, most that would prefer to complete any transaction under the protection of the courts.

Stan Lee Media, whose founder created such comic book characters as Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, stopped production and fired most of its staff in December after its shares fell below $1, leaving it unable to claim $2.2 million it had expected in short-term financing.

Stan Lee Media said last month that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating trading in its stock and that the company had found evidence of misuse of corporate funds by some former members of its management team. Nasdaq trading in Stan Lee stock has been halted since Dec. 18, when the shares fell 69 cents to 13 cents apiece.

L.A. Dye Closes Shop

Pico Rivera-based L.A. Dye & Print Works Inc., one of the region's largest textile firms, will halt operations by the end of April, company officials said. The move will put about 700 employees out of work.

The company, which does everything from fabric knitting to finishing, closed a dye house in December to cut costs and conserve energy as its natural gas costs soared past $600,000 a month five times higher than they were at the start of 2000, company officials said.

But that emergency move was not enough to keep the company afloat, they said, adding that L.A. Dye is investigating all its options regarding the sale or liquidation of the business.

Founded in the early 1980s, the company grew to become one of the largest and most respected players in the local industry. Los Angeles County is home to nearly 400 knitting, dyeing and finishing mills, 40 percent of them started since the early 1990s. The local trade employs about 16,500 people, a 59 percent increase from 1990.

Blueprint Maker Keeps Growing

American Reprographics Co. of Glendale has purchased Orlando Reprographics of Florida, the latest in a string of acquisitions for one of the nation's largest reprographics companies.

Known for its digital blueprint work within the construction industry, American Reprographics serves 110,000 customer companies in more than 100 markets nationwide. Over the last five years, in a bid to expand, it has sought out small, independent shops that typically can't afford to update aging document reproduction machines, which can cost up to $250,000 each.

Financial details about the Orlando Reprographics acquisition were not disclosed.

The small size of Orlando Reprographics, with $2 million in annual revenue, was not a disadvantage, company officials said. Its strong customer base and local name recognition will provide American Reprographics with a foothold in the region. Orlando was recently named one of the top 10 fastest-growing U.S. markets.

Since 1996, privately held American Reprographics, with $428 million in annual sales, has purchased more than 50 companies, including Ridgway's Reprographics of Houston, which had been the second-largest reprographics firm in the United States. American Reprographics acquired 10 other companies around the nation in 2000. After last week's deal, the company employs about 3,500 people nationwide.

Blue Cross Ends Litigation

Blue Cross of California said it has settled a lawsuit from one of California's largest hospital chains over charges that the insurer routinely declined to pay for patient services as a way to boost profitability.

Catholic Healthcare West, which operates 40 hospitals in California, had alleged in a Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit filed in June that Blue Cross engaged in a pattern of practices designed to increase its own profitability by delaying and denying payments due to hospitals.

Catholic Healthcare threatened to sever its contract with Blue Cross, a move that could have disrupted medical care for tens of thousands of patients. The two companies, however, reached a contract agreement in August, but it took an additional six months to completely resolve their dispute and settle the litigation.

Contractual agreements now in place, as well as greater efforts to electronically connect Catholic Healthcare's billing system with Blue Cross' payment system, should reduce the late payments, underpayments and payment denials that were at the heart of the dispute, officials said.

Separately, the Woodland Hills-based health plan said it reached a new contract with St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica. The 233-bed hospital stopped accepting Blue Cross insurance in August, protesting the insurer's payment rates.

The two developments appeared to resolve some of the tensions between Blue Cross and several health care providers that in the last year have criticized the insurer over its payment practices and low reimbursement fees.

Blue Cross provides medical insurance for 5.6 million Californians. Catholic Healthcare West is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that owns 13 hospitals in Southern California, including St. Mary Medical Center of Long Beach, St. Vincent Medical Center of Los Angeles and Glendale Memorial Hospital & Health Center.

Formalwear Store Purchased

Gary's Tux Shops of Van Nuys has agreed to merge with Chicago-based Gingiss Formalwear in a stock transaction to create the first nationwide chain of tuxedo rental stores.

Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Under the merger agreement, Gary's Tux Shops, a local institution for almost 70 years, will become part of Gingiss Formalwear and operate under that name. Gary's already is the largest formal retailer in the West with 175 shops, including 77 in California.

The stock-for-stock merger will give Gingiss a network of 430 stores in 33 states and push it ahead of its closest competitor, Atlanta-based After Hours by Mitchell's, by more than 200 stores. Before last week, Gingiss had owned or franchised 255 locations.

The combined company expects to bring in annual sales of $155 million this year, officials said. In some shopping malls and cities where both stores have a presence, the name Gary's Tux Shop will remain.

Tuxedo sales and rentals have become a $1.4 billion-a-year business. The average tuxedo rents for $80 to $120. The largest portion of the tuxedo business is in weddings, at 66 percent. Proms and black-tie affairs account for 20 percent to 30 percent of revenue.

Homestore Deal Cleared

Westlake Village-based Homestore.com Inc., which operates a network of real estate-related Internet sites, announced that federal antitrust regulators would not oppose the company's purchase of Internet real estate portal Move.com from franchising giant Cendant Corp.

Homestore.com said the Justice Department had notified the two companies that it would not oppose the closing of the acquisition.

However, the department is continuing an investigation of some Homestore.com agreements, including some between Homestore.com and Cendant, officials said.

The company said in October that it would buy Move.com and some of Cendant's related assets in exchange for 26.3 million Homestore.com common shares. At that time, the deal was worth about $761 million. The rise in Homestore.com's stock price since then has raised the value of the deal to about $900 million.

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