By BILL LEWIS
Vanderbilt physician and inventor Robert Holcomb has lost control in a bankruptcy court dispute of several environmentally friendly discoveries that that he had hoped would be worth billions of dollars one day.
A federal bankruptcy judge has ruled that several companies created by Holcomb no longer owned his possible breakthroughs when they sold millions of dollars worth of stock to numerous investors, including Vanderbilt University, over a period of years.
Chief Judge George Paine ruled that Holcomb and his companies must turn over control of many of his patents and repay $4 million to Holcomb Healthcare Services. That company was founded by Holcomb but is controlled by others today, principally business managers from Memphis and Alabama.
Those investors claimed they, and not Holcomb, have owned his patented ''Green Coal'' process for burning coal without polluting the air, as well as other processes for turning sea water into drinking water and preserving wood without using harmful chemicals since 1996.
During a trial last month, the inventor's opponents argued that Holcomb's other companies gained millions of dollars in investments by selling the same intellectual property over and over. Holcomb Healthcare Services' managers argued that the doctor had assigned the patents for his key discoveries to their company, and he no longer had the right to keep selling them.