Archive for October, 2009

Excluded Icon? ITC Opens Investigation Into Imported Toyota Hybrids

October 30th, 2009

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In a previous post, I discussed the complaint filed by hybrid drivetrain technology company Paice LLC (Paice) against Toyota in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). 

In the complaint (paice_itc_complaint.pdf), Paice alleged that Toyota’s importation of the third generation Prius, the Camry Hybrid, the Lexus HS250h and RX450h (Accused Products) infringe U.S. Patent No. 5,343,970 (’970 Patent).

Earlier this month the ITC issued a Notice of Investigation announcing its decision to conduct an investigation into Paice’s allegations.

In a prior case in the Eastern District of Texas Paice won a jury verdict that the second generation Prius, the Highlander and the Lexus RX 400h infringed two claims of the ’970 Patent under the doctrine of equivalents, and the verdict was affirmed on appeal (see my previous post about the verdict and appeal here). 

The court awarded Paice an ongoing royalty of $25 per infringing vehicle, which was later increased to $98.

In this ITC action, Paice asserts that Toyota is precluded from challenging the infringement, validity and enforceability of the ’970 Patent because those issues were previously adjudicated. 

Paice also contends that the Accused Products infringe the ’970 Patent because of alleged judicial admissions by Toyota that the drivetrains of the Accused Products are materially the same as those that were found to infringe the ’970 Patent.

According to Paice, that leaves only issues relating to “domestic industry,” i.e., whether Paice has significantly invested in the patented technology in the U.S.  

This issue could be dispositive here.  Although licensing activity can suffice for domestic industry, it remains to be seen whether Paice’s court-imposed royalty arrangement with Toyota will be enough to meet this requirement.

Global Battle Brews Over Green Building Eco-marks

October 25th, 2009

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The Green Building Initiative (GBI) is a Portland, Oregon non-profit that promotes green building practices.  GBI offers an assessment protocol and rating system for environmentally friendly building design under the GREEN GLOBES mark.

GBI is the exclusive licensee of the GREEN GLOBES mark and owns two U.S. Service Mark Registrations for the mark - U.S. Registration No. 3,549,714 for the GREEN GLOBES design (714_reg.pdf) (shown above) and U.S. Registration No. 3,549,715 for the word mark (715_reg.pdf).  Both registrations are for the following services in Class 42:

Providing temporary use of online non-downloadable software for evaluating, rating, comparing, certifying, and/or improving the efficiency, sustainability, and environmental performance of both new and existing buildings 

Earlier this month, GBI sued Green Globe International (GGI) in federal court in Oregon, alleging that GGI is infringing its GREEN GLOBES marks by using the mark GREEN GLOBE in connection with a certification system for environmentally friendly building design and construction.

According to the complaint (gbi-complaint.pdf), GBI has been using its GREEN GLOBES mark since at least as early as February 1, 2005.  However, GGI’s web site states that the company’s Green Globe brand (logo shown below) and program were launched in 1992.  A quick search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database yields no registrations for GGI.

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GBI’s complaint requests damages and injunctive relief.

Thanks to Augie Rakow for his post on the Cleantech Litigation Report, where I initially read about this case.

Aquamarine Power Harnesses Wave Energy with its Oscillating Oyster

October 22nd, 2009

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Aquamarine Power is a Scottish wave energy developer that recently completed a first round of fundraising (10 million British pounds) and deployed a full scale demonstration model of its Oyster wave energy converter.

International Application No. PCT/GB2006/000906 and the corresponding U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2008/0191485 (’485 Application) describe the Oyster.

The ’485 Application is directed to a wave energy conversion device (1) comprising a base portion (2) anchored to the seabed (4).  A flap (8) is pivotally connected to the base portion (2) and moves back and forth in an oscillating motion in response to waves (7).

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Deflector plates (13, 70) direct waves onto the flap (8), thereby improving power capture.  According to the ’485 Application, curved end sections (78) also improve power capture. 

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When the flap (8) oscillates in response to wave action, driving rods (66) cause hydraulic fluid in cylinders (68) to be pressurized by the action of pistons (not shown).  The pressurized fluid is delivered to on onshore turbine that generates electricity.

According to this Matter Network story Aquamarine Power has an agreement with Scottish and Southern Energy to develop up to 1,000 megwatts of marine energy sites by 2020 using the Oyster technology.

Green Patent Power: Griffith Hack Report Analyzes Hybrid Car Patents

October 18th, 2009

The Griffith Hack law firm in Australia recently published a report that analyzes hybrid car patent filings and how those filings affect innovation and success in the hybrid car market.

The report, entitled “Who holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies”, was written by Justin Blows and Mike Lloyd, both members of the firm’s Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group.

Dr. Blows and his colleague used patent analytics tools to compile a list of all hybrid car patents filed internationally since 1980, group those patents into families, and rate the quality or “dominance” of those patents. 

Their analysis found that Toyota is the world leader in hybrid car patent families with 43% of the total, or more than 4,000 families. 

Interestingly, the study also found that a small U.S. hybrid drivetrain developer called Paice, which has been aggressively litigating its patents against Toyota with some success, holds four of the ten most dominant patents.

The implications of Toyota’s patent dominance is discussed at length in the report.  Dr. Blows’s blog post summarizes as follows:

the market leader in hybrid technology has filed so many patents ahead of its rivals, that other major manufacturers are now being forced to use the technology ‘under license’ or develop very different types of vehicles

According to the report, there is an apparent correlation between the number of hybrid cars sold by Toyota and the number of patents filed.

Moreover, and perhaps most important, the report posits that Toyota’s agressive patent filings have helped the automaker build its hybrid brand and set “the standard for the hybrid power train” by creating early and lasting exclusivity in its vehicles’ dual-mode capability, i.e., the ability to drive using one or both of an electric motor and a conventional motor.

More broadly, in his comments about the report, Dr. Blows echoes Green Patent Blog’s raison d’etre:

“Our report shows that clean technology innovators are massively investing in IP, to ensure they remain competitive as the world moves into a new age of clean technology.”

Sony Ericsson Settles ITC Patent Suit with LED Professor

October 15th, 2009

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I’ve written before in this space about retired Columbia University Professor and LED innovator Gertrude Neumark Rothschild and her success litigating and licensing her patents (see, e.g., previous post here).  That success continues as four more defendants targeted by Rothschild in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) settled recently.

The biggest name is Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications (Sony), whose settlement with Rothschild was given final approval by the ITC in August when the commission decided not to review an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) inital determination terminating the investigation with respect to Sony.

Also, in an initial determination (ID) made public last month, an ALJ granted motions by Tyntek Corp., Tekcore Corp. and Arima Optoelectronics seeking orders terminating the ITC investigations into their allegedly infringing products (Tyntek ID, Tekcore ID, Arima ID).

The settlements come in two consolidated ITC actions in which Rothschild alleged that about three dozen LED and consumer electronics makers infringe U.S. Patent No. 5,252,499 (’499 patent), which relates to methods of making LEDs capable of emitting shorter wavelength light (see previous posts on these actions here and here).

The ’499 patent is directed to methods of doping semiconductors, which means adding impurities to increase the number of free charge carriers.  Rothschild’s patented technology has had a major impact on LEDs by making production of green, blue and other short wavelength LEDs more economically viable. 

P3 and Smartlabs Settle Plug-in Energy Meter Patent Suit

October 11th, 2009

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In a previous post, I discussed a patent suit between P3 International (P3), a New York consumer electronics company, and SmartLabs Inc. (SmartLabs), UPM Marketing Inc.  and UPM Technology USA, inc. (collectively “UPM”). 

In that case, P3 alleged that UPM’s plug-in energy meters infringe U.S. Patent No. 6,095,850 (’850 patent).

P3 makes the Kill A Watt electric power meter, which allows consumers to determine how much energy particular appliances are using.   

P3 is the exclusive licensee of the ’850 patent, which covers the Kill A Watt meter.  The ’850 patent is directed to an electric adapter (1) having a plug (2) on its rear side which can be plugged into an electric socket (7). 

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The adaptor has an outlet socket with three holes (3a, 3b, 3c) on the front and a display (4) to show electrical parameters of the appliance being monitored.

The parties recently filed a stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit, and Judge Denise L. Cote signed the stipulation (p3_stipulation.pdf) last month.  

The parties had previously agreed to narrow the issues in the case to only validity and enforceability of the ’850 patent.  This efficient approach apparently led to early resolution of the dispute.

PineMark’s Certification Marks Certify Green Lifestyles

October 8th, 2009

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Last month PineMark, Inc. (PineMark), a San Diego-based company, launched a program that provides certification for green lifestyles.  [Full Disclosure:  I own a very small percentage of PineMark]  

According to its web site, PineMark offers the first and only individual environmental certification available to consumers.

An individual who wishes to be “PineMarked” enters various information about his or her lifestyle relating to electricity consumption, motor vehicle and transportation habits, water consumption, the types of appliances used and recycling habits.  

The individual then gets a score that rates his or her comprehensive impact on the environment.  Those who earn a high enough score receive the PineMark Certification, and hopefully all users become more cognizant of how to reduce the environmental impact of their lifestyles. 

According to PineMark’s CEO Lauren de los Santos, “PineMark wants to help individuals find out if they are green . . . by establishing national standards with this certification.  It’s a similar concept to LEED but for people.   We want to help people live sustainably and the first step is to raise awareness.”

PineMark owns several eco-mark applications relating to both its trademarks and certification marks. 

U.S. Application Serial No. 77/771,314 is for the word PINEMARK for services relating to analysis and evaluation of individual lifestyles in Class 42 (314_application.pdf).  U.S. Application Serial No. 77/815,507 is for the same services for the PineMark tree logo (pictured above) (507_application.pdf).

The central eco-marks for PineMark, of course, are the certification marks.  PineMark owns both the certification word mark PINEMARK CERTIFICATION and a certification mark for its PineMark seal:

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U.S. Application Serial No. 77/771,553 (553_application.pdf) is for the word certification mark and U.S. Application Serial No. 77/813,597 (597_application.pdf) is for the seal.  Both list the certification services as:

Analysis and evaluation of the environmental impact of individual lifestyles

Like LEED certification for green buildings and the Energy Star program for appliances, PineMark is attempting to build goodwill around a certification mark while helping consumers help the environment.

Nanosolar’s Patent-Pending PV is Encapsulated But Boxless

October 4th, 2009

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Nansolar, a San Jose, California thin-film solar company, has made a lot of press announcements lately for various news items, including opening a solar panel assembly facility in Germany, boosting its CIGS cells’ efficiency and unveiling new Utility Panel technology. (read the Greentech Media story here)

According to Nanosolar, its Utility Panel is the first solar electricity panel specifically designed for utility-scale systems. 

The company’s white paper says the new solar panel provides electrical benefits (increased power per panel), reliability benefits (better sealing and encapsulation to prevent moisture damage) and mechanical benefits (superior strength due to tempered glass panes on both the back and front of the panel).

Nansolar has several pending patent applications relating to its encapsulation technology and large-scale solar modules.  U.S. Application Pub. Nos. 2007/0295385 (’385 Application), 2007/0295386, 2007/0295387, 2007/0295388, 2007/0295389 and 2007/0295390 comprise a family of applications directed to encapulated solar cells.

The ’385 Application describes a solar cell (10) having a protective layer (20) mounted in packaging that includes pottant layers (30, 32).  The packaging has at least one outer barrier layer (40), which may be made of tempered glass.

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The packaging may also have a backside support layer (50).  Edge sealing material (54) prevents moisture penetration and may be made of butyl rubber tape or epoxy.

U.S. Application Pub. No. 2008/0041434 is directed to a photovoltaic module designed to be used without a junction box. 

The module (10) includes a rigid transparent upper layer (12), a pottant layer (14) and a plurality of solar cells (16).  The transparent upper layer (12) is made of glass and provides structural support and acts as a protective barrier.

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A protective backsheet (20) has an electrically insulating layer (22), a support layer (24) and another electrically insulating layer (26).  In one embodiment, the electrically insulating layers are made of black alumina to maximize emission of heat, and the support layer is made of aluminum.

Openings (30) in the backsheet (20) allow wire (40) or wire ribbon (42) to extend outward from the module (10) and be connected to another module to create an electrical interconnection between modules, eliminating the need for a junction box.

According to the ’434 Application, this solar module design reduces manufacturing costs and redundant parts in each module.

Philips Withdraws ITC Case as LED Patent Term Wanes

October 1st, 2009

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In a previous post, I discussed a patent infringement action in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) between Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. (Philips) and Taiwanese LED maker Epistar Corp. (Epistar) involving U.S. Patent No. 5,008,718 (’718 Patent). 

In that case, Philips alleged that Epistar and United Epitaxy Company (UEC) infringed the ’718 Patent by selling certain AlGaInP LEDs.  The ’718 Patent is directed to an LED with a transparent window layer on top of the active semiconductor layers.

That post reported on a Federal Circuit decision reversing both an ITC limited exclusion order excluding Epistar’s LEDs from entry into the U.S. and an ITC ruling that Epistar couldn’t challenge the validity of the ’718 Patent.  

Philips recently moved to withdraw its complaint and terminate the investigation because the ’718 patent would expire on December 18, 2009, before the ITC could conduct further proceedings in the case.

An ITC administrative law judge (ALJ) granted the motion, and earlier this month the ITC issued a Notice of its determination not to review the ALJ’s decision to terminate the investigation.

Though the ITC case is over, a lawsuit between Philips and Epistar in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California remains pending, and Philips noted in its motion that it is not waiving any of its rights in that suit.