Akeena Solar is a Los Gatos, California solar installer and the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,406,800 (’800 Patent”), entitled “Mounting system for a solar panel” and directed to an integrated module frame and racking system for solar panels.
The ’800 Patent describes a mounting system for a solar panel (100). FIG. 2 shows three modules (102A-102C) coupled together to form an integrated system. A splice (104e) mechanically connects one module to another and provides the electrical grounding connection between the solar modules.
In the example shown in FIG. 2B, an east-west splice (104) connects modules (102A and 102B). The splice (104) is a tapered conductive metal to provide the grounding between modules and is grooved for easy screw insertion. The splice (104) precisely aligns the modules and allows for compression of connector sockets to complete the electrical connection between adjacent modules.
According to the ’800 Patent, the splice (104) provides several useful features, including mechanical rigidity between modules, an alignment method between modules and a grounding path that eliminates the need to run a grounding wire between the modules.
Last month, Akeena sued Zep Solar, Inc. (Zep), groSolar and High Sun Technology, Inc. (HST) in the Northern District of California.
The complaint (akeena_complaint.pdf) contains two counts. The first is against groSolar and HST for infringement of the ’800 Patent. According to the complaint, Zep’s solar panel mounting system infringes the ’800 Patent, and groSolar has teamed up with Zep to distribute and install Zep systems.
The second claim is against Zep and HST for a declaratory judgment that Akeena does not infringe Zep’s U.S. Patent No. 7,592,537 (’537 Patent), entitled “Method and apparatus for mounting photovoltaic modules.”
The complaint bases DJ jurisdiction on a couple of e-mails between the parties. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Zep sent an e-mail to Akeena’s counsel to bring the ’537 Patent to its attention, and Zep’s CEO sent an e-mail to Akeena’s president regarding the ’537 Patent and stating that “Zep’s legal team is ready for a fight if that is what is needed.”
Though solar installers don’t invest as heavily in IP as other players in the solar sector, it is an increasingly crowded field that may see more patent suits like this one in the future.