Archive for December, 2009

Eco-mark Suit Highlights Struggle to be Noticed in Clean Tech Space

December 29th, 2009

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Adura Technologies, Inc. (Adura) is a San Francisco company that provides energy efficient wireless mesh networking technology for building automation and lighting solutions for retrofitting commercial buildings.   

Adura owns U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,655,507  (’507 Registration) (507_reg.pdf) for the ADURA mark for computer software and hardware for use in controlling, automating, scheduling and monitoring lighting systems for commercial buildings in Class 9 and providing online software for wireless commercial building automation in Class 42.

Last month Adura sued Adura Systems, Inc. (Adura Systems) for trademark infringement accusing the Silicon Valley electric vehicle power train developer of infringing the ’507 Registration by using the ADURA mark as a brand name and trade name.

According to the complaint (adura_complaint.pdf), there is evidence of actual consumer confusion as Adura received multiple queries from third parties about affiliation between Adura and Adura Systems.

Another salient allegation in this case highlights the increasing difficulty clean tech companies face in standing out from the growing crowd of companies, both large and small, that have entered the clean tech space.  

The complaint alleges that Adura was omitted from the Cleantech Group’s Global Cleantech 100 list while Adura Systems was included on the list, at least in part, due to confusion arising from the defendant’s alleged trademark infringement:

Plaintiff Adura Technologies . . . alleges that those individuals tasked with identifying companies to be included on the Global Cleantech 100 were confused as to an affiliation by and between Plaintiff Adura Technologies and Defendant Adura Systems due to Defendant Adura Systems having adopted the ADURA mark . . . . Plaintiff Adura Technologies . . . alleges that those individuals tasked with identifying companies to be included on the Global Cleantech 100 were confused that Plaintiff Adura Technologies and Defendant Adura Systems were the same company due to the fact that Defendant Adura Systems has adopted the ADURA mark…

Toyota Slows Hybrid Vehicle Patent Attack as Court Rules “Speed Demands” Limitation Indefinite

December 21st, 2009

In a previous post, I wrote about patent attorney-inventor Conrad O. Gardner’s patent infringement suit against Toyota Motor Corp. (Toyota). 

In April 2008, Gardner sued Toyota in federal court in Seattle, accusing the automaker of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,290,627 (’627 patent), entitled “Extended Range Motor Vehicle Having Ambient Pollutant Processing” by making and selling the second generation Prius, the Camry and the Highlander.

According to the second amended complaint (gardnercomplaint.pdf), the ’627 patent’s early priority date (based on a parent patent application filed back in April 1992) was more than two years before Toyota began investigating the development of a commercial hybrid automobile.

Last month Toyota succeeded in knocking independent claim 6 out of the case when the court granted Toyota’s motion for partial summary judgment that the claim was invalid for indefiniteness under Section 112, paragraph 2 of the Patent Act.  This provision provides that patent claims must “particularly point[] out and distinctly claim[]” the subject matter of the invention.

The problematic language of claim 6 is “said speed demands.”  The claim reads:

6.  A hybrid motor vehicle comprising in combination:

an engine;

an electric motor;

a storage device;

said electric motor power said hybrid motor at lower speeds;

said engine powering said vehicle at high speeds; and said engine operative connected through a charging path for charging said battery at lower speeds

wherein said speed demands do not drop below 40 mph for predetermined time periods of 45 seconds.

The court held claim 6 indefinite because it is unclear what “said speed demands” refers to (gardner_order.pdf).  The claim recites both high speeds and lower speeds, however:

Nothing in claim 6 directs one of ordinary skill in the art as to which of the two earlier recited speeds provides the antecedent basis for “said speed demands.”

This is a significant win for Toyota because claim 6 was the broader of the two independent claims of the ’627 patent.

Thanks to Stu Soffer, who brought this decision to my attention.

Applied Energy Loses Home Court Advantage in Trade Secret Case

December 17th, 2009

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Applied Energy Technologies, Inc. (AET) is a Michigan startup that makes racking systems for solar panels. 

In May of 2009, AET sued Solar Liberty Energy Systems, Inc. (Solar Liberty), a Buffalo, New York solar panel distributor and installer, seeking a declaratory judgment that AET had not breached a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) the parties had entered into.  The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

According to the complaint (applied_energy_complaint.pdf), an AET predecessor-in-interest called Latitude Energy Structures, LLC (LES) agreed to design certain ballasted solar panel racking systems for Solar Liberty, and the two parties signed the NDA (applied_energy_complaint_Ex A.pdf) in connection with the agreement.

The complaint alleges that LES presented several new design concepts to Solar Liberty in late 2008 and a prototype of a design in early 2009.  Subsequently, LES assigned all its rights to AET, and Solar Liberty told AET that it had decided to use a racking system from a another supplier.

According to the complaint, while both parties were at the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Conference the President of LES told some prospective AET customers that AET stole LES’s proprietary racking system design. 

A subsequent letter from LES’s attorney accused AET of violating the NDA by misappropriating and publicly disclosing LES’s proprietary designs in AET’s racking system.  AET filed the suit shortly thereafter.

LES moved to dismiss or transfer venue to the Western District of New York.  In August, the court granted the motion (applied_energy_order_transfer.pdf) because the NDA provided that any action would be brought “in the home jurisdiction of the other party.”

AET moved for reconsideration of the decision, and last month the court denied the motion (applied_energy_order_reconsideration.pdf), finding no “palpable defect” in its August ruling.  So the case will move to LES’s home court in western New York.

U.S.P.TO. Launches Green Tech Pilot Program to Speed Green Patenting

December 12th, 2009

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Last week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) announced an expedited examination procedure for clean tech patent applications

The Green Technology Pilot Program allows applications relating to improving environmental quality, conserving energy, developing renewable energy resources or reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be advanced out of turn for substantive examination.

Applicants that wish to participate in the program need to file a petition with the PTO requesting participation and indicating that their patent application complies with the program requirements. 

The window of opportunity is nominally one year:  the program launched on December 8, 2009, and petitions must be filed before December 8, 2010.  However, only the first 3,000 petitions will be accepted.

The basic eligibility requirements are as follows:

the application is a non-reissue, non-provisional utility application filed before December 8, 2009 for which a first office action has not been issued;

the invention is classified in one of the specific technological classes approved as a “green technology” class;

the application has three or fewer independent claims, 20 or fewer total claims and no multiple dependent claims (the applicant can file a preliminary amendment to bring the application in compliance with this requirement);

the application claims a single invention directed to environmental quality, conserving energy, developing renewable energy resources or reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and

the applicant must request early publication of the application.

Compared to the established procedure for expedited examinations, the pilot program has the tremendous advantage that it does not shift much of the examination workload to the applicant by requiring submission of prior art analysis in an onerous Examination Support Document.

The PTO joins at least the U.K. Intellectual Property Office and the Korean Intellectual Property Office in creating a procedure to expedite green patenting.

New LED Litigation Lights Up Marshall, Texas: Nichia Sues Jiawei While Philips, Osram and VW Play Defense

December 9th, 2009

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Three new light emitting diode (LED) patent infringement suits were filed last month, all in the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall.

In the first case, Japanese LED maker Nichia Corporation (Nichia) has accused Chinese solar products company Jiawei North America Inc. (Jiawei) of infringing four patents relating to LED technology.

According to Nichia’s bare bones complaint (nichia_complaint.pdf), Jiawei is infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 5,998,925 (’925 Patent), 7,026,756 (’756 Patent), 7,531,960 (’960 Patent) and 6,870,191 (’191 Patent).  The ’925, ’756 and ’960 Patents are members of the same patent family.

The three related patents describe a light emitting diode (100) that minimizes deterioration in emission light intensity by including a phosphor in the coating resin (101) that covers the light emitting component (102).  The ’756 Patent claims a garnet fluorescent material activated with cerium as the phosphor.

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According to the ’756 Patent, incorporating a phosphor in the LED reduces deterioration:

the phosphor used in the light emitting device has excellent resistance against light so that the fluorescent properties thereof experience less change even when used over an extended period of time while being exposed to light of high intensity.  This makes it possible to reduce the degradation of characteristics during long period of use and reduce deterioration due to light of high intensity emitted by the light emitting component . . . to provide a light emitting device which experiences less color shift and less luminance decrease.

In two lawsuits filed the same day, Light Transformation Technologies LLC (LTT), exclusive licensee of U.S. Patent No. 6,543,911 (’911 Patent), has accused a host of lighting and electronics companies of infringing the ’911 Patent.

One complaint (ltt_complaint1.pdf) lists 15 defendants including LEDdynamics, Philips, Osram Sylvania and Volkswagen.  The other complaint (ltt_complaint2.pdf) names Alliance Electronics and several others. 

The accused products include lenses, optics, lighting products and automobile lights that either allegedly infringe the ’911 Patent or are designed for use with allegedly infringing products. 

The ’911 Patent is entitled “Highly efficient luminaire having optical transformer providing precalculated angular intensity distribution and method therefore.”  The central innovation of the ’911 Patent is an integrated omnidirectional light transformer (100) that includes an optical window (110) and a support (120).   

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The light transformer (100) may have an aspherical reflective surface (130) and be incorporated into lighting assembly or luminaire (300) along with a light source (310), a shell (320), a connector (330) and a printed circuit board (340).  The light source (310), which may be an LED, emits light rays (350, 352) that are reflected in accordance with the curvature of the reflective surface (130). 

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According to the ’911 Patent, this design results in luminaire (300) having a luminous intensity higher at lower angles, and all light emitted by the light source will be directed in a predetermined pattern. 

In particular, the luminaire 300 can redirect the light so that illuminance at a long range distance (i.e. at the lower observation angles) will be equal to illuminance at a short range distance (i.e. at the higher observation angles).  Therefore, as a driver in a car approaches the luminaire 300, the driver can perceive light of equal intensity at long distances and at short distances from the luminaire 300.

Pyron Pioneers Solar Concentrators that Swim with the Fishes

December 5th, 2009

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Pyron Solar Inc. (Pyron) is a San Diego company that develops and makes solar concentrators.

Pyron and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) recently announced that SDG&E is building a demonstration project to test Pyron’s patented concentrated solar power system.  The system uses shallow pools of water as a passive cooling system for high efficiency solar cells.

Pyron’s U.S. Patent No. 7,299,632 (’632 Patent) is entitled “Solar electricity generator” and is directed to a solar electrical generator comprising a concentrator, a homogenizer and a photovoltaic (PV) cell.  The concentrator concentrates solar rays onto an entrance surface of the homogenizer, which is in turn attached to a PV cell.

The concentrators are positioned in troughs (1) that sit in bodies of water (5).  The water (5) acts as a passive coolant to disperse the heat generated by the PV cells.   

In addition, buoyancy torque created by pumping the water (5) between ballast compartment (8) and ballast compartment (9) and pressure differentials between the compartments pivots the troughs (1) to keep the lenses (2) aimed directly at the sun.

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The lenses (2) concentrate solar rays (3) at focal spot (4).  According to the ’632 Patent, the highly concentrated “pencil” of solar rays (3) then enter homogenizer (43) and are evenly distributed onto PV cell (4′) by loss-free total internal reflection.

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According to the ’632 Patent, this system makes better use of solar farm real estate by covering 87% of the set-aside land.  Pyron’s product description also touts the greater power production and reliability of its passive coolant design, noting that it protects the equipment from exposure to extreme wind. 

Pyron plans to stock the pools of water with fish to prevent mosquito infestation, leading Matter Network to speculate that “perhaps the fish farms of the future will double as solar energy collectors.”

More Settlements In and Out of Court for Litigious LED Professor

December 1st, 2009

In previous posts (e.g., here and here), I’ve written about Columbia Professor Emeritus and LED innovator Gertrude Neumark Rothschild’s string of successful settlement agreements and patent licensing deals. 

Earlier this month, Mitsubishi became the latest potential infringement target to take a license, when the Japanese conglomerate chose to settle out of court with Ms. Rothschild. 

According to IPLaw360, Rothschild granted Mitsubishi certain rights to U.S. Patent No. 5,252,499, entitled “Wide band-gap semiconductors having low bipolar resistivity and method of formation.”

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.

The announcement of the Mitsubishi settlement comes at about the same time that Rothschild dropped her ITC charges against Toshiba and Panasonic upon reaching agreements with those companies (see info on the Toshiba ITC termination order here and the Panasonic order here).

According to her attorney, quoted here by CNBC, Rothschild has reached settlements or licensing agreements with more than 40 companies generating more than $27 million.  Some of those companies include LG Electronices, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Philips.