Archive for February, 2011

Separation and Simplification Give Intematix LEDs an Edge

February 28th, 2011

Intematix is a Fremont, California, company that specializes in phosphors for LEDs.  Phosphors are the chemical powders that coat LED chips, fluorescent light bulbs, and other devices.

Intematix has developed a unique innovation for LED lighting, which it offers in its ChromaLit product line.  In conventional LEDs, the LED chip and phosphor coated lens are parts of the same component. 

Intematix’s technology involves separating the LED chips from their complementary phosphors.  In the company’s LED bulbs, the phosphors convert blue light emitted from the LED chips to the white light that shines from the bulbs. 

According to this Greentech Media piece and the company’s web site, this innovation provides several advantages. 

It reduces costs along the manufacturing and supply chain by eliminating the need to make and stock different colored LED chips; a generic blue chip can simply be combined with the appropriate phosphor lens to produce the desired color.  In addition, the gap between the phosphor lens and the LED chip allows heat to dissipate, which increases performance and extends the life of the LED bulb.

Intematix owns at least two patent applications that describe this innovation.  U.S. Application No. 2010/0164346, entitled “Light emitting device with phosphor wavelength conversion,” shows an embodiment of an LED device 50 with phosphor materials 60 on the transmissive window 58 rather than within the recesses of LED array 54.

U.S. Application No. 2010/0321919, entitled “LED based lamp and light emitting signage,” explains some of the advantages of separating the phosphor lens from the chip:

An advantage of providing the phosphor remote to the LED is that light generation, photo-luminescence, occurs over the entire surface area of the panel.  This can lead to a more uniform color and/or correlated color temperature (CCT) of emitted light.  A further advantage of locating the phosphor remote to the LED die (i.e. physically separated from the LED die) is that less heat is transferred to the phosphor, reducing thermal degradation of the phosphor.  Additionally the color and/or CCT of light generated by the panel can be changed by changing the phosphor panel (window).

The approach seems to be a commercial success:  according to the Greentech media article mentioned above Intematix has achieved a profit in four of the last six quarters and has recently seen 50% annual growth. 

Solannex Strikes Again, Accuses Nanosolar of Patent Infringement

February 26th, 2011

In a previous post, I wrote about Solannex’s patent infringement suit against Santa Clara, California, thin-film photovoltaic (PV) company MiaSolé.

Solannex struck again earlier this month, this time accusing San Jose-based Nanosolar of patent infringement. 

The complaint is not publicly available, so we don’t know which patent(s) Solannex is asserting, but a report on the filing of a patent or trademark suit (Solannex-Nanosolar_Report) submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office indicates the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland on February 4th. 

The MiaSolé case involves Solannex’s U.S. Patent No. 7,635,810, entitled “Substrate and collector grid structures for integrated photovoltaic arrays and process of manufacturing such arrays,” (’810 Patent).  

The ’810 Patent is directed to interconnection structures for PV cells including electrically conductive “fingers” that allow electrical communication between the top and bottom surfaces of an interconnect region.

See my post about the MiaSolé case for a more detailed discussion of the ’810 Patent.

It’s hard to predict how wide a net Solannex will cast with its patent enforcement activity.  But one thing is for sure:  if you’re in thin-film, be careful where you point your fingers.

Coulomb and ECOtality Targeted as Sipco Enforcement Expands into EV Charging Systems

February 23rd, 2011

 

In previous posts here and here, I discussed Atlanta, Georgia, wireless mesh technology company Sipco’s patent infringement suits against utilities and various smart meter and energy management companies.

Last month Sipco expanded the scope of its patent enforcement activity to include players in the electric vehicle charging station space.

Sipco’s latest complaint (Sipco-ABB_Complaint), filed in federal court in Tyler, Texas, names Coulomb Technologies and ECOtality as defendants, as well as additional energy management, control system, and wireless companies such as EnergyHub, Jetlun, SmartLabs, ABB, and Ingersoll-Rand.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patents Nos. 7,103,5116,437,692, and 7,697,492, which relate to remote monitoring and control systems.

According to the complaint, ECOtality’s EV Project, Blink Network, and EV Charging Stations and Coulomb’s Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and ChargePoint Network contain wireless networks that infringe the asserted patents. 

The asserted patents are directed to cost effective methods and systems for collecting, formatting and monitoring data from remote devices.  A control system (200) consists of one or more sensor/actuators (212, 214, 216, 222, 224) each integrated with a (preferably RF, or radio frequency) transceiver.  The control system also includes stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221). 

 

The integrated and stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221) are configured to receive an incoming RF transmission (from remote devices) and to transmit an outgoing signal.  Local gateways (210, 220) receive remote data transmissions from the integrated or stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221), analyze the transmissions, convert them into TCP/IP format for internet transmission and communicate the transmissions via wide area network, or WAN (230).

According to the asserted patents, having the local gateways (210, 220) permanently integrated with the WAN (230) allows the server (260) to host application specific software that previously had to be hosted in application specific local controllers.  The patents explain:

…the data monitoring and control devices of the present invention need not be disposed in a permanent location as long as they remain within signal range of a system compatible transceiver that subsequently is within signal range of a local gateway interconnected through one or more networks to server 260.

With this latest suit by Sipco adding the likes of Coulomb and ECOtality to its infringement targets, this CleanTechLaw piece on the increasing importance of EV patents looks prescient.

Argonne Battery Tech is a Governmental Green Patent Licensing Success Story

February 17th, 2011

 

I recently learned of a compelling instance of U.S. government-funded clean tech research translating into widely commercialized technology through green patent licensing.

Argonne National Laboratory announced last month that LG Chem and General Motors had completed licensing agreements to use Argonne’s patented composite cathode material in the lithium-ion batteries that power the Chevy Volt (see the press release about the Argonne-LG Chem agreement here and the press release about the Argonne-GM agreement here).

Though perhaps old news, as pointed out in this Ceramic Tech Today piece, it still points up the power of green patent licensing and strategic tech transfer.

The licensed technology stemmed from early lithium-ion battery research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the late 1990s and subsequent development supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 

The technology relates to a two component layered composite structure used as material for a cathode, the positively charged part of a battery. 

A lithium-ion battery has a cathode and a negatively charged anode.  When the battery is fully charged, all of the lithium ions are in the anode.  When the battery is in use, the lithium ions flow from the anode through a thin membrane to react with the cathode, thereby creating an electrical current.

The new cathode materials are rich in manganese and provide increased stability through a layered composite structure with one component for energy storage and another component to stabilize the structure.  The material also yields high charge-storage capacities and is cheaper to produce because manganese is a relatively cheap raw material.

The cathode technology is protected by a family of patents issued between 2004 and 2008, including U.S. Patents Nos. 6,677,082 (’082 Patent), 6,680,143, 7,135,252, and 7,468,223

According to the ’082 Patent, a major problem of layered lithium electrode compounds is that the transition metal cations commonly used tend to suffer from structural instability and chemical degradation.

The’082 Patent describes its solution this way:

This invention addresses the stability of LiMO2 electrode structures [where M is a trivalent transition metal cation], particularly LiMnO2, and makes use of a Li2M’O3 component to improve stability.

According to an Argonne press release, the patented cathode technology is now mass produced in the battery of the Chevy Volt.

 

Argonne’s director, Eric Isaacs, said the “licensing agreement with LG Chem concretely illustrates the key role that DOE national laboratories like Argonne play in the manufacturing supply chain in the United States.”

More than that, this story demonstrates the confluence of funding, research, IP, and commercial risk-taking that is necessary to bring new clean technologies to market.

BP-DuPont Biofuels JV Takes Gevo to Court

February 14th, 2011

Butamax Advanced Biofuels (Butamax) is a Delaware-based joint venture between BP and DuPont formed in 2009 to develop biobutanol. 

Biobutanol is an advanced biofuel which has some important advantages over ethanol, including an energy content closer to that of gasoline and the capacity to create higher blend concentrations with gasoline.

Butamax owns U.S. Patent No. 7,851,188, entitled “Fermentive production of four carbon alcohols” (’188 Patent).  The ’188 Patent is directed to Butamax’s biobutanol production technology and recombinant microbial host cells that produce the biofuel.

Last month Butamax sued Gevo, an Englewood, Colorado, advanced biofuels company, for infringement of the ’188 Patent.

The complaint (Butamax_Complaint), filed in federal court in Delaware, alleges that Gevo’s isobutanol production pathway infringes the ’188 Patent:

On information and belief, Gevo makes recombinant microbial host cells by engineering DNA constructs containing isobutanol pathway genes and integrating them into the cells.  These DNA constructs encode enzymes that catalyze conversion of 1) pyruvate to acetolactate; 2) acetolactate to 2,3-dihydroxyisovalerate; 3) 2,3-dihydroxyisovalerate to α-ketoisovalerate; and 4) α-ketoisovalerate to isobutyraldehyde.  These host cells produce isobutanol through this pathway.

According to the complaint, Gevo has produced isobutanol using such microbial host cells in a retrofitted ethanol production facility and is converting another ethanol facility for isobutanol production.

Butamax is seeking an injunction and monetary damages.

As far as I know, this is the first instance of biofuel patent litigation involving a major oil company.  With the oil majors increasingly involved in biofuels startups via research funding, buyouts, and JVs like Butamax, it won’t be the last.

Guest Post: Philip Totaro on Wind Patents and Future Trends in Wind Technology

February 11th, 2011

 

We at Totaro & Associates have published a new study of the U.S. patent landscape of wind turbines to determine which technological trends have emerged so far and what we might be able to infer for the future direction of wind turbine technology.

Our study focused on the most prevalent sector of wind turbine technology – utility grade, horizontal axis wind turbines.

The methodology involved searching and aggregating relevant results using technology keyword classification, then analyzing those results to identify the degree of relevancy to the industry for each patent.  We found and analyzed over 1450 patents just for the US.

I.  Today’s Wind Patents:  (Mostly) Yesterday’s Solutions

Most of today’s wind patents solve yesterday’s problems.  The largest majority of inventions are directed towards blades, electrical systems and generators.  These are the components which have required the most quality, efficiency and reliability enhancement in the past 10 years. 

However, our study finds that controls and sensors have recently jumped towards the top of the list of patented wind components.  This signals a shift in focus towards performance optimization, load mitigation and grid integration in the coming years.

II.  Tomorrow’s Wind Patents:  Five Trends to Watch

Based on more recent filings as well as an analysis of more forward looking industry competitive intelligence we have been able to determine future technology trends.  New technologies, and subsequently the patents, will likely be directed towards five core areas. 

Reducing Component Weight and Manufacturing Costs

The first is component weight / cost reduction, and derives from the desire to maintain a tower head mass ratio (mass / annual kWhr) that is comparable to or better than today’s technology. 

Additionally, most OEMs equate mass with cost in their competitive cost of energy (COE) benchmarking, and rightly so given the expense of commodities, so many wind turbine manufacturers have introduced “cost-out” programs in the recent years. 

Expect these projects to lead to cost cutting innovations for which top tier OEMs will look to capture IP.

Facilitating Component Transport and Assembly

The next area of focus is on component transportation and assembly, which relates back to the mass and cost concepts as well as the physical transportation constraints which exist. 

As component sizes grow due to larger turbines being developed, the mass increases correspondingly, but excessive mass may incur excessive transportation cost.  The use of advanced modeling tools to optimize the amount of material used and predict failure modes becomes important. 

Furthermore, blades with a root diameter or towers with a base diameter beyond ~4.3 meters will face transportation hurdles in a land-based environment.  While it is possible to manufacture such structures inside these physical constraints, more material will be required to reinforce them, which is not an optimal solution in a cost competitive industry. 

Therefore, segmentation of towers and blades as well as “on site” assembly procedures and tools are likely to become of significant importance.  Proactive manufactures have already captured some of the core IP in this area.

Monitoring and Controlling Wind Turbines

The third trend relates to fleet management technology which centers around condition monitoring and control of turbines and wind farms.  While the first two future trends were focused on reducing COE from the capital cost side of the equation, this trend is solely based on minimizing recurring O&M cost. 

Technologies like condition monitoring systems (CMS), which can determine health of individual turbines in a wind farm as well as their components to the integration of CMS with control systems to enable optimal turbine output while still functioning within a dynamic operational envelope are being investigated and even deployed.  

Continuing to operate the turbine in an effort to mitigate unscheduled maintenance as well as planning of scheduled maintenance to maintain as much on-line capacity and up time as possible are important to both OEMs and the owners / operators of wind farms.

Integrating into the Utility Grid

Grid integration is the next trend, and the move towards the “grid friendly” turbine is already underway. 

Turbines based on induction generator technology have found it more difficult and costly to achieve ride-through, allow for curtailment or handle a “black start” where the grid is not present. 

Technologies around providing ancillary services to the turbine, as well as VAR support to the grid are of particular interest. 

The use of permanent magnet synchronous generators enables better efficiency and performance without sacrificing much in the variable speed range, and now with a high degree of interest in direct drive the use of this technology is likely to continue.

Optimizing Performance

Lastly, wind turbine and wind farm performance optimizations will continue.  This is something we have termed “Max energy output, all the time.” 

Controls for both curtailment and “uprating” due to prevailing conditions are being actively investigated by multiple OEMs. 

Also, as mentioned before, the integration of CMS with control systems will enable the determination of remaining useful life of components and the ability to operate the turbine to the maximum potential without incurring further damage.

The days of fixed pitch and fixed speed are over.

Please visit www.totaro-associates.com/articles to obtain the full study results or to download an offline copy of the summary.

A Smaller, Quieter, and Greener British Invasion

February 8th, 2011

International cooperation in clean tech innovation and diffusion is increasingly common.  One of the trends in this regard is a country’s trade officials organizing an international tour of home grown clean tech companies, in many cases to the U.S., to promote their wares and explore business opportunities.

A recent case in point was the G’Day USA Australia Biofuels event last month. 

The latest example of this is the delegation of UK clean tech companies visiting San Diego. 

The UK Trade & Investment Roundtable, being hosted by DPR Construction, Inc. at 5010 Shoreham Place in San Diego on February 18th, will showcase several UK companies operating in and around the clean tech space.

For obvious reasons, one of the hottest clean tech sectors in the UK is wave and tidal power, including such players as Tidal Energy Limited, Pelamis, and Marine Current Turbines.

But the mini British Invasion of San Diego later this month represents a wide range of technologies from advanced batteries to green buildings. 

According to James Cummings of the British Consulate in Los Angeles, the visiting companies include B&M Longworth (ultrasonic cleaning of industrial equipment), Breathing Buildings (green building ventilation systems), Ionotec (conductive ceramics for advanced batteries), Nanoflex (coating material for lighting), Securistyle (windows and doors), and the Carbon Trust (sustainable business and emissions reductions advisory services).

In some ways the UK has been at the forefront of green innovation policy.  The UK Intellectual Property Office was one of the first national IP offices to initiate a fast track program for green patent applications.

So these and other UK clean tech companies were among the first to enjoy the opportunity of expedited examination of their patent applications.  I hope they have taken advantage of it.

To RSVP or find out more information about this event, contact Mr. Cummings at james.cummings@fconet.fco.gov.uk.

Miasolé Fingered in Interconnect Patent Suit

February 7th, 2011

MiaSolé, a Santa Clara, California, thin-film photovoltaic (PV) company, has been hit with a patent infringement suit involving a patent relating to interconnection structures for PV cells.

The complaint, brought by a company called Solannex, accuses Miasolé of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,635,810, entitled “Substrate and collector grid structures for integrated photovoltaic arrays and process of manufacturing such arrays” (’810 Patent), by making, using and selling its MR-series PV modules.

According to the complaint (Solannex_Complaint), filed last month in federal court in San Francisco, Dr. Daniel Luch, the named inventor on the ’810 Patent, had discussions with Dave Pearce and Dennis Hollars, CEO and CTO, respectively, of Miasolé in 2006 in which Dr. Luch provided details about his proprietary technology. 

Solannex further alleges that Luch provided samples of the interconnect structure to Miasolé and that MiaSolé requested price quotes for various production volumes of the technology.  In June 2006, according to the complaint, MiaSolé filed two patent applications of its own relating to some aspects of Dr. Luch’s technology.

The ’810 Patent is directed to interconnection structures for PV cells including electrically conductive “fingers” that allow electrical communication between top and bottom surfaces of an interconnect region.

In particular, the patent describes an interconnecting strap (24) comprising conductive materials (28, 30) that extend through a hole (12) from the first surface (20) of the strap to the second surface (22).

According to the ’810 Patent, the interconnect technology reduces manufacturing costs by allowing separate production of the PV film and the interconnecting structure so the PV junction can be produced in bulk.

FIG. 13 (below) of the ’810 Patent shows three PV cells in a series arrangement using the interconnection technology.  Each PV cell (40) has a light incident top surface (59) and a bottom surface (66).

The patent’s description says that prior art shingling arrangements included overlapping of cells that sacrificed valuable portions of cell surface.  By contrast, this shingling arrangement does not require any loss of PV surface by an overlapping cell.

Solannex is seeking both monetary damages and a permanent injunction.

GPB Nominated for Top 50 Environmental Law & Climate Change Blogs

February 3rd, 2011

I am very pleased to announce that Green Patent Blog has been nominated for LexisNexis’s 2011 Top 50 Law Blogs in the Environmental Law & Climate Change category

The Lexis Environmental Law & Climate Change Community will award honorary designations to the top 50 blogs in this category that provide “timely topics, quality writing, frequent posts and that certain something ‘extra’ that keeps a web audience coming back for more.”

It is a great honor to be nominated and know that some folks think that I even might be providing some of those qualities in this space.

The list of nominees and additional information can be found here.  The comment period is open until February 14, 2011, so if any readers feel compelled to do so please put in a good word for GPB through this link.

On another note, thanks for your patience during my recent transition to a new server.  It’s been a bit rocky, and I’ve had to select another new look for the blog.  Special thanks to Shane Ramey for his dedication and invaluable assistance with the transition.