Archive for November, 2011

Green Patent Acquisitions: Buying Up Energy Management and Distribution and Green Chemistry

November 29th, 2011

 

There have been a few interesting acquisitions this month.  First, energy efficiency solutions provider Serious Energy bought Agilewaves, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in energy data storage and retrieval.

Agilewaves owns at least one published U.S. patent application, Application No. 2010/0211618, entitled “Efficient storage of data allowing for multiple level granularity retrieval” (’618 Application). 

The ’618 Application is directed to methods for storing and retrieving data at multiple levels of granularity.  In the described methods, time series data are organized based on associated time stamps corresponding to a timeline (202). 

The data also may be sorted at multiple resolutions, including rows (212, 218, 222, 224) representing the highest resolution storage of time series data down to the lowest resolution view of the data.  Each level of resolution has values stored in segments (204-211, 213-216, 219-220).

According to the ’618 Application, the invention is superior to prior art systems, which stored individual readings over long periods of time and required a lot of time to retrieve it all. 

This system makes data retrieval more efficient than those prior systems because data can be retrieved from individual segments:

Storing the time series data in the format illustrated by FIG. 2 allows for efficient retrieval of data.  For example, if a user requests time series data over the time period from 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., a processor may simply retrieve the data value associated with segment 219 from a database instead of having to retrieve and add the data values associated with segments 204-207.  This saves time and processing resources at the time the data is requested.

According to this Greentech Media story, the deal brings Serious Energy “a whole new level of granular building energy data.”

 

Another notable acquisition is power and automation technologies giant ABB’s purchase of Australian renewable power automation company Powercorp (see Powercorp’s press release here).  Powercorp makes controls to manage renewable energy in isolated grids and allow grid penetration of wind and solar power.

Powercorp owns at least one international patent application, WO 2004/027959, entitled “System and method for stabilising a power system” (’959 Application).

The ’959 Application is directed to systems and methods involving a power system stabilizer (19) for stabilizing a power generation system (9) having a grid (11) supplying power to numerous loads (17). 

The power generation system (9) comprises a renewable energy generator (13) using a renewable energy source and a conventional energy generator (15) using a conventional energy source.

The power system stabilizer (19) includes a link (29) for electrically connecting the grid interface (21) and the load interface (25). 

Control means responds to data from sensors to control of the flow of electrical energy between the grid interface (21) and the load interface (25) to maintain the property of the power generation system (9) at a predetermined value to stabilize the system.

This deal shows that renewables integration is a priority for ABB.

Finally, Fremont, California, biofuels company Amyris bought green chemical startup Draths, which makes bio-based nylon and polyester. 

The company provides a convenient summary list of its IP, which includes two U.S. patents and several published patent applications.  One example is U.S. Patent No. 7,399,855, entitled “Synthesis of caprolactam from lysine” (’855 Patent). 

The ’855 Patent is directed to methods of making caprolactam, one of the company’s product offerings.  According to Draths’ product web page, the caprolactam monomer can be used to make 100% bio-based nylon.

 

Stating its Case: California Asserts New Law Against Alleged Plastic Bottle Greenwashers

November 25th, 2011

 

Most public enforcement against alleged greenwashing has been at the federal level by agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., the Advertising Standards Authority in Great Britain, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Now American states are getting into the act, with a recent lawsuit filed by California’s Attorney General Kamala D. Harris involving claims of recyclable, compostable and biodegradable plastic bottles.

The complaint (Cal-ENSO_Complaint), brought on behalf of the people of California, accuses ENSO Plastics (ENSO), Balance Water Company (Balance) , and Aquamantra of making false, deceptive, and misleading claims that plastic bottles which include a particular resin made by ENSO will biodegrade or decompose in a landfill or other environment.

Among the marketing statements by ENSO alleged to be false or misleading and/or unsubstantiated are:

ENSO plastic bottles are “truly biodegradable”

“ENSO bottles biodegrade through natural microbial digestion in both aerobic (compost) and anaerobic (landfill) environments”

“ENSO bottles are recyclable with traditional PET [plastic]”

“Our scientific data supports that ENSO bottles will not contaminate PET recycle streams as the material used does not impact the PET polymer in any way”

According to the complaint, statements on Balance’s bottles such as ”100% biodegradable recyclable” and will “break down in a typical landfill or compost environment in less than 5 years” are false or misleading and unsubstantiated.

The complaint cites similar statements by Aquamantra, including “our bottles are made of 100% biodegradable & recyclable plastic” and the bottles “can be composted and will break down in around 240 days.”

The central cause of action in the suit is a recent California state law that banned the use of the terms ”biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decompostable” in any form in connection with plastic food or beverage containers.

Enacted in 2008, AB 1972, requires that food or beverage containers labeled with the term “compostable” or “marine degradable” must meet certain statutory standards. 

This is the first lawsuit to enforce the new law, which the California legislature said is intended to ensure that:

environmental marketing claims, including claims of biodegradation, do not lead to an increase in environmental harm associated with plastic bag and plastic container litter by providing consumers with a false belief that certain bags and containers are less harmful to the environment if littered.

Along with private consumer actions and public enforcement by federal government agencies, legal action by the states adds another level of enforcement against greenwashers.

Too Mod for Batteries: Ioxus Introduces iMOD Ultracaps

November 23rd, 2011

Ioxus is a manufacturer of premium performance ultracapacitor technology for transportation, alternative energy, medical, industrial and consumer markets.  Ioxus has focused on improving capacitor technology, specializing in electric double layer capacitors (EDLC).

The Oneonta, New York, company recently announced the release of its 16V/58F iMOD Ultracapacitor Module Series for alternative energy markets (pictured below).

The iMOD is an ultracapacitor comprising a plurality of in-line high voltage capacitors which provide power for such green technologies as wind turbine pitch control systems, start and drive systems on hybrid vehicles, and power conditioning for renewable energy systems.  The iMOD allows for in-line high voltage capacitors sized to parallel or replace common battery sizes.

According to Cleantech PatentEdge™, Ioxus currently owns one U.S. utility patent and has at least four pending U.S. patent applications, all relating to ultracapacitor technology.

U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2010/0053844 (’844 Application) is entitled “High voltage EDLC cell and method for the manufacture thereof” and directed to an EDLC having a unit cell structure with alternately interleaved electrodes formed lithographically and a separator between the electrodes and impregnating an electrolyte therein.  The ’844 Application also describes a manufacturing process for the EDLC cells.

U.S. Patent No. 7,830,646, is entitled “Multi electrode series connected arrangement supercapacitor” and directed to an EDLC series stack formed into a single electrolyte cell structure.  The figure below shows a complete 12-volt EDLC in a poly bag package. 

An EDLC device (10) includes five concatenated electrode assemblies (34-38).  Voltage monitor/control tabs (39-42) extend external to poly bag (31), which provides a lightweight, puncture resistant, air-tight seal for the cell stack.  The power tabs (32, 33) and voltage monitor/control tabs (39-42) provide the complete electrical interface.

Ioxus ultracapacitors have many applications in green technology. For example, they have previously been used on wind turbines to control the pitch of rotor blades relative to wind speed in order to maximize efficiency. Rotor blade pitch control is also used as a safety feature to slow or stop the turbine when wind speeds are too high or in the event the turbine loses connection to the grid.

Compared to batteries, ultracapacitors are preferred for use in wind turbines due to their light weight, solid state design, and ability to operate in cold conditions. Ultracapacitors also require very little maintenance and have an approximate ten-year life span – twice as long as most batteries.

According to Ioxus’ press release, the iMOD modules deliver easy to install, ready to use, and durable ultracapacitor modules at a lower price and with improved cell balancing.

According to Chad Hall, Ioxus Founder and Vice-President of Sales, “This is a complete, ready to install package. You can go up to 750V without any external management, you can run parallel to a 12V battery or replace a 12V battery. It’s ruggedized to handle insustrial environments.”

While ultracapacitors charge quickly, they are limited in application as they also discharge quickly. They are ideal when relatively short bursts of electricity are needed. As this technology improves, its application will undoubtedly increase.

Are ultracapacitors the new battery? Due to their lack of long term power delivery, ultracapacitors are not ready to replace batteries yet, however, they are certainly preferred in some situations.

David Gibbs is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  David is currently in his third and final year at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.  He received his undergraduate degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Guest Post: Is GE’s Wind Patent Portfolio Sustainable Without Future Licensing?

November 21st, 2011

 Part II:  Cost Estimation

Analysis and cost estimation of GE’s patent portfolio suggests a bubble… but will it break?

Part I of this article analyzed GE’s industry-leading wind patent portfolio. 

Part II asks whether the pace of growth of GE’s patent portfolio is sustainable, since each application has a certain cost associated with it and the revenue generated from licensing must exist in order to justify the continued scope of the portfolio. 

 

The spike in GE’s patent filings starting in 2003 after the Enron Wind acquisition and again in 2008 with a focus on future licensing is reminiscent of the huge increase in the pace of filings from Aloys Wobben, Chairman of Enercon GmbH, in 2002 – 2003 after the settlement of the International Trade Commission (ITC) matter in which Kenetech/Zond/Enron Wind/GE effectively denied Enercon entry into the US market.

The portfolio of Enercon patent filings proved to be unsustainable as is evidenced by the sharp drop-off in their number of filings per annum in the past few years, in spite of new innovation being developed on their liquid cooled generator.

Based on a patent budget calculator which we developed to assess the year-over-year costs for cultivation and maintenance of a patent portfolio, we have been able to determine the approximate costs for maintaining their portfolio.  Certain assumptions had to be made in this analysis, so there is likely some variability in the cost, however we believe it to be accurate within an order of magnitude.

Even though the patent landscape we have analyzed covered only the US, we know GE uses the US as their primary priority filing locale and their foreign filing strategy can be inferred from a look at the family members of their US patents. 

Assumptions are as follows:

  • The majority of their filings are US, CN, and EP.
    • Filings which were categorized as L or M will follow this protocol for cost calculation.
    • Important inventions get filed in a broader scope of countries, specifically US, CN, EP (note: sometimes DK and DE are used explicitly instead of an EP filing, especially if the invention originated from their German R&D/Engineering center), IN, MX, JP, KR, CA, BR and AU.
      • Filings which were categorized as M/H or H will follow this protocol for cost calculation.
      • Filings per annum used in the calculation from 2001 – 2010 were actual numbers.
        • Filings prior to 2001 were not very significant and were excluded from the calculation for simplicity.
        • Filings from 2010+ were assumed at the same average rate per annum from 2008 – 2010 for filings out until 2020.

The results of this calculation based on the scope of GE’s portfolio and following the protocol outlined above shows that the cost is quite substantial particularly in the out years.  In 2020 alone they will spend US$31M on prosecuting and maintaining their portfolio.

Continued turbine sales as well as licensing will clearly be necessary to support that size of portfolio. 

With the expiration of a core patent in February of this year, US5083039 (‘039), which covered field oriented control of an induction generator as well as dynamic VAR control at the turbine, a new suite of technologies has emerged technologically, but not necessarily on the assertive license front.

GE’s recent acquisition of Converteam also adds to their portfolio of full power conversion and permanent magnet generator technology.  This architecture is quickly becoming the most pervasively deployed platform amongst the wind turbine supply base. 

It remains to be seen if this technology architecture will be part of the next wave of assertion and licensing.  If history has anything to say, then you can bet on future licensing.

However, the scope of those efforts may be affected by the outcome of the ongoing Mitsubishi litigation.  If GE is successful in upholding the validity of their patents against Mitsubishi then one will presume they will be emboldened to pursue licenses on the new technology platform. 

If Mitsubishi prevails, then we could see another round of lawsuits from the licensees of ‘039 and the other DFIG related technologies demanding their royalty payments back.  This could leave GE gun-shy to broadly license the way they did with ‘039 and other related patents.

Whatever the future holds, GE now holds a substantial lead while the rest of the industry struggles to catch up.

Philip Totaro is the Principal at Totaro & Associates, a consulting firm focused on innovation strategy, competitive intelligence, product development and patent search. 

To get a deeper look into the patent landscape of the horizontal axis, utility-scale wind industry please visit www.totaro-associates.com and ask about Wind Patent Watch™, a subscription service providing a weekly digest and analysis of the published patents and applications from General Electric and the rest of the industry.

Advanced Battery Patent Suit Ends in Cross-Licensing Deal

November 18th, 2011

 

Previous posts (here and here) discussed the patent litigation involving A123 Systems Inc. (A123), a Boston area lithium ion battery maker, Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec (H-Q), the exclusive licensee of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,910,382, 6,514,640, 7,955,733, 7,960,058 and 7,964,308 (collectively “Cathode Materials Patents”),and the Board of Regents of the University of Texas (UT), the owner of the patents, as well as H-Q’s recent complaint adding Valence Technology and Segway to the dispute.

The parties recently announced they had settled their disputes and entered into a settlement agreement and patent sublicense deal (see the A123 press release here).

Some details of the Patent Sublicense Agreement have been made public.  Actually a cross-licensing deal, A123 has taken, or will take, a license to lithium metal phosphate patents developed at UT, a family of electrode metal carbon-coating patents, and several lithium metal phosphate patents licensed to H-Q by Nippon Telephone and Telegraph.

A Swiss-based alliance called LiFePO4+C Licensing AG, formed by H-Q, Sud-Chemie, Universite de Montreal and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, has taken, or will take, a license to two recently-issued battery patents owned by A123.  A123′s original Nanophosphate patents, developed at MIT, are not part of the settlement.

The Cathode Materials Patents are entitled “Cathode materials for secondary (rechargeable) lithium batteries” and relate to host materials for use as electrodes in lithium ion batteries.  The patented materials provide a larger free volume for lithium ion motion that allows higher conductivity and therefore greater power densities.

Both sides called the resolution a victory for the advanced battery market.  Elie Saheb, Executive Vice President, Technology, for H-Q said the agreement “will help accelerate broad-based market penetration of lithium metal phosphate products.”

A123′s CEO, Dave Vieau, called the agreement “a win-win for the entire industry by paving the way for faster adoption” of phosphate-based lithium ion technology.

I’m sure we’re going to see much more cross-licensing activity in clean tech as green patent infringement suits continue to proliferate, move forward and reach resolution.  The LED lighting sector, in particular, with companies patenting different features and components and litigation on the rise, is a likely candidate for cross licensing arrangements.

DFC by FuelCell Energy: Is Clean Coal on the Horizon?

November 16th, 2011

FuelCell Energy is a Danbury, Connecticut, manufacturer of ultra-clean fuel cell power plants. Their Direct Fuel Cell (DFC) systems are currently producing electricity at more than 50 locations worldwide and have generated over 850 million KWh of power.

FuelCell was recently named by the Department of Energy as the recipient of a $2,994,108 award to utilize its DFC power plant to capture carbon emitted from a conventional coal fueled power plant.

The DFC utilizes FuelCell’s patented hybrid fuel cell system.

FuelCell owns U.S. Patent No. 6,356,290, entitled “High-Efficiency Fuel Cell System” (’290 Patent). The ’290 Patent describes a carbonate fuel cell system that produces electricity through a series of chemical reactions.

Heat produced from the reactions can be used to drive an unfired turbine generator. Figure 1 of the ’290 Patent depicts a heat engine (3), shown as a turbine generator, having a gas compressor (3A), and a gas decompression section (3B). By using the exhaust heat from the carbonate fuel cell reaction to drive a turbine, the plant is able to increase its overall energy output and efficiency.

Figure 1:


Fuel cell technology is efficient because it produces energy without going through the combustion process. Rather, fuel cells use an electro-chemical process to produce electricity and heat.

As a result, unlike conventional combustion based power plants, there are no harmful NOx’s or SOx’s produced. Learn more about fuel cells here and here.

The electro-chemical process used in the DFC fuel cell, based on the ’290 Patent, involves three chemical reactions depicted below:

Reaction One (Internal Reforming):  CH4 + 2H2O –> 4H2 + CO2

Reaction Two (Anode Reaction):  4H2 + 4CO3 –> 4H2O + 4CO2 + 8e-

Reaction Three (Cathode Reaction):  2O2 + 4CO2 + 8e- –> 4CO3

The first reaction takes a fuel source such as methane and combines it with steam to produce hydrogen gas and CO2. The hydrogen gas produced in the first reaction is combined with a carbonate in the anode reaction to produce water, CO2 and electrons (electricity).

The third reaction (cathode reaction) uses oxygen, CO2 and electrons to produce a carbonate and heat. The carbonate is then used in the anode reaction. The heat produced in this reaction is used to drive a turbine generator.

FuelCell’s DFC technology may be able to utilize flue gases from a fossil fuel power plant, such as a coal power plant, for use in the above process. Flue gases can be concentrated so that the CO2 can be separated from the remaining air and NOx gases.

The air and CO2 can be used in the cathode reaction. The CO2 from both the flue gases and the fuel cell reactions can be collected, stored and sold in either gas or liquid form.

According to a recent FuelCell Press Release:

FuelCell Energy’s carbonate fuel cell technology separates and concentrates CO2 as a side reaction during the power generation process. DFC carbon capture research conducted by FuelCell Energy has demonstrated the DFC is a viable technology for the efficient separation of CO2 from a variety of industrial facility flue gases such as cement plants and refineries. In addition to the carbon capture, the research also verified that DFC technology is capable of destroying some of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in flue gas streams, thus, reducing the cost of NOx removal equipment. This award from the DOE will advance DFC carbon capture technology further by funding research to assess the capability of DFC technology to seperate the CO2 within the flue gas emitted by existing coal fired power plants in a cost-effective manner.

A Department of Energy Press Release states the Department’s goal for FuelCell’s award is to achieve at least 90 percent CO2 capture from flue gas of an existing plant with no more than a 35 percent increase in the cost of electricity produced.

FuelCell states, “Technology currently in use to capture CO2 from the emissions of coal fired power plants are energy-intensive with high operating costs. DFC power plants potentially represent an efficient and cost-effective approach to separating CO2 while generating ultra-clean power rather than consuming power, as required by current CO2 capture technologies.”

If FuelCell is able to caputure CO2 from a coal plant while producing excess electricity, it will represent a dramatic departure from current carbon capture systems, which require large amounts of energy and are net energy consumers. FuelCell’s DFC may make the illusive goal of efficient clean coal a reality.

David Gibbs is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  David is currently in his third and final year at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.  He received his undergraduate degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Guest Post: Is GE’s Wind Patent Portfolio Sustainable Without Future Licensing?

November 14th, 2011

Part I:  Patent Portfolio Analysis of an Industry Leader

 

Wind Industry Leader

General Electric Company (GE) has vastly outpaced all of their competitors in intellectual property (IP) protection in many industries, but particularly wind turbines.  The chart below reflects data from our efforts in analyzing the landscape of issued patents and pending applications from the horizontal axis, utility-scale wind sector and indicates just how far ahead they are. 

 

 

The scope of their portfolio can certainly be intimidating to those who have not taken the time to analyze it in depth.

It is interesting to note that while they are better than the industry averages, GE’s portfolio is not vastly superior to most of their competition on a percentage basis as it relates to the number of high risk patents and apps (2% for GE vs. 1% for the Industry) and medium/high risk patents and apps (15% for GE vs. 10% for the Industry) represented on the chart above in red and orange respectively. 

However, the scale that their portfolio has achieved affords them the luxury of having greater numbers of patents in key areas of technology.  While they have over 20% of the patents and applications in the sector, the important trend is how much of the high and medium/high relevance patents and applications they hold.

GE has also been one of the top utilizers of the “Green Patent Fast Track” in the USPTO, and the 500th patent granted under the program was a GE patent relating to blade winglet technology to enhance performance.

GE’s Component Focus Mirrors Industry Trends

Deeper analysis of their portfolio indicates the areas of focus for the components and technologies in their portfolio. 

Their component focus has been in those same areas which the industry has rallied around.  Blade aero performance and structure, controls for performance optimization and load mitigation as well as electrical system reliability enhancement are all trends which are seen throughout every wind turbine OEM.

 

A look at their technology focus indicates they are mostly in line with industry trends on this as well.

 

Issued Patents v. Pending Applications Reveals Most Recent Innovations

A comparison of the issued patents in their portfolio vs. the pending applications reveals some interesting trends as well. 

Here we offer a comparison of the issued patents and the pending applications broken down by component keyword.  The differences between the two charts indicate areas where innovation has occurred in the past vs. more recently. 

From this it is clear that while blades are the highest component on the cumulative chart, that is largely due to influx of innovation on manufacturing process, the swept blades, circulation control, as well as the serrated trailing edge being utilized on the new 1.6-100m platform.  Additionally, blade manufacturing processes, tools, as well as transportation fixtures and techniques. 

Power factor control / VAR support and more recently sensor system accuracy have become important areas.  Tower reliability improvements, braced designs and self erection capabilities are also trending.

GE Issued Patents – Breakdown by Component

 

GE Pending Applications – Breakdown by Component

 

We also offer a comparison of the issued patents and the pending applications broken down by technology keyword.  Performance optimization has dominated their product strategy in the past few years, and their patent portfolio reflects that trend as well.  Other areas include:

  • Component reliability enhancements continue as well as condition monitoring systems and integration of feedback to control turbine output
  • Blade aero performance enhancements as well as controls-based energy output optimization
  • Component transportation fixtures as well as segmented components which can be transported and assembled on-site
  • Blade manufacturing and structure
  • On-site component repair techniques
  • Component “cost-out” activities to try and improve marginal cost of each turbine in this present era of depressed market prices

 

GE Issued Patents – Breakdown by Technology

 

GE Pending Applications – Breakdown by Technology 

 

Patent Strategies Bracket the Competition

GE is also famous for identifying key technologies which are required within the industry at a future point in time, such as power factor control, VAR support or more recently curtailment, and then develop a multi-patent “fence” around those technologies. 

They also look to bracket around their competition with patents.  This is accomplished by identifying the High or Medium/High risk patents or applications of their competitors and analyzing the weaknesses of those claims to determine areas of potential IP capture, coupled with assessment of competitive intelligence to determine where their competition is going technologically. 

In developing the breadth of this portfolio they have followed some basic tenets of IP strategy in seeking blanket protection in most areas of technology and components in the industry space. 

This is the result of their focused brainstorming sessions and engagement of a broad swath of engineering as well as internal and external Legal/IP team members to identify patentable inventions and complete invention disclosures and applications. 

These protocols, established in the mid-2000s have served them well in the last few years where the number of filings has doubled compared to previous years. 

Part II of this article will look at the costs associated with pursuing and sustaining this portfolio.

 

Philip Totaro is the Principal at Totaro & Associates, a consulting firm focused on innovation strategy, competitive intelligence, product development and patent search. 

To get a deeper look into the patent landscape of the horizontal axis, utility-scale wind industry please visit www.totaro-associates.com and ask about Wind Patent Watch™, a subscription service providing a weekly digest and analysis of the published patents and applications from General Electric and the rest of the industry.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

November 12th, 2011

 

Several green patent lawsuits have been filed in the last two weeks in the areas of smart grid, wastewater treatment, and emissions reduction technology.  

In addition, the U.S. International Trade Commission decided to move forward with an important investigation regarding solar panel mounting systems.

 

Smart Grid

 TransData, Inc. v. San Diego Gas & Electric Company

TransData, Inc. v. Wisconsin Power & Light Company

These complaints (TransData-SDG&E_Complaint / TransData-WP&L_Complaint), filed October 31, 2011 in the Southern District of California and November 1, 2011 in the Western District of Wisconsin, respectively, add to a host of recent lawsuits by Texas smart meter company TransData against a number of regional utilities. 

Details on the other TransData suits can be found in previous posts here and here.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patents Nos. 6,181,294 (’294 Patent), 6,462,713 (’713 Patent) and 6,903,699 (’699 Patent), which relate to antennas and wireless communication devices for use with electric meters.

The ’294, ’713 and ’699 Patents are related patents which trace back to an original 1998 filing date.  They describe early solutions for wireless transmission of electrical consumption data.

The accused products are electric meters deployed by the utilities, including certain Elster meters using Sensus wireless modules and certain Itron meters.

Mesh Comm LLC v. Trilliant Networks, Inc.

Mesh Comm, an Atlanta, Georgia, company filed a complaint (MeshComm-Trilliant_Complaint) November 4, 2011 in the Western District of Kentucky against Redwood City, California-based smart grid communications company Trilliant.

Mesh Comm, apparently a non-practicing patentee, is asserting U.S. Patent No. 8,019,836 (’836 Patent) relating to a system for enabling wireless communication between meters so utilities can remotely monitor and control energy usage. 

A previous post discussed Mesh Comm’s patent infringement suit against Potomac Electric Power Company and Silver Spring involving a related patent.

 

Wastewater Treatment

Polylok, Inc. v. Bear Onsite

On November 3, 2011 Connecticut-based wastewater treatment solutions provider Polylok sued Bear Onsite, a water treatment product development company, in the District of Connecticut.

Polylok alleges that Bear Onsite’s effluent septic filters and water level control alert devices infringe U.S. Patent No. 6,129,837, entitled “Waste water treatment filter including waste water level control alert device” (’837 Patent). 

The ’837 Patent is directed to a filtration device for a waste water treatment tank with a level alert device to provide an alarm when the filter becomes plugged.  The claims are directed to particular means for mounting the alert device to the filter.

Emissions Reduction

Enerfex, Inc. v. UOP LLC et al.

In this suit, a Vermont company called Enerfex accuses oil refiner UOP (formerly Universal Oil Products Company), Quicksilver Resources and Breitburn Energy Partners of infringing U.S. Patent No. 5,482,539 (’539 Patent).

Entitled “Multiple stage semi-permeable membrane process and apparatus for gas separation,” the ’539 Patent is directed to membrane processes and apparatus for producing a very high purity permeate gas, which can reduce the amount of methane loss in “vent gas.”

Enerfex alleges that the HAYES 29 natural gas power plant in Northern Michigan includes infringing membrane systems installed and operated by UOP.  The complaint specifically cites the Separax brand membranes products.

 

Solar

In re: Certain Integrated Solar Power Systems and Components Thereof (Westinghouse Solar, Inc. v. Zep Solar, Inc. et al.)

On November 2, 2011 the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) announced that it would open an investigation into Westinghouse’s allegations that Zep and Canadian Solar imported solar panels that infringe two Westinghouse patents.

The investigation stems from a complaint (Westinghouse_ITC_Complaint) filed by Westinghouse in early October.  A previous post discussed that complaint and some of the history of patent litigation between Westinghouse (formerly Akeena Solar) and Zep.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patents Nos. 7,406,800 (‘800 Patent) and 7,987,641 (‘641 Patent).

Both patents cover what Westinghouse refers to as the “Andalay System,” a solar power system which includes solar panels with integrated racking, wiring and grounding (DC solar panels), and integrated microinverters (AC solar panels) for residential and commercial customers.

Novozymes Wins $18 Million Jury Verdict in Biofuels Enzyme Patent Suit

November 9th, 2011

 

In previous posts I discussed the patent infringement suit brought by Danish biotech Novozymes against its rival Danisco (recently acquired by DuPont). 

Specifically, Novozymes sued Danisco in May 2010 in the Western District of Wisconsin, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,713,723 (’723 Patent).

The ’723 Patent is entitled “Alpha amylase mutants with altered properties” and is directed to variants of certain alpha amylases that exhibit altered stability under high temperatures, low pH and other conditions.  The patented variants can be used for starch conversion in ethanol production.

In May 2011 the court denied Danisco’s motion for summary judgment of invalidity, ruling that the defendant did not meet its burden of proving insufficient written description as a matter of law.

Shortly thereafter the court granted partial summary judgment that Danisco’s Spezyme Alpha WB, GC 133, and Clearflow WB enzyme products infringe the ’723 Patent (Novozymes_Infringement_Order).

The jury recently awarded Novozymes about $18.3 million in damages for the infringement, including $16.7 million for lost profits for certain enzyme products and $1.6 million in reasonable royalties for other products for which Novozymes did not prove lost profits (Novozymes_Verdict). 

The jury further found that Danisco’s infringement of the ’723 was willful, although it found Novozymes did not prove infringement of Danisco’s whole broth products.

Biofuels patent litigation has been heating up recently.  GreenShift has been the most active, asserting an ethanol processing patent against a host of ethanol producers in eleven cases consolidated in Indiana

There has been tremendous growth recently in enzymes, processing technologies, and genetically-engineered microorganisms for biofuels.  Like those microorganisms, I’m sure the green patent battles will continue to multiply.

KIPO Green Tech Fast Track Inaccessible for Most Applicants

November 7th, 2011

 

A recent post discussed the unduly restrictive eligibility requirements for the Korean Intellectual Property Office’s s (KIPO) expedited examination program for green tech patent applications.

While the KIPO “super speed” program boasts examination results in just one month, many important clean tech categories are not eligible for the fast track.

Rather, the vast majority of clean technologies are eligible only if the invention has “received financial support or certification from the government.” 

These include renewables such as solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, wave energy, biofuels, energy storage technologies such as advanced batteries, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies, LED lighting, and personal transportion technologies such as hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids.

I asked Terry Kang, a Korean patent attorney and Partner at the Kasan IP & Law Firm in Seoul, how an applicant could get certified pursuant to the KIPO fast track program requirements.

Kang contacted the KIAT Green Certification Institution, which is responsible for green certification in Korea, and inquired whether a non-Korean company can get certified.

Kang relayed the response to me as follows:

As an answer to my question, I was told that only if [a] foreign company has a branch office which is a separate entity in Korea, that branch office can apply for the “Green Certification.”

So the certification path is a dead end for most green tech patent applicants, and I would guess only a tiny fraction of applicants have received funding from the Korean government.

That leaves the KIPO “super speed” program inaccessible for international clean tech companies seeking green patent protection in Korea.