Archive for August, 2012

ITC Terminates Investigation as Samsung and Osram Settle Global LED Patent War

August 31st, 2012

 

In previous posts here and here, I discussed the major LED patent war between Samsung and Osram in various fora around the world including the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

Recently, the two companies reached a settlement, and the ITC terminated its investigation.  Although the details of the agreement are confidential, the parties’ motion to terminate indicated the settlement is global in scope:

The binding agreement executed by Samsung and OSRAM resolves the disputes between the parties in this Investigation (and other legal proceedings throughout the world between Samsung and OSRAM involving LED technology).

In addition to the ITC investigation, the rivals had been engaged in lawsuits in Delaware federal court as well as courts in Germany and Korea.

The patents asserted by Osram numbered up to a dozen and included at least two patent families. 

The first family of patents is entitled “Light-radiating semiconductor component with a luminescence conversion element” and relates to technologies for converting blue light to white light.  This family includes U.S. Patents Nos. 6,812,500, 7,078,732, 7,126,162, 7,151,283, 7,345,317 and 7,629,621.  Another patent family included U.S. Patents Nos. 6,459,130, 6,927,469 and 7,199,454, entitled “Optoelectronic semiconductor component.”

Samsung asserted eight patents, six relating to LED structure and two concerning methods of making LEDs: 

U.S. Patents Nos. 7,268,372 and 7,893,443, entitled, respectively, ”Vertical GaN light emitting diode and method of manufacturing the same” and “Nitride based semiconductor light-emitting device” and directed to gallium nitride LEDs having particular layered structures;

U.S. Patent No. 7,282,741 (’741 Patent), entitled “Vertical type nitride semiconductor light emitting diode” and directed to a vertical type nitride LED wherein an n-side electrode comprises a bonding pad formed adjacent to an edge of an upper surface of the n-type nitride semiconductor layer;

U.S. Patent No. 7,959,312, entitled “White light emitting device and white light source module using the same” and directed to white LEDs having a blue LED chip with red and green phosphors disposed around it that emit light having certain color coordinates;

U.S. Patent No. 7,964,881, entitled “Semiconductor light emitting device, method of manufacturing the same, and semiconductor light emitting package using the same” and directed to an LED having an electrode layer with an area exposed by a contact hole formed through a first conductivity type semiconductor layer;

U.S. Patent No. 7,771,081, entitled “LED package and backlight unit using the same” and directed to an LED package having a simplified lens shape with an increased beam angle; and

U.S. Patents Nos. 6,551,848 and 7,838,315, relating to methods of manufacturing LEDs and vertical LEDs, respectively.

The Osram accused devices included its  TOPLED, Dragon Family, and OSLON lines of products.

Black Cloud Blows Over as Sinovel Satisfies Brazilian Developer

August 28th, 2012

A previous post discussed the legal action brought by Brazilian developer Desenvix to compel Chinese wind turbine maker Sinovel to permit inspections of its turbines being imported into Brazil. 

Due to the major copyright and trade secret lawsuits in China in which American Superconductor (AMSC) has accused Sinovel of misappropriation of proprietary wind turbine control source code, Desenvix sought assurances that the Sinovel wind turbines were free of components affected by the IP litigation.

According to this Recharge story, Desenvix has received satisfactory assurances and has withdrawn its request for a court order.  Apparently, Sinovel told the Brazilian company that the control systems in the turbines were supplied by Emerson Electric, and Emerson confirmed.

Desenvix also said Sinovel confirmed that the control software in the turbines at issue is a “brand-new innovation” developed by the Chinese manufacturer.  Finally, Sinovel has agreed to permit an independent third party to conduct a technical inspection of the control systems.

So Sinovel’s troubles in Brazil have passed, for the moment.  The company also faced some business damage in Ireland when Mainstream Renewable Power ditched Sinovel and began to look for an alternative supplier for 1 GW of wind farm projects planned there.  Clearly, accusations of IP infringement can have major ramifications outside the courtroom.

Tidal Energy In the Maine: Ocean Renewable Power’s Modular Generator Units to Spin in the Bay of Fundy

August 24th, 2012

Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) is Maine company that develops ocean and river power systems. 

According to this NRDC blog post, ORPC’s Cobscook Bay tidal energy project in the Bay of Fundy in Maine is the first in the U.S. to receive a FERC license, include a power purchase agreement, and install and operate a power-producing tidal generator.

ORPC’s tidal generators are modular turbine-generator units that can be stacked in various configurations for bodies of water of different depths.  The company has a RivGen model for small river sites, Ocgen for depths of more than 80 feet, and the TidGen for depths of 50-100 feet.

According to Cleantech PatentEdge™, ORPC owns at least seven U.S. and international patents and pending applications covering its tidal generator technology. 

U.S. Patent No. 7,902,687 is entitled “Submersible turbine-generator unit for ocean and tidal currents” and directed to ORPC’s modular unit (’687 Patent).  The turbine-generator unit (400) includes a support structure (410) mounting a pair of turbines (420) coupled by a rotatable shaft (430) to a generator (600).

Each turbine (420) has airfoil-shaped blades (500) mounted transversely to the direction of fluid flow for rotation in a plane parallel to the fluid flow.  According to the ’687 Patent, the turbines are capable of rotation under reverse fluid flow and rotate in the same direction regardless of fluid flow direction.

U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2009/0129928 (’928 Application) covers ORPC’s turbine structure.  Entitled “High efficiency turbine and method of generating power,” the ’928 Application is directed to a turbine (100) having a plurality of blades (105) tracing a spiral wound path about a central shaft (110).

The blades (105) are connected to the central shaft (110) by a plurality of radial spokes (115), which are substantially perpendicular to the central shaft (110).  The blades (105) have an airfoil, or hydrofoil, shaped cross-section (200) with a leading edge (210), a trailing edge (220) and a centerline chord (230).

According to the ’928 Application, the hydrofoil shaped cross section (200) preferably is asymmetrical, which helps generate maximum torque and thereby boosts efficiency.  In addition, the hydrofoil cross section (200) presents a non-zero angle of attack for generating lift and maximizing generated torque.

The latest ORPC project update here said the company’s TidGen turbine generator is nearly complete and being prepared for deployment.

DuPont: Green Chemistry and Sustainability Efforts in Action

August 21st, 2012

According to the EPA, “green chemistry” is defined as:
“…The design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.”

DuPont owns countless patent and patent applications that would fall under the “green chemistry” definition, but unbeknownst to some, green chemistry has been an integral part of DuPont’s business strategy since the company began.

DuPont began in 1802 on the Brandywine River in Delaware. What started out as a gunpowder company with only 40 employees grew to be one of the nation’s largest companies. As an initial producer of explosives, the company was concerned with safe business practices and product stewardship starting on day one.

“It’s built into the company’s DNA,” Dr. Henry Bryndza, Director of Bio-Chemical Sciences and Engineering at DuPont noted. DuPont expanded rapidly within its first century of commercialization and continued its commitment to employee and consumer health and safety; the company established the first industrial toxicology lab in North America, dedicated to product stewardship.

In the early 1990’s, convinced that environmental stewardship went hand-in-hand with good business practices, DuPont created a set of environmental goals to be reached by 2010. By 2006, under the guidance of CEO Chad Holliday, the company had met or exceeded all of the goals, and set new goals for 2015.

Holliday realized that it was imperative to find a more sustainable way for the company and its customers to grow. He helped shape the role of research and development to one that focused on alternatives that were sustainable. DuPont abides by eleven criteria for every research project it takes on, ranging from climate change, energy use, and water consumption, to use of depleting resources.

“Green chemistry and its principles are involved in everything we do, whether it’s the next generation of drought resistant seeds, non-global warming refrigerants, or renewable polymers,” explained Bryndza.

So let’s take a closer look at a green product that’s currently in the works at DuPont: Solamet® metallization pastes. DuPont Solamet® photovoltaic metallization pastes are used in manufacturing solar cells and are designed to raise their efficiency.

The pastes are protected by a variety of patents, including composition patents that cover silver compositions that are used on the front side of solar cells and aluminium compositions used on the back side surface, for example US Patent No. 8,158,504, entitled Conductive Compositions and Processes for use in the Manufacture of Semiconductor Devices–Organic Medium Components.

“DuPont is a leading innovator of photovoltaic (PV) metallizations, sold under the Solamet(r) brand, which have been instrumental in nearly doubling the efficiency of solar cells over the past dozen years,” said Peter Brenner, global photovoltaics marketing manager, DuPont Microcircuit Materials.

“DuPont has been granted nearly 200 patents related to photovoltaic applications globally since the start of 2008, and we have over thirteen hundred patent applications pending in this area globally. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year focused on advancing the efficiency, lifetime and cost competitiveness of solar energy to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels, and as we continue to develop new technology, we need to ensure it is protected.”

DuPont Microcircuit Materials recently filed two lawsuits against PV paste supplier Heraeus and one against its customer SolarWorld, for infringing on DuPont patents for Solamet® photovoltaic metallization pastes.

“We do not ignore theft and infringement and we will aggressively pursue other points in the supply chain where IP theft and infringement exists, including the production and sale of downstream products which incorporate ‘infringing’ materials by cell and module makers, as well as PV system developers, installers and owners,” stated Brenner.

Patent infringement in the clean tech industry is a hot issue, especially since research and development occur so rapidly. However, DuPont is sure to produce many interesting products in the upcoming decades, all while staying true to sustainable business practices.

* Rosemary Ostfeld is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  Rosemary recently completed both her undergraduate and graduate education at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  She will be studying Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge this fall.

China Becomes Second BRIC to Embrace Green Patents as SIPO Launches Fast Track

August 17th, 2012

The State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) of China recently enacted a prioritized examination program for invention patent applications directed to a number of technology areas, including several categories of green technologies (see the translated program administrative measures here).

The new fast track, which launched August 1st, is open to applications directed to energy saving and environmental protection inventions, new energy technologies, new energy vehicles, as well as low-carbon and resource-saving technologies helpful for green development.

Eligible non-green technology categories include new generation IT, biology, high-end equipment manufacturing, and other inventions signficant to the national or public interest. 

Unfortunately, the submission requirements seem a bit opaque.  To be accepted into the program, an applicant must submit a Request for Prioritized Examination, which has to be approved by a provinicial or regional Chinese IP office.  This Inovia article indicates that the requirements for such a Request may vary by region.

The applicant must also submit a satisfactory search report, or, if relying on another country’s national IP office search and examination result, a Chinese translation of the search report and examination result.

SIPO will issue a first office action within 30 working days from the date the Request for Prioritized Examination is approved.

As I predicted in a previous post, it looks like China has now joined Brazil in reaching an inflection point in its attitude toward green patents. 

China was one of the large group of emerging markets and developing countries that proposed policies to weaken or eliminate rights in green technology patents but now seems to be embracing them, perhaps due to the rise of Chinese clean tech champions such as Suntech and Trina in solar and Goldwind and Sinovel in wind.

 

Black Cloud Over Sinovel Blows into Brazil

August 14th, 2012

In a previous post, I discussed some of the out of court business damage suffered by Sinovel as a result of the IP suits filed by American Superconductor (AMSC) against the Chinese wind turbine maker in China.

That post reported the news that Mainstream Renewable Power ditched Sinovel and was looking for alternative suppliers for large wind farm projects in Ireland.

Sinovel is also having difficulty in Brazil because of the AMSC IP cloud hanging over its wind turbine business.  Recently, Brazilian developer Desenvix filed a request for a court order to inspect Sinovel wind turbines imported into Brazil to determine whether they contain components affected by the litigation with AMSC.

According to this Recharge piece, the turbines at issue are probably the 23 1.5 MW devices ordered by Desenvix for the Barra dos Coqueiros wind farm in Sergipe state. 

The Recharge article quotes a statement from AMSC about the impetus for Desenvix’s court filing:

Since the turbines arrived in Brazil, Desenvix has been requesting evidence from Sinovel that the wind turbines do not contain AMSC’s stolen intellectual property.  To date, Sinovel has refused to provide adequate evidence.  As a result, Desenvix filed the court order.

It is unclear what Desenvix would do if it does not receive assurance that the Sinovel turbines are free of allegedly infringing parts or an inspection reveals that they do contain components implicated in the AMSC litigation.

Sinovel is not the only wind turbine manufacturer to find its business damaged by pending IP infringement actions.  Mitsubishi has claimed that GE’s accusations of infringement of several variable speed wind turbine patents virtually shut down its U.S. business.

According to Mitsubishi’s court filings (mitsubishi_antitrust_complaint.pdf), its $2 billion in annual U.S. sales of variable speed wind turbines dropped to zero after initiation of the first patent infringement suit by GE in early 2008.

These stories are likely to continue and become more prevalent in clean tech.  It will be interesting to see if the infringement litigation against Sinovel will tarnish the reputations or hurt the business of other Chinese clean tech companies as well.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

August 10th, 2012

A number of green patent complaints have been filed in the last several weeks in the areas of biofuels, LEDs, gasoline recycling, and smart grid.

 

Biofuels

Butamax Advanced Biofuels v. Gevo, Inc.; Gevo, Inc. v. Butamax Advanced Biofuels

In the space of just one week, this mega-litigation grew 43% (by number of lawsuits filed) and 28.5% (by number of patents asserted), with Gevo filing another infringement complaint on July 30th, this time in the Eastern District of Texas, and Butamax adding a declaratory judgment (DJ) suit and a new infringement complaint in Delaware on July 31st and August 6th, respectively.

Gevo’s Complaint asserts U.S. Patent No. 8,232,089, entitled “Cytosolic isobutanol pathway localization for the production of isobutanol” and directed to a recombinant yeast microorganism for producing isobutanol in which the isobutanol producing metabolic pathway includes at least one isobutanol pathway enzyme - dihydroxy acid dehydratase - active in the cytosol of the microorganism (’089 Patent). 

Butamax filed a DJ Complaint the following day asserting it has not infringed the ’089 Patent and the patent is invalid. 

Butamax’s new infringement complaint alleges that Gevo infringes U.S. Patent No. 8,222,017, entitled “Ketol-acid reductoisomerase using NADH” (’017 Patent).  The ’017 Patent is directed to recombinant mutant ketol-acid reductoisomerase (KARI) enzymes for use in the biological synthesis of isobutanol.

With these latest salvos, I now count ten suits filed and nine asserted patents in this biobutanol battle.

 

LEDs

Relume Corporation Trust v. Leotek Electronics USA Corp.

Relume Corporation Trust v. GE Lighting Solutions LLC

Relume filed two patent infringement complaints on July 12, 2012, one against Leotek in the Eastern District of Michigan and the other against GE Lighting Solutions in Delaware.  Both complaints assert Reissue 42,161, entitled “Power supply for light emitting diode array” (’161 Reissue), which is a reissue of U.S. Patent No. 5,661,645.

The ’161 Reissue is directed to a power supply apparatus and system for providing power to LEDs, particularly LED array traffic signals.  The accused products are GE’s GTxLED signal modules and Leotek’s IL3 Series LED traffic signal modules.

 

Schubert v. Cree, Inc.

Schubert v. Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.

Schubert v. Osram AG

In these three suits, each filed July 18, 2012 in Delaware federal court, Professor E. Fred Schubert of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) accuses Cree, Philips, and Osram of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,294,475 (’475 Patent).

The ’475 Patent is entitled “Crystallographic wet chemical etching of III-nitride material” and directed to method of processing a III-Nitride epitaxial layer system on a substrate, for example by etching to a selected depth or cleaving, and crystallographical etching the epitaxial layer system in order to obtain crystallographic plane surfaces.  These processes can be used to manufacture GaN-based LEDs.

According to the complaints (Schubert-Cree Complaint, Schubert-Osram Complaint, Schubert-Philips Complaint), Professor Schubert is the Founding Director of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at RPI and has made many significant contributions to the field of compound semiconductors.  

These cases have shades of the Gertrude Neumark Rothschild LED litigation saga (see,e.g., a previous post here), another professor and LED innovator who sued many LED makers and electronics companies for patent infringement. 

 

Bortex Industry Company Ltd. v. Fiber Optic Designs, Inc.

In this declaratory judgment complaint, filed July 25, 2012 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bortex requests a DJ that Fiber Optic Designs’ U.S. Patent Nos. 7,220,022 (’022 Patent) and 7,934,852 (’852 Patent) are invalid, unenforceable, and not infringed.

The ’022 and ’852 Patents are related patents entitled “Jacketed LED assemblies and light strings containing same” and directed to LED strings having a transmissive cover and an integrally molded thermoplastic jacket at the opening of the cover to provide a seal at the opening against moisture and airborne contaminants.

 

Gasoline Recycling

Yellow Dog Technologies, LLC v. Fuel Recyclers, LLC

Yellow Dog filed this complaint on August 1, 2012 in federal court in Arizona accusing Fuel Recyclers of infringing U.S. Patent No. 8,165,781 (’781 Patent). 

The ’781 Patent is entitled “Fuel recovery” and directed to fuel pump controllers and software for operation of a fuel pump of a combustion engine so it pumps a predefined amount of fuel in the fuel line directly to a drain conduit.

 

Smart Grid

Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom, S.A.

Filed July 25, 2012 in the Central District of California, this complaint by Electric Power Group (EPG), a Pasadena, California, developer and distributor of electric grid monitoring solutions, accuses the French conglomerate Alstom and its U.S. division Alstom Grid of infringing U.S. Patent No. 8,060,259 (’259 Patent).

The ’259 Patent is entitled “Wide-area, real-time monitoring and visualization system” and directed to a wide-area real-time performance monitoring system for monitoring and assessing dynamic stability of an electric power grid.

New Energy Symposium’s Big Winners Are Small and Ultra-thin

August 7th, 2012

In a previous post, I wrote about the New Energy Symposium held last month in New York City.  The first day of the event featured a startup quick pitch competition, and the three winners of the competition were recently announced. 

They are, in alphabetical order, Dynamo Micropower , ENrG, and Paper Battery Company (as discussed below, the latter two share an “ultra-thin” theme).  I listened to all of the winning companies’ presentations, and each mentioned, to a different extent, its IP situation.

Dynamo Micropower (Dynamo) is developing small turbines for various applications, including combined heat and power and pumping oil at wells.   The company is applying recent advances in turbine technology to commercialize small, ultra portable generators.

Dynamo was founded by three recent college grads from Duke University–Jason Ethier, Ivan Wang, & Hardy Shen.   The CEO, Mr. Ethier, who gave the presentation on behalf of Dynamo, said the company filed a U.S. patent application on its technology earlier this year, so the application is not published yet.

ENrG Inc. (ENrG) is a Buffalo, New York-area company that develops ultra-thin ceramic membranes and coating technologies for various applications such as fuel cells, gas separation, and possibly flexible solar photovoltaics.

ENrG’s President, John Olenick, presented at the symposium.  He said that, through IP licensed in from Corning, the company has staked out the range of 45 microns or lower for ceramic membrane technology, and a pending license includes more supporting patents.

ENrG also owns U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2009/0325014 (’014 Application), and Mr. Olenick is a named inventor on U.S. Patent No. 7,281,412 (’412 Patent).

The ’412 Patent is entitled “In-situ seal integrity monitoring” and directed to a high temperature seal having in-situ integrity monitoring capability.  One important application for the technology, described in the ’412 Patent, is in solid oxide fuel cells. 

A fuel cell (2) has a first ceramic plate (4) with a fuel flow port (6) leading to a fuel plenum (8) and a second ceramic plate (10) having an oxygen flow port (12) leading to an oxygen plenum (14).

Cell stack (16) is disposed between the plates (4, 10) and includes a first current collector (18A), an anode (18), a solid ceramic electrolyte (20), a cathode (22), and a second current collector (22A).

A pair of seals (24, 26) are respectively disposed between the plates (4, 10) and the cell stack (16) to bond the components of the fuel cell together and prevent outgassing from the fuel and oxygen plenums (8, 14).  The seals (24, 26) can can be constructed with an embedded transmission line (30A) that includes a central signal conductor (32A) and a pair of ground reference conductors (34A).

The transmission line (30A) can be connected in a closed loop circuit for signal injection and monitoring of the integrity of the seals (24, 26) during device fabrication and subsequent field operations.

The ’014 Application is entitled “Operation of an electrolysis cell” and directed to systems and methods for operating electrolysis cells and maintaining desired thermal neutral voltage level under varying electrical power supply conditions.  The invention accomplishes this by adjusting the feedstock moisture content in response to fluctuations in available electric power.

The third winner, Papery Battery Company (PBC), is also in the ultra-thin business:  PBC makes patterned batteries out of high pulse superconductor sheets about 300 microns thick.  According to its web site, PBC’s central innovation is “a novel architecture and production process for supercapacitor technology, extensible to battery technology as well.” 

The company says its PowerPatch product is small and scalable:

The first product line, called PowerPatch™, is an ultrathin, integrated supercapacitor that can scale voltage, energy and power in a single unit, addressing the growing needs for high power in smaller size and lower weight devices.

PBC’s CEO, Shreefal Mehta, presented at the symposium and said the company has filed some patent applications and is employing a licensing business model.  During, his presentation, Mehta alluded to a pending deal with a licensee in the energy storage space.

 

 

EPEAT Certification Highlights Importance of Eco-labels

August 3rd, 2012

EPEAT, Inc. (EPEAT) is an Oregon company that administers an environmental rating program certifying green computers and other electronic equipment. 

Manufacturers can register their products as EPEAT certified, and purchasers, whether they are large institutions or individuals, can use EPEAT’s searchable registry to select certified products to buy.

Products that satisfy the EPEAT criteria, based on IEEE environmental standards, are EPEAT certified.  More particularly, a product has to meet all of EPEAT’s required criteria to earn certification and, depending on how many of the optional criteria are met, the product is designated Bronze, Silver or Gold.

EPEAT owns two U.S. Certification Mark Registrations for its brand.  U.S. Registration No. 3,534,585 is for the EPEAT word mark, and U.S. Registration No. 3,534,586 is for the EPEAT design mark pictured above.

Both registrations are for “electronic equipment” in Class A and each states that the mark ”certifies that the goods meet environmental standards set out by the certifier.”

Certification marks differ from ordinary trademarks in that, instead of indicating the commercial source of a product or service, they communicate that goods or services meet certain quality or manufacturing standards.  They are owned not by the individual businesses, but by the organizations that set the standards, in this case EPEAT. 

For the certification mark application process, it is the certifying organization, not the ultimate user, that applies to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for federal registration of a certification mark.

The EPEAT certification has been in the news recently because of Apple’s equivocation on whether to use it for its computers.  Apple decided to drop its EPEAT certification, but did a 180 after several high-profile customers indicated that they would be unable to buy Apple’s monitors, laptops or desktop computers absent the certification. 

According to this Greenbiz piece, many government agencies and corporations use the EPEAT registry as a guideline for IT procurement.  Clearly, eco-labels, particularly independent third party environmental certifications such as EPEAT, are becoming essential for doing business.