Archive for September, 2012

ITC ALJ Recommends Exclusion Order; Finds Violations of Three Litepanels LED Photographic Lighting Patents

September 30th, 2012

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An administrative law judge (ALJ) at the U.S. International Trade Commission has found a violation of three LED patents owned by UK-based Litepanels, a company that make LED lighting systems for use in film and TV production, and has recommended that the infringing products be banned from importation into the U.S. 

The ALJ found infringement of at least one claim of each of U.S. Patent Nos. 6,948,823 (’823 Patent), 7,318,652 (’652 Patent) and 7,972,022 (’022 Patent). 

The ’823 Patent is entitled “Wide area lighting apparatus and effects system” and directed to a camera mountable lighting frame (302) having multiple lamp segments (306) arranged in a radial pattern around a center hole (303).  Each lamp segment 306 comprises a plurality of LEDs (305).

 

The portable frame could be circular (as picture above) or rectangular.  When the portable frame is mounted to a movable camera, the frame follows the movements of the camera.

The ’652 Patent is a continuation of the ’823 Patent and is entitled “Versatile stand-mounted wide are lighting apparatus.”  The ’033 Patent is also part of the same family and is entitled “Stand-mounted light panel for natural illumination in film, television or video.”

The ITC complaint was filed in August 2011 against several U.S. and Chinese companies.

Litepanels previously sued two competitors in federal court in Texas and before that, asserted the ’823 Patent against Sony, which quickly settled the case about a month after the complaint was filed.

Green Patent Acquisitions: Ecover Buys Method’s Green Cleaning Tech and Business

September 27th, 2012

 

Method is a San Francisco company that makes green cleaning products.  Recently, the company’s Belgian competitor, Ecover, acquired Method in a deal that would create the world’s largest pure play green home cleaning company (see Greenbiz article here).

Method has a diverse IP portfolio which includes at least seven utility patents and applications, over 40 trademark applications and registrations, and at least 15 design patent applications.

More particularly, Method owns U.S. Patent Application Publication Nos. 2010/0093595 and 2010/0299846, entitled “Liquid cleaning compositions” (Cleaning Compositions Applications) and directed to cleaning compositions comprising a surfactant system, a certain percentage of water, a solvent system, and an enzyme.  The cleaning compositions are in a form of continuous phase and provide improved cleaning efficacy with lower active doses of cleaning ingredients. 

According to the Cleaning Compositions Applications, the invention can be used in highly concentrated form and thus provides advantages such as the need for less packaging and reduced energy consumption in shipping and lower volume of active ingredients to dispose of:

[E]mbodiments of the cleaning compositions . . . provide several advantages over known compositions, including but not limited to the ability to create an efficacious cleaning composition in a highly concentrated form (e.g., 4x, preferably 5x, more preferably 6x concentrates), thereby minimizing packaging requirements and energy consumption for packaging and shipping; lower quanitities of actives are required per washload, reducing the cost of the products, as well as minimizing the amount of cleaning activities added to sewer and septic systems and the environment; less packaging to recycle or add to landfills; etc.

As to green brands, Method owns U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4,078,271 for the mark POWERGREEN for a variety of cleaning preparations in Class 3.

Method’s design patents include D522,372, D541,661, D614,032 and D619,008 (’008 Patent), which protect various bottle designs such as this one of the ’008 Patent:

According to the Greenbiz article, the partnership will provide each company access to new geographic markets and technical information such as Method’s developments in green solvents and Ecover’s biosynthetic surfactants.

Fenix Energy Makes Geo-Exchange Tech for Spaces with Low Max Headroom

September 21st, 2012

Fenix Energy (Fenix) is a Vancouver-based company that provides geo-exchange systems.  Geo-exchange, also called geothermal heating and cooling, means tapping into the energy stored under the Earth’s surface and using it as a heating and cooling source.

According to this Cleantechies piece, because Fenix’s technology uses vertical drilling that minimizes disruption to existing surroundings, it can be deployed in urban environments and particularly in green buildings.

Fenix owns at least one international patent application, Publication No. WO 2012/109759 (’759 Application), entitled “Low headroom confined space geoexchange drilling system and method.”   

The ’759 Application is directed to a low headroom drill apparatus (100) comprising a rotary drill head motor (101) supported on a drill mast (103), which is itself supported by a drill rig base frame (112) including floor supports (106).   The drill mast (103) can be elevated by an actuator (116) to a vertical drilling position. 

An axial drive means (114), shown in FIG. 1 as a chain and sprocket hydraulic motor drive, drives movement of the motor (101) in an axial drilling stroke to advance or withdraw the drill rod string (102) through the ground below a floor slab (110) of a building.  The drill rig base frame (112) may include transport brackets (118) to facilitate movement of the drill rig apparatus (110).

The drill mast (103) is of a length less than the maximum headroom of confined space in which the drill system (100) is being used, such as 6-7 feet in a parking garage or basement or 7-9 feet in an office building.  This enables use of the system without the need for any sub-excavation below the bottom floor of the building or other measures to provide sufficient vertical clearance for the drill mast (103). 

Max Headroom

According to the ’759 Application, the invention is particularly well suited for use in multi-story buildings with vertically oriented geo-exchange piping and in smaller areas with strict headroom limits.

The Cleantechies article also noted that Fenix recently completed a geo-exchange installation at a building in Ontario after the first three floors were in place, and because the system is so unintrusive, other work such as plumbing, electrical and glazing occurred in parallel with the drilling process.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

September 18th, 2012

 

A number of green patent complaints have been filed in the last several weeks in the areas of biofuels, LEDs, and solar mounting systems.

 

Biofuels

Gevo, Inc. v. Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC

Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC v. Gevo, Inc.

Add another two actions to the mega-litigation between these advanced biofuels rivals.   On August 13, 2012 Gevo filed another declaratory judgment action, this time for invalidity and non-infringement of Butamax’s U.S. Patent No. 8,241,878 (’878 Patent). 

The ’878 Patent is entitled “Recombinant yeast host cell with Fe-S cluster proteins and methods of using thereof” and directed to methods for the conversion of 2,3-dihydroxyisovalerate to alpha-ketoisovalerate using recombinant yeast host cells expressing a heterologous dihydroxy-acid dehydratase (DHAD) protein.  Gevo’s complaint was filed in federal court in Marshall, Texas.

Butamax fired back the next day with a patent infringement complaint in the District of Delaware asserting the ’878 Patent. 

These latest complaints bring the total number of actions between Gevo and Butamax to 12, with 10 patents asserted.

 

Danisco US Inc. v. Novozymes A/S

Filed August 27, 2012 in the Northern District of Iowa and the Northern District of California, Danisco’s complaint (see the Cal complaint here) seeks a declaratory judgment that the company’s Rapid Starch Liquefaction alpha-amylase products do not infringe Novozymes’s U.S. Patent No. 8,252,573 (’573 Patent) and that the ’573 Patent is invalid. 

In the alternative, Danisco is asking the court for a determination that its U.S. Patent No. 8,084,240 (’240 Patent) has priority over the ’573 Patent.  The ’573 Patent  is entitled “Alpha-amylase variant with altered properties” and is directed to an isolated variant polypeptide having alpha amylase activity and containing a substitution of glutamic acid for proline at position 188.

The ’240 Patent is entitled “Geobacillus stearothermophilus alpha-amylase (AMYS) variants with improved properties” and directed to an isolated variant of a truncated Geobacillus stearothermophilus enzyme containing a substitution of glutamic acid for proline at position 188 and exhibiting increased viscocity reduction in a starch liquefaction assay.

Danisco asserts that the named inventors on the ’240 Patent conceived of and reduced to practice the invention before Novozymes filed any patent claim to the Geobacillus stearothermophilus alpha-amylase variant.

Last year, Novozymes won an $18 million jury verdict against Danisco for infringement of a patent directed to certain alpha amylase variants.

 

LEDs

Lexington Luminance LLC v. Lighting Science Group Corp.

Lexington Luminance LLC v. Osram Sylvania Inc.

Lexington Luminance LLC v. Feit Electric Company, Inc.

In three actions filed on August 21, 2012 in the District of Massachusetts, Lexington Luminance accuses Lighting Science Group (Lexington-LSG Complaint), Osram Sylvania (Lexington-Osram Complaint) and Feit Electric Company (Lexington-Feit Complaint) of patent infringement. 

The asserted patent, U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851, is entitled “Semiconductor light-emitting device and method for manufacturing same” and directed to an LED device having a lattice mismatch system of etched trenches in the substrate and a layer including inclined lower portions to guide lattice defects away from propagating into the active layer of the LED.

The accused products are Lighting Science’s EcoSmart 8-watt GP19 and A19 LED bulbs, Sylvania’s 8-watt A19 LED bulb, and Feit’s 7.5 watt A19 and Utilitech Pro LED bulbs.

 

Cooper Lighting, LLC v. Cree, Inc. et al.

Georgia-based Cooper Lighting filed this patent infringement action against North Carolina LED maker Cree and Wisconsin-based Ruud Lighting on September 7, 2012 in federal court in Atlanta. 

The complaint alleges infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,210,722, entitled “LED device for wide beam generation” and directed to an LED apparatus including an LED in a plane, an optic having a first lobe and a second lobe wherein the optic is oriented with respect to the LED such that the first lobe is on a first side of the plane and the second lobe is on the second side of the plane, wherein the optic is operable to receive light emitted by the light emitting diode and is operable to form the received light into a three-dimensional distribution of light that the plane intersects.

 

Solar  Mounting Systems

Sunmodo Corp. v. Unirac, Inc.

This declaratory judgment action was filed by a Washington state solar rack and mounting company called Sunmodo against its New Mexico competitor Unirac.  The complaint, filed August 8, 2012 in federal court in Tacoma, Washington, requests a declaratory judgment that Sunmodo’s Ez Roof Mount does not infinge U.S. Patent No. 8,128,044 (’044 Patent) and that the ’044 Patent is invalid.

The ’044 Patent is entitled “System for mounting a photovoltaic module to a surface” and directed to a system for mounting a photovoltaic module to a surface comprising a rail with at least two tracks, each having a channel, the rail being removably mountable to a footing grid, a plurality of keepers on which to mount the rail, and one or more clamps for connecting a photovoltaic module to the rail.

According to the complaint, Unirac’s counsel sent Sunmodo a letter in May entitled “Infringement of the U.S. Patent No. 8,128,044″  in which Unirac alleged that the Ez Roof Mount infringes the ’004 Patent, and the letter included a claim chart comparing elements of the product with claims of the ’044 Patent.

Green Off-Patent Report (Powered by CleanTech PatentEdge)

September 14th, 2012

 

Our Green Off-Patent Report provides selected highlights of green patents which have completed their 20-year terms and recently expired or will complete their terms and expire within the next week or so (assuming the patentee paid all requisite maintenance fees; U.S. patents require payment of fees 3 1/2, 7 1/2, and 11 1/2 years after issuance to stay in force).

Many of the green technologies in use today are off-patent, i.e., the patents covering the technologies have run their 20-year term and expired. 

Knowing which technologies are off-patent is important because those technologies are in the public domain and can be exploited by anyone.  It’s also interesting because it provides a window into what was cutting edge technology twenty years ago.

The green off-patent searching is performed by Cleantech PatentEdge™.

U.S. Patent No. 5,411,767, entitled “Method for producing interconnector for solid electrolyte type fuel cell” and directed to a method for producing interconnectors for electrically connecting unit cells of a solid electrolyte type fuel cell wherein an interconnector material such as a perovskite complexed oxide is thermally sprayed onto the surface of an electrode of a solid electrolyte type fuel cell by a plasma thermal spraying process.  Filed September 8, 1992; issued May 2, 1995; expired September 8, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,406,154, entitled “Power unit for motor vehicles” and directed to a power unit for a motor vehicle having an electric motor including a heat sink detachably connected to a motor case, switching elements for switching an electric current to be supplied to the electric motor, a cover member for the switching elements, and resin to fix the heat sink to motor case.  Filed September 2, 1992; issued April 11, 1995; expired September 2, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,388,025, entitled “Rechargeable electrical energy storage device having organometallic electrodes” and directed to a rechargeable electrical energy storage device comprising an electrochemical cell having two electrodes constructed of a similar organometallic compound whereby the electrodes are electrically connected by an ion carrying electrolyte and physically separated by a barrier that will pass the ions but not electrons.  Filed September 1, 1992; issued February 7, 1995; expired September 1, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,355,747, entitled “Flywheel assembly” and directed to a flywheel assembly comprising a first flywheel connectable to an engine, a second flywheel, and an inter-flywheel viscous damping mechanism providing viscous damping of flywheel torsional vibrations.  Filed September 1, 1992; issued October 18, 1994; expired September 1, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,340,665, entitled “Creep resistant, metal-coated LiFeO2 anodes for molten carbonated fuel cells” and directed to a porous, creep-resistant, metal-coated, LiFeO2 ceramic electrode for fuel cells useful for molten carbonate fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells.  Filed September 3, 1992; issued August 23, 1994; expired September 3, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,334,259, entitled “Amorphous silicon solar cell and method of manufacture” and directed to a method of amorphous silicon solar cell manufacturing comprising forming thin films of a transparent electrode material, amorphous silicon, and a backside electrode on a transparent substrate, using an alkali resistant metal for the backside electrode, and employing wet-etching to open holes that penetrate through the backside electrode and amorphous silicon layers.  Filed September 10, 1992; issued August 2, 1994; expired September 10, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,327,991, entitled “Exhaust gas purifying method and apparatus for a hybrid car” and directed to an exhaust gas purifying apparatus for a hybrid car wherein the internal-combustion engine is equipped with a catalyst installed in an exhaust pipe for purifying exhaust gas and a heater for heating the catalyst under the control of the controller to enhance its catalytic action.  Filed September 2, 1992; issued July 12, 1994; expired September 2, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,316,592, entitled ”Solar cell roofing assembly” and directed to a solar roofing assembly comprising a roofing membrane, a plurality of insulation blocks disposed as a continuous layer on top of the roofing membrane, and a plurality of photovoltaic modules directly on top of the insulation blocks, whereby the photovoltaic modules serve as ballast for the insulation and membrane layers.  Filed August 31, 1992; issued May 31, 1994; expired August 31, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,314,072, entitled “Sorting plastic bottles for recycling” and directed to an apparatus and method for sorting plastic bottles for recycling by parameters such as whether the bottle is clear, colored, contains chlorine, and has a small or large diameter.  Filed September 2, 1992; issued May 24, 1994; expired September 2, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,300,373, entitled “Electrochemical cell stack and method of making an electrochemical cell stack” and directed to an electrochemical cell stack made from a continuous laminate web fan-folded into a stack and including an electrode layer, an electrolyte layer, and a plurality of discrete opposite polarity electrode segments connected by current collector strips.  Filed September 11, 1992; issued April 5, 1994; expired September 11, 2012. 

U.S. Patent No. 5,296,045, entitled “Composite back reflector for photovoltaic device” and directed to a photovoltaice device having a composite back reflector on a substrate, the reflector including an electrically conducting, texturizing layer disposed on the substrate, a light reflecting layer conformally disposed on the texturizing layer, and photovoltaic material disposed on the composite back reflector.  Filed September 4, 1992; issued March 22, 1994; expired September 4, 2012.

Clean Energy Patent Growth Index Shows Big Gains in Solar and Wind

September 10th, 2012

The Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) recently published its Q1 2012 Results.

Although fuel cells are still in the top spot with 232 patents, they were down 18 relative to the first quarter of last year.  The report shows large year on year gains for solar patents, up 50 at 188, and wind, which totaled 157 patents, up 71 from Q1 2011.

There were 62 hybrid/electric vehicle (HEV) patents granted, a gain of 24 over last year, and biomass/biofuel patents more than doubled from Q1 2011 to 36.

As to assignees, Toyota took the top spot with 49 patents, mostly for fuel cells and some HEV patents.  GE was in second place with 33 patents, the vast majority of which were for wind technology.

Third place went to Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas with 30 patents, and GM was in fourth place with 28 patents, almost all for fuel cell technology.  Other patentees in the top ten were Samsung, Honda, Siemens, Ford, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

The CEPGI reports also break out patent data by geography, looking at U.S. states and other countries. 

In Q1 2012, Japan led non-U.S. green patentees with 150 patents, and California took second place with 70 patents.  Other jurisdictions holding a lot of green patents included Germany (51), Michigan (49), New York (47), Korea (45), and Denmark (32).

Always an interesting read, the CEPGI quarterly reports provide valuable snapshots of green patenting activity and a window into green innovation.

Green Patents, Red Herrings and Climate Change at IPO San Antonio

September 6th, 2012

 

I will be speaking at the Intellectual Property Owners Association annual meeting in San Antonio next Monday, September 10th. 

I will be participating in a panel discussion entitled “Clean Tech Reality Check:  Are Green Patents the Red Herring of International Climate Change Policy?”. 

The other panel members are Allison Mages, Senior Counsel for IP Procurement and Policy at GE, Doug Pearson of the Jones Day law firm, and Sara Boettiger, a Berkeley economics professor and Founder & CEO of Global Access to Technology for Development.  Bryan Vogel, a partner at the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, will moderate.

My presentation is called “Global Green Patenting:  Risks and Opportunities from the Fast Track to the Highway.”  In it I will review the anti-patent policies proposed by the UN and developing countries in international climate change treaty talks.  Such policies seek to weaken or eliminate green patents due to a belief that patents act as a barrier to international transfer of clean technologies.

My talk will highlight significant instances of clean tech transfer that belie the notion that green patents are acting as such a barrier. 

I will also provide an overview of some of the opportunities in international green patenting such as the fast track programs offered by a number of national IP offices around the world and discuss  strategies for expediting green patent applications in the USPTO now that the Green Technology Pilot Program is closed.

Doug will go into more detail about the anti-green patent policies and discuss some of the literature on the role of IP rights in commercializing green technologies.  Allison’s presentation will highlight the importance of IP rights in green innovation and deployment of green technologies.

Finally, Sara will provide important context as to why developing countries need adaptation and mitigation technologies and make the case for working together within existing IP systems to foster diffusion of these critical technologies.

Other notable speakers at the IPO annual meeting include Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Randall Rader, Neil Warma, President and CEO of Opexa Therapeutics, and Patently-O Founder and Missouri School of Law Professor Dennis Crouch.

The meeting is at the JW Marriott Hill Country September 9-11.  More information can be found in the meeting brochure here.

Tour Engine’s Split-Cycle Technology Improves Internal Combustion

September 4th, 2012

Tour Engine is a San Diego company that has developed a more fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) based on standard piston/cylinder engine architecture.  

The company’s TourEngine builds on a “split-cycle” design.  While conventional ICEs use the same cylinder for all four strokes, the TourEngine splits the 4-stroke cycle between two opposing cylinders.  The elegant innovation of the engine – and what differentiates it from previous split-cycle engines – is the direct coupling of the two cylinders by a special crossover valve.

In the TourEngine design, the two cold strokes – intake and compression – occur in one relatively cold cylinder while the hot strokes – combustion and exhaust – occur in the other relatively hot cylinder.  Thus, the hot and cold strokes occur in parallel, and this configuration allows flexibility in thermal management, minimizing energy losses and boosting efficiency. 

I recently met Dr. Oded Tour, the company’s Co-founder and CEO, at the New Energy New York Symposium.  Tour Engine was a semifinalist at the startup competition, and I was able to catch up with Dr. Tour after his presentation to discuss the company’s technology and intellectual property.

He told me the company has patented the basic core innovation, which is the direct coupling of the two cylinders by a special crossover valve that regulates the precisely timed transfer of the compressed charge from the cold cylinder to the hot cylinder. 

Tour said the special valve is designed to be wide enough to eliminate any bottleneck between the two cylinders yet narrow enough so it does not become a separate compartment.  In this way, any energy input and compression by the engine is transferred completely between cylinders without losing energy.  The direct coupling of the cylinders via the valve also eliminates the need for a connecting tube.

Tour Engine owns at least three U.S. Patents and several international patent applications covering its technology.

Two related patents – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,383,797 and 7,516,723 – are entitled “Double piston cycle engine” and directed to a dual piston apparatus including an interstage valve (collectively “Valve Patents”). 

The Valve Patents describe and claim a dual piston apparatus comprising a compression cylinder (01) housing a compression piston (03), a power cylinder (02) housing a power piston (04), two piston connection rods (05, 06) connecting their respective pistons to their respective compression crankshaft (07) or power crankshaft (08), a crankshaft connecting rod (09), an intake valve (10), an exhaust valve (11), and an interstage valve (12).

The compression piston (03) moves relative to the compression cylinder (01) in the direction indicated by the illustrated arrows, and the power piston (04) moves similarly relative to the power cylinder (02).

The interstage valve (12), which may be formed as a shaft having a conic shaped sealing surface, governs the compressed carbureted air/fuel charge flow from a volume B in the compression cylinder (01) as it is pushed into a volume C in the power cylinder (02).  In addition, the interstage valve (12) prevents reverse flow of fuel from volume C back into volume B.

In an open position, the interstage valve (12) allows compressed fuel to flow from compression cylinder (01) into the power cylinder (02).  The valve remains closed during combustion and along the power stroke, and typically opens around the time the exhaust valve (11) closes.

U.S. Patent No. 7,273,023 is entitled “Steam enhanced double piston cycle engine” and directed to a dual piston apparatus for a combustion engine in which the piston in the first cylinder performs only intake and compression strokes and the piston in the second cylinder performs only power and exhaust strokes.  A third piston utilizes heat energy generated by the second piston to perform additional power strokes.

According to Dr. Tour, the company’s patented core innovation is important for a few reasons.  First, the simplicity of the patented technology makes it a very cost-effective solution.  Second, the TourEngine is a platform technology that can be utilized in multiple verticals.  Finally, the patented innovation is just the beginning and sets the stage for additional IP protection.  Dr. Tour told me with confidence, “there will be hundreds of patents around this technology.”

With the recent passage of new federal automobile mileage mandates, electric vehicles alone probably can’t carry us to 54.5 miles per gallon, and improved ICE technology like the TourEngine could play a major role.