Archive for January, 2013

Leyden Energy Batteries Live Longer with Lithium-imide Electrolytes

January 31st, 2013

Leyden Energy (Leyden) is a Silicon Valley company that has developed a lithium ion battery that uses imide salts as electrolytes instead of the more commonly used PF6-based electrolytes.  Formerly known as Mobius Power, Leyden built it Li-imide battery platform on seed technology from a patent acquired by DuPont.

In addition to the DuPont patent, Leyden owns at least one U.S. patent and at least six pending applications.  U.S. Patent No. 8,221,915 is entitled “High performance lithium or lithium ion cell” (’915 Patent) and directed to lithium ion electrochemical cells comprising a case (100), a cover (200), which is the positive terminal, and an insulating ring (300) between the case and the cover.

A negative tab (400) connects the anode current collector to the cover, and a positive tab (500) connects the cathode current collector to the cover.  The cell also includes a positive terminal (550), a cathode (600), an anode (700), a separator (800), and an electrolyte solution inside the pores of the electrodes and separator.

The cathode (600) comprises an active material and a current collector made of aluminum foil with a protective, conductive coating, and the anode (700) comprises an active material and a copper foil current collector.

The crux of the ’915 Patent is the invention of a way to reduce the corrosion typically caused by lithium imide salts so their properties of superior thermal and hydrolytic stability can be harnessed to extend the life of the battery.  According to the ’915 Patent, Leyden’s unique combination of conductive protective coating and anti-corrosion additives achieves this goal:

The following examples describe and explain how synergy of conductive protective coating and corrosion inhibiting additives results in [the] possibility of using thermally stable salts described herein to achieve long battery cycle life with little degradation.

In particular, an electrolyte solution of Lithium bis(Trifluoromethanesulfonyl)Imide (LiTFSI) with the additive lithium bis(oxalato)borate significantly reduced corrosion over a one week testing period:

The corrosion of the protected samples did not occur with the whole duration of the test (one week).  This surprising finding shows the synergetic effect of using the protective coating and the corrosion inhibiting additive allows reduction or prevention of corrosion of the current collector corrosion.

This Greentech Media article notes Leyden’s claims that the lithim-imide electrolyte allows temperatures greater than convention lithium-ion batterys, longer cycle life, and higher charge density, and the follow-up piece reports on the company’s latest funding round.

Green Patent Acquisitions: Acuity Buys Adura

January 28th, 2013

Adura Technologies (Adura) is a San Francisco company that provides wireless lighting controls and energy management systems.  Adura was recently acquired by a large Atlanta-based commercial lighting company called Acuity Brands.

Adura’s patent portfolio includes at three U.S. patents and at least five published patent applications.  The patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,839,017 (’017 Patent); 7,925,384 (’384 Patent); and 8,275,471 (’471 Patent).

The ’017 Patent is entitled “Systems and methods for remotely controlling an electrical load” and directed to an adapted switch (205) including an adapter (225) and switch (105). 

The adapter (225), in turn, includes a sensor (305), a communications interface (310), and a power unit (315), which provides power to the sensor (305) and the communications interface (310).

The sensor (305) is configured to detect a state of the switch (105), and the communications interface (310) wirelessly transmits a signal based on the detected state of the switch (105) to a controller (230), which controls a load device (110) based on the signal.

According to the ’017 Patent, the switch (105) may be electrically isolated from the load device so physical manipulation of the switch does not affect the electrical load with respect to the load device (110).  Because the state of the switch (110) can be detected by the sensor (305) using a low voltage signal, this configuration requires very little power.

The ’384 Patent is entitled “Location-based provisioning of wireless control systems” and directed to methods of provisioning wireless control comprising the step (210) of broadcasting a message from a computing device (120) to a communication network (100) including one or more control devices (130A-C).

In step 220, a response is received from a control device (130A).  In the next step (230), a “scene” is assigned to the control device 130A.  A scene is defined by the ’384 Patent to be a set of one or more specifications concerning operation of light fixtures associated with the control device (130A).

In step 240, a scene command is generated based on the assigned scene.  The scene command is then transmitted to the control device (130A) in step 250.

The ’471 Patent is entitled “Sensor interface for wireless control” and relates to systems and methods for enabling wireless communication with wired sensors.

Adura also has invested in its branding and enforced one of its trademark registrations back in 2009.

According to this Greentech Media story, this is the first in what could be a “wave of acquisitions” in the “still-nascent” networked lighting space.

 

Clean Tech In Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

January 24th, 2013

A number of green patent complaints have been filed in the last several weeks in the areas of biofuels, compressed air turbines, and LEDs.

 

Biofuels

Neste Oil, OYJ v. Dynamic Fuel, LLC et al.

Filed on December 20, 2012 in the District of Delaware, Neste Oil’s complaint alleges direct and induced infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,212,094 (’094 Patent).

The ’094 Patent is entitled “Process for the manufacture of diesel range hydrocarbons.”  The patent relates to a process for the manufacture of diesel range hydrocarbons from a biological feedstock where the feed is hydrotreated and isomerized.

Dynamic Fuels is a joint venture of Syntroleum and Tyson Foods that operates refineries capable of producing allegedly infringing synthetic renewable diesel fuels.

This is the second patent infringement suit Neste has filed against Dynamic Fuels in the past year (see coverage of the first one here).

 

Compressed Air Turbines

PowerPHASE, LLC v. Nakhamkin, et al.

Filed December 11, 2012 in the Southern District of Florida, PowerPHASE’s complaint seeks a declaration of non-infringement of two of Nakhamkin’s patents, both relating to combustion turbine power plants using compressed air to help the turbines operate at maximum power.

According to the complaint, Nakhamkin accused PowerPHASE of infringing his patents through its ABI and TurboPHASE technologies.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent No. 5,934,063, entitled “Method of operating a combustion turbine power plant having compressed air storage,” and U.S. Patent No. 6,305,158, entitled “Combustion turbine power plant operable at full power using supplemental compressed air.”

 

LEDs 

Kadence Designs LLC v. Osram Sylvania, Inc. et al.

Kadence Designs recently sued Osram Sylvania and Artison LLC for infringement of three patents. The complaint was filed in the District Court of Nevada on Dec 13, 2012.

All three of the assered patents involve a combination of lights (two of the patents involving LEDs) and sound speakers.  The asserted patents are U.S. Patent No. 7,535,341, entitled “Combination speaker / light fixture,” U.S. Patent No. 7,817,016, entitled “Screw-in LED light and sound bulb,” and U.S. Patent No. 8,299,903, entitled “Screw-in LED light and sound bulb.”

The accused products are light speaker products sold by Sylvania.

 

Lexington Luminance, LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc. et al.

Lexington Luminance, LLC v. Google, Inc.

Lexington filed two suits (Lexington-Amazon Complaint; Lexington-Google Complaint) on November 29, 2012 in the District of Massachusetts alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851 (’851 Patent).  The defendants are Amazon and Google.

The ’851 Patent is entitled “Semiconductor light-emitting device and method for manufacturing same” and is directed to an LED comprising a plurality of textured district defined on the surface of the substrate, which reduce defect density and are useful in the fabrication of semiconductor light emitting devices in misfit systems.

The accused products are e-reader devices and tablet computers.

 

Trustees of Boston University v. Epistar Corp. et al.

 Trustees of Boston University v. Lite-On, Inc. et al.

 A previous update reported on Boston University’s suits against Everlight Electronics and Seoul Semiconductor.

In an expansion of its patent enforcement activity, Boston University has again asserted U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (’738 Patent), this time against Epistar and Lite-On.  The complaints (BU-Epistar Complaint; BU-Lite-On Complaint) were filed December 14, 2012 in the District of Massachusetts.

The ’738 Patent is entitled “Highly insulated monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” and is directed to gallium nitride semiconductor devices and methods of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber.

The accused products include LEDs containing a gallium nitride thin film semiconductor.

 

Light Transformation Technologies, LLC v. Lighting Science Group Corp. et al.

Light Transformation Technologies, LLC v. General Electric Co. et al.

Light Transformation Technologies (“LTT”)  recently filed two separate complaints (LTT – LSG Complaint; LTT – GE Complaint) on December 28, 2012 in the Eastern District of Texas against a number of defendants, including Lighting Science Group, Home Depot, General Electric (and its affiliates), and Wal-Mart. The complaints allege infringement of three patents held by LTT.

The patents-in-suit are:

U.S. Patent No. 8,220,959, entitled “Highly efficient luminaire having optical transformer providing precalculated angular intensity distribution and method therefore”;

U.S. Patent No. 6,951,418, entitled “Highly efficient luminaire having optical transformer providing precalculated angular intensity distribution and method therefore”;

U.S. Patent No. 6,543,911, entitled “Highly efficient luminaire having optical transformer providing precalculated angular intensity distribution and method therefore.”

The accused products include LED light bulbs for home use.

 

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. Technical Consumer Products, Inc.

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. Lighting Science Group Corp.

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. Lights of America, Inc.

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. CRS Electronics, Inc.

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. Feit Electric Company, Inc.

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. MSI, LLC

On December 28, 2012, GE Lighting Solutions filed six separate complaints in the Northern District of Ohio against various defendants alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,787,999 (’999 Patent) and U.S. Patent No. 6,799,864 (’864 Patent).

 The ’999 Patent is entitled “LED-based modular lamp” and directed to a lamp with a plurality of LEDs for emitting light of three different colors and a heat sink thermally coupled to the LEDs.

The ’864 Patent is entitled “High power LED power pack for spot module illumination” and directed to a  light emitting diode assembly including a generally planar front side light emitting diode array, and a rear side that is in thermal communication with a thermally conductive spreader.

The accused products include LED lamps.

 

Wyatt Glynn is an associate at McKenna Long & Aldridge in their San Diego, Downtown office. He received his J.D. from the University of California – Berkeley, where he was the Senior Executive Editor of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal.

Court Issues Split Decision in Cargill’s Renewable Fuel Credits Greenwash Case

January 21st, 2013

The Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”) Program is an EPA program promulgated under the Clean Air Act which mandates that certain “obligated parties” must sell gasoline containing a certain percentage of renewable fuel.  To ensure that sufficient volumes of renewable fuel are produced in and imported into the U.S., companies in the gasoline business are required to meet annual Renewable Volume Obligations. 

One way these parties meet their obligations is by acquiring enough Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, to demonstrate compliance.  A RIN is a numeric code generated by a renewable fuel producer or importer that represents a gallon of renewable fuel.

Cargill, a large conglomerate known primarily in the food and agricultural industries, produces and sells biofuels and participates in energy markets.  In September of 2012, Cargill sued International Exchange Services (IES), a commodities trader, for allegedly transferring invalid RINs and failing to remedy the problem.  

According to the Cargill complaint, the disputed RINs were purportedly originally issued by a producer called Double Diamond Biofuels (Double Diamond), but the RINs were not valid and not actually generated by Double Diamond. 

In a recent decision, the court dismissed two Cargill causes of action, including the claim under the Clean Air Act.  However, Cargill may go forward with its breach of contract claim.

Because it does not involve individual green consumers and consumer products such as water bottles, cleaning supplies, or hybrid vehicles, this would not typically be thought of as a greenwashing case.  But if Cargill’s allegations are true, the fraudulent activity does represent a grave instance of greenwashing. 

The generation of invalid RINs undermines the policy of the RFS Program – to ensure a certain level of renewable fuel in U.S. gasoline – by damaging the market for valid RINs and ultimately reducing the actual volume of biofuels in circulation. 

According to a spokesman for a biodiesel trade group quoted in this StarTribune article, the RIN scam has hurt the biofuels industry by making obligated parties more wary of purchasing the credits from biodiesel producers. 

The fraud and resulting damage are recognizable when we view the putative RIN purchasers such as Cargill as green consumers, albeit commercial consumers instead of individuals, falling victim to false representations about the validity of renewable energy-based financial products.

In addition to the Cargill civil case, the StarTribune piece says the U.S. government has prosecuted two companies that were allegedly generating fraudulent RINs, and the owner of one was convicted.

Court Bounces Danisco DJ Premised on Pre-Patent Proclivities

January 16th, 2013

A previous post reported on a declaratory judgment action brought by DuPont-owned biopharmaceutical company Danisco against Novozymes.  The two companies are both Danish and appear to be arch rivals.  As the court described it, they are “reputedly the two major competitors in the field of developing and supplying industrial enzymes used in the process of converting corn into ethanol fuel.”

Filed in federal court in San Francsico, Danisco’s complaint sought a judgment that the company’s Rapid Starch Liquefaction (RSL) alpha-amylase products did not infringe Novozymes’s U.S. Patent No. 8,252,573 (’573 Patent) and that the ’573 Patent is invalid.  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 proline substitution at position 188 (to yield a variant called “E188P”).

In the alternative, Danisco asked the court for a determination that its own U.S. Patent No. 8,084,240 (’240 Patent) has priority over the ’573 Patent.  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 also containing the proline substitution at position 188.

Last week the court dismissed the case, holding there was no justiciable controversy between the parties in connection with the ’573 Patent because Novozymes had not engaged in any affirmative acts to enforce its patent rights against Danisco nor had Novozymes made any statements that it believed Danisco was infringing the ’573 Patent. 

Danisco argued that Novozymes pursued the application that issued as the ’573 Patent with the specific intent to sue Danisco for infringement, noting that Novozymes added the position 188 proline substitution to a claim late in prosecution after learning that Danisco’s ’240 Patent would granted with such a claim.  Danisco asserted that under “all the circumstances” it should be obvious that Novozymes was positioning itself to charge Danisco’s RSL enzyme products with patent infringement.

Although the court conceded that the circumstances might reasonably suggest that Novozymes does want to enforce the ’573 Patent against Danisco at some point, it ultimately disagreed with Danisco and held that events occurring prior to patent grant alone cannot support declaratory judgment jurisdiction:

The circumstances to which Danisco points, including the parties’ status in the industry, past litigation, and the prosecution history and timing, may all very well support a reasonable inference that Novozymes pursued the E118P claim in the ’573 patent with the hope of wielding it against the RSL products, and even that Novozymes may still be harboring the intent to pursue infringement claims at a time of its own choosing.  Nevertheless, Danisco has not shown any affirmative act by Novozymes to enforce its patent rights.  While matters such as a prior litigation history and statements made during prosecutions sometimes support a conclusion that an actual controversy exists, there is no precedent for finding jurisdiction based on such pre-patent issuance events alone, without any affirmative act of attempted enforcement.

The court also found declaratory judgment jurisdiction problematic because the filing date of the complaint preceded the issue date of the patent by a day, stating “jurisdiction is also lacking for the more technical (but related) reason that Danisco filed this action prior to the time the patent even issued.” 

Though Danisco quibbled over this point based on the date and time the court clerk processed the complaint and placed the ”received” stamp on it, the court brushed aside such details as inconsequential:

Regardless of the precise sequence of events, or what filing date the complaint should have been given, it is clear that Danisco filed this action no later than virtually simultaneously with issuance of the patent.  There is no indication that Novozymes did, or even could have, issued some implied or express enforcement threat so closely upon issuance of the patent such that it could be said to have taken any affirmative act to enforce its patent rights prior to the time the complaint was filed.  Accordingly the motion to dismiss must be granted.

This is not the first litigation victory for Novozymes over its arch rival.  Last year, Novozymes won an $18 million jury verdict against Danisco for infringement of another patent directed to certain alpha amylase variants.

 

Looking Back at the Top Green IP Stories of 2012

January 13th, 2013

 

Before we start fresh with the new green IP issues as they unfold in 2013, here is a look back at some of the top stories from 2012.

 

No. 8:  With Pilot Past, How to Get Green Patents Fast?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Green Technology Pilot Program came to end in February, prompting questions such as why? and what do we do now?  I offered some answers in this post, and laid out my vision of a harmonized international green patent fast track program here.

 

No. 7:  Falsely Over 40? 

One of the largest greenwashing class action cases exploded in the fall of 2012, with a host of complaints filed against Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia.  The plaintiffs alleged that the automakers built advertising campaigns around representations that a number of their vehicles achieved gas mileage in the 40 mile per gallon range when they knew or should have known the actual mileage was signficantly lower.  According to the complaints, an EPA investigation prompted by consumer inquiries found the gas mileage was overstated in seven Hyundai models and six Kia models, with as much as a 6 mpg discrepancy in some models.

 

No. 6:  Honeywell Targets Nest with Thermostat Control Patents

In February Honeywell sued Nest Labs, alleging that Nest’s trendy learning thermostat (pictured above) infringes seven Honeywell patents relating to thermostat control technology.  Nest requested that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office initiate reexamination of all the asserted patents, and each patent was initially rejected in the proceedings.  The suit could have wider ramifications for the energy management industry as some of the features of the Honeywell patents are already being used by other companies.

 

 No. 5:  Class Action Charges Nissan with LEAF Greenwash

 

Hybrid electric vehicles have been targeted by greenwashing class actions in recent years, but 2012 saw the first such case against an all electric plug-in.  In October, a proposed class action complaint accused Nissan of making misleading representations and inflating the LEAF’s battery capacity and driving range.  The plaintiffs also alleged that the LEAF’s battery system lacks an active thermal management system to circulate cooling fluid through the battery array, a design defect that leads to battery damage and loss of capacity.

 

No. 4:  GE Wins Big in Wind Patent War

The year saw a major victory for GE in its large and long-running wind patent war with Mitsubishi when a Texas jury found that Mitsubishi infringed a key GE wind turbine patent and awarded GE about $170 million in damages.  The patent-in-suit was U.S. Patent No. 7,629,705, which relates to methods of facilitating zero voltage ride through so the turbine can remain online during voltage dips down to zero volts.  GE had other wins in 2012, including a Federal Circuit ruling that breathed new life into its ITC dispute with Mitsubishi.

 

No. 3:  With Fast Track Launches, Two BRICs Fall from the Anti-Green Patent Wall

In an apparent policy 180 (at least with respect to prior rhetoric), two of the BRICs joined the green patent fast track bandwagon in 2012.  In April Brazil’s Institute of Industrial Property launched a pilot program to accelerate green technology patent applications, though it appears to offer limited opportunity for non-Brazilian applicants to participate.  China’s State Intellectual Property Office launched its own prioritized examination program for green patent applications in August. 

As discussed here, these launches arguably are significant developments in view of the countries’ stance on IP protection of green technologies in the UN climate change treaty talks and could represent an inflection point in green IP thought and policy in emerging markets and developing countries.

 

No. 2:  Burgeoning Biobutanol Battle

The Gevo-Butamax litigation was a major story of 2012, notable both for its size and as the first foray of big oil into biofuels patent litigation.  There are at least 17 suits and 14 patents at issue in the various actions brought by both parties.  The patents relate to methods of production of biobutanol and enzymes used in the production processes.  The post on Butamax’s opening salvo can be found here, the latest on the complaints filed here, and coverage of the appellate decision denying Butamax’s bid for a preliminary injunction here.

 

No. 1:  Chinese Supremes to American Superconductor:  We’ll Hear You

(1)  In one of the most significant and closely watched IP cases of the year, American Superconductor (AMSC) filed several lawsuits against Sinovel in China, testing the Chinese wind turbine manufacturer’s home court advantage.  This litigation, involving charges of copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets in connection with software code for turbine control systems, has implications for the clean tech industry and beyond. 

IP protection in China is a huge issue, and for technology companies of all stripes seeking to do business in China this case may be a barometer of whether outsiders will receive a fair shake in enforcing their IP rights in China.  In a promising development, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court (pictured above) agreed to hear AMSC’s appeal of an appellate court dismissal of its copyright infringement action on jurisdictional grounds.