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.