Archive for April, 2013

Patent Pending Velkess Flywheel with Gimbal Remains Resonantly Undisturbed

April 29th, 2013

A previous post reported on the acquisition of Beacon Power, formerly the largest flywheel player, after the company went bankrupt.

One of the technical hurdles faced by designers of these whirling rotational energy storage devices is that spinning masses have a natural “wobble.”  Most flywheel designers have employed expensive bearings, magnets, and materials in attempts to minimize this wobble to better align the flywheel’s axis of rotation with the rotation of a generator.

Enter Velkess, a Silicon Valley developer of new flywheel technology, which has invented a self-stabilizing design.  Velkess owns U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2012/0096984, entitled “Flywheel system” (‘984 Application).

The ‘984 Application is directed to a flywheel system in which the wheel is suspended in a non-symmetric damped gimbal system (9) (a gimbal is a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis, commonly used in gyroscopes).  The shaft of a motor/generator (20) is attached to a flexible coupling (13), which is also attached to a rigid shaft (14).

 The rigid shaft (14) is attached at its other end to a super-circular bare filament flywheel rotor (16).  The shaft (14) can transmit high levels of torque and will not suffer the destabilizing displacement common in traditional flywheels.

According to the ‘984 Application, the invention allows one axis of the gimbal to dampen the resonant frequencies in the other axis:

[T]he non-symmetric damped gimbal system 9 of embodiment 15 has two different resonant base frequencies established by the differing lengths of the pendulum that each axis 10 and 11 create. This allows one axis 10 or 11 of the non-symmetric gimbal 9 to damp the resonant frequencies in the other axis 10 or 11.

As explained nicely by Chris Nelder in a recent Scientfic American piece, this feature minimizes resonant disturbances and permits more control of the device:

The gimbal in the Velkess is asymmetrical, so the two axes of rotation—the flywheel axis as well as that of the rotor, which drives the brushless, inducting DC motor—are not on the same plane, and have different periods of frequency. This dampens the resonance effects that make traditional flywheels hard to control (a resonant disturbance in one of the planes can intensify until the device shatters). With the gimbal, resonance in one plane is translated into the other, which is nonresonant at the same frequency. Accordingly, only very loose engineering tolerances—about one sixteenth of an inch—are required to build the device.

According to Nelder, the Velkess flywheel has significant advantages over previous devices like those made by Beacon Power, including slower, longer discharge of stored energy, and scalability.  More info on the Velkess technology can be found on the company’s technology page.

Guest Post: Can the WIPO Green Matchmaker Make You a Match?

April 25th, 2013

 

The latest PCT Newsletter published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is promoting the WIPO Green platform as a way to match GreenTech innovators with commercialisation partners.

The initiative from WIPO is a welcome move towards facilitating collaboration and development of green technologies which mitigate climate change, reduce environmental pollution and promote sustainable resource use.

The WIPO Green platform consists of a searchable “matchmaking” database and a service network.  Innovators can publicise their green technologies on the database and make contact with potential partners with a view to securing licensing or partnership agreements. 

The database also enables users to input specific green technology needs with calls to innovators to meet those needs with environmentally sound technologies.

The service network component of the initiative will facilitate partnerships by providing training, advice on licensing, and assistance with obtaining financial support.  It will also provide links to technology experts worldwide.

The initiative provides both technology providers and technology seekers with opportunities for collaboration with international organizations, companies, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and SMEs.

Currently, major technology providers signed up to the initiative include CERN (Switzerland), Fujitsu (Japan), General Electric Company (United States), Hitachi (Japan), Honda Motor Co. (Japan), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States), Stanford University (United States) and the University of Geneva (Switzerland).

Technology seekers include the Association for Environmental Management and Development (AGED) (Burkina Faso), KOE Technology Investment co., Ltd. (China), Shanghai Technology Transfer Exchange (China) and SIG (Switzerland).

Licensing of any intellectual property relating to the green technologies (e.g. patents, designs or trade secrets) will be governed by individually negotiated agreements between the parties involved.

The GreenTech category with most technologies listed on the WIPO Green database is currently alternative energy production with 22 technologies.  Other technology categories include waste management (13 technologies), energy conservation (8), agriculture / forestry (2) and transportation (2).

The WIPO Green initiative provides much needed opportunities for all parties to engage with international organisations to develop and deploy their innovations on a global scale.

 

*Dr. Tim Stirrup is a Patent Attorney with Baldwins Intellectual Property in New Zealand and represents a number of clients in the Greentech sphere.

Patented Bio-PDO for Heat Transfer: CSP Meets Green Chemistry

April 22nd, 2013

DuPont Tate & Lyle BioProducts (DPTL) is a joint venture between DuPont and Tate & Lyle which provides natural and renewably sourced industrial materials.  In collaboration with Climalife, DPTL has developed and launched a new line of heat transfer fluids (HTF) under the brand name Greenway. 

The Greenway fluids are marketed for use in solar thermal (AKA concentrating solar power) applications.  The key ingredient in the heat transfer fluids is DPTL’s Susterra brand propanediol, a bio-based glycol.

DPTL owns several patents and pending applications relating to its bio-derived propanediol (Bio-PDO), including U.S. Patent No. 7,988,883 (‘883 Patent), specifically directed to use of Bio-PDO in heat transfer compositions.

Entitled “Heat transfer compositions comprising renewably-based biodegradable 1,3-propanediol,” the ‘883 Patent is directed to heat transfer or antifreeze compositions comprising biologically-derived 1,3-propanediol having a bio-based carbon content of at least 1%. 

The independent claims of the ‘883 Patent include a recitation that the composition “has a lower anthropogenic CO2 emission profile” compared to 1,3 propanediol with no bio-based carbon.  The Bio-PDO can be generated by genetically-engineered E.coli bacteria or other microorganisms. 

The patent makes the argument that its bio-based process is carbon-neutral.  According to the ‘883 Patent, the compositions have less environmental impact because they take their carbon from plant feedstocks and release the carbon into the atmosphere to be used by plants again:

The biologically derived 1,3-propanediol (Bio-PDO) for use in the current invention, produced by the process described herein, contains carbon from the atmosphere incorporated by plants, which compose the feedstock for the production of Bio-PDO. In this way, the Bio-PDO used in the compositions of the invention contains only renewable carbon, and not fossil fuel based, or petroleum based carbon. Therefore the compositions of the invention have less impact on the environment as the propanediol used in the compositions does not deplete diminishing fossil fuels and, upon degradation releases carbon back to the atmosphere for use by plants once again. Thus, the present invention can be characterized as more natural and having less environmental impact than similar compositions comprising petroleum based glycols.

Like some of the patent litigation involving solar ovens and solar mounting systems, the Greenway HTF product containing patented propanediol is another example of green IP extending into downstream solar and penetrating the niche market opportunities offered by the clean tech industry.

Korean Program Seeks to Patent Smart Grid Standards

April 18th, 2013

I saw an interesting story at SmartGridNews.com about a Korean program to support patenting of standards for smart grid technologies.  Additional reports are at Energy Korea and Power Insider.

The Korea Smart Grid Association recently launched the initiative, which will support R&D projects conducted by companies, universities and research institutes to develop core technologies and standards for smart grid applications.

The program is sponsored by the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) and supervised by an organization called the Standard Patent Center.

The ultimate goal, it seems, is to generate patents that cover standards in the smart grid space.  Kim Yeon-ho, the Director General of the Electric and Electronic Burear at KIPO, was fairly blunt about Korea’s thought process on this:

The standard patent is a high value-added patent that can enjoy both market power and monopolistic strength of patent, which are advantages of standardization.

A major caveat to the monopoly power rationale is that the owners of patents covering industry standards are typically required to license the technology on terms that are fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND).

The Korea Smart Grid Association offers another explanation, claiming to be looking out for the little guy.  The Association’s Vice President, Mun Ho, said:

Given that most smart grid-related companies are small and mid-sized businesses, which are weak in coping with standard smart grid patents, the program is expected to signficantly contribute to strengthening their competitiveness.  The Association will exert continued effort to promote creation of patent standards.

In particular, the Association plans to develop flexible AC transmission systems and electric vehicle charging infrastructure technologies, create standard patents around those technologies, and then “provide results of development to small and mid-sized smart grid companies.”

At Smart Grid News, Jesse Berst’s “quick take” puts this patent program into context:

In the U.S., the smart grid has largely been about empowering customers and utilities with better information. In Korea, the smart grid is part of the country’s industrial policy and has been singled out as an important new export opportunity. [This program is] one of the steps the country is taking to make that plan into a reality.

Clean Energy Patent Growth Index Shows Record High for 2012

April 15th, 2013

The Heslin Rothenberg firm’s Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) 2012 Year in Review was published earlier this month.  Always an interesting read, the CEPGI is a quarterly publication that tracks grants of U.S. patents directed to clean energy technologies.

The 2012 roundup reports that granted green patents hit an all time high of 3061 for last year, a rise of 730 patents, or more than 30%, over 2011.

The 2012 CEPGI technology breakdown shows biomass/biofuel patents with the biggest gain, up over 70%, growing from 104 patents in 2011 to 179 last year.  Solar patents rose by more than 60%, and wind and hybrid/electric vehicle patents were up 40%, though fuel cell patents grew by only 8% from 2011 to 2012.

However, the fuel cell sector was still the winner in total patent grants for 2012 with 1024.  Solar took second place with 862 patents, with wind in third place.  There were also 286 hybrid/electric vehicle patents granted in 2012, 61 tidal energy patents, 21 hydroelectric patents, and 14 geothermal patents.

The number one green patent holder for 2012 was Toyota, with 207 patents (which CEPGI dubs the “Prius effect”).  GE, with 175 patents, took second place, with GM in third place with 122.  Samsung and Honda took fourth and fifth place, respectively, with 94 and 87 patents each. 

The rest of the top ten green patent holders consisted of Mitsubishi, Vestas, Siemens, Hyundai, and Ford.

One interesting finding is that the population of green patentees expanded substantially in 2012.  More particularly, there were over 1000 entities granted clean energy patents in 2012, 200 more than in the previous year.

The CEPGI also includes more detailed data broken down by subsector and geography.  More info on the CEPGI can be found here.

 

Citing Pastry Precedents Court Rules Agilight Does Not Infringe GE LED Patents

April 11th, 2013

 

A previous post reported on GE’s patent infringement suit against AgiLight asserting several patents relating to LED string light engine structures and assembly methods. 

In a recent decision the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted AgiLight’s motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims of two patents, U.S. Patent Nos. 7,633,055 (‘055 Patent) and 7,832,896 (‘896 Patent).

The ‘055 and ‘896 Patents are entitled “Sealed light emitting diode assemblies including annular gaskets and method of making same” and “LED light engine,” respectively.

A key claim term at issue with respect to the ‘055 Patent was an “annular gasket,” which the court had previously interpreted to require an opening in its center that is capable of sealing off its center area. 

GE argued that the blue element in Figure 1 below meets the “annular gasket” element because it is brought into direct sealing contact with a hollow opening (or socket) in the tooling mold to seal off the center of the opening.

The court disagreed because the AgiLight device has multiple openings and GE’s argument would encompass any concave structure, citing precedents more likely to be found at a pâtisserie than a semiconductor fab:

This interpretation goes too far.  First, even accepting GE’s argument, AgiLight’s design has multiple openings in a single blue element to house LEDs, not “an opening.”  Second, under GE’s understanding, the term “opening” would be synonymous with the inside of any concave surface.  The Court declines to give “opening” such a strained meaning.  Simply put, a croissant is not a donut.

On the ‘896 Patent, the claim term at issue was a “substantially ellipsoidal inner profile” to increase the spread of the LED’s light.  The court held this feature was lacking from the accused device because it has important portions that are conical, not ellipsoidal:

The Court finds the “substantially ellipsoidal inner profile” lacking from AgiLight’s designs.  In particular, to the sides of what is arguably an ellipsoidal portion of AgiLight’s lens appears a portion that is conical, and not ellipsoidal.  The Sasian Declaration, which is unrebutted, explains that “[i]t is through the use of all three portions [spherical, cylindrical, and conical] of the inner surface of the lens that the lens used in the AgiLight products widens the pattern of light rays emitted by the LED over which the lens is placed.”  Given the importance of the conical portions of AgiLight’s lens the Court finds that the entirety of the lens cannot be considered substantially ellipsoidal.

Accordingly, the court granted AgiLight’s motion for summary judgment that it does not infringe the ‘055 and ‘896 Patents.

Cleantech Open Seeks Entrepreneurs for 2013 Accelerator

April 8th, 2013

The Cleantech Open is a non-profit organization that runs the world’s largest cleantech accelerator.  The organization is currently accepting applications for the 2013 Accelerator.  

The deadline for submitting an application is May 1, 2013.  If submitted by Wednesday, April 10, an Early Bird discount lowers the entry fee to $90 for Professional Teams, and to $40 for Student Teams.  Complete application guidelines can be found on the Cleantech Open website.

The Accelerator fosters promising startups in cleantech fields through a six-month program that includes cutting-edge entrepreneur training and mentoring (including in IP!), client and partner opportunities, and funding connections. 

In May, once all the applications are in, each region evaluates the applicants and selects its 2013 class of Accelerator participants.  From June through November, these startups receive training from a broad cross-section of corporations, educational institutions, industry experts, investors and mentors that participate in the program.  This includes a comprehensive training experience provided through the intensive curriculum at the Cleantech Open National Academies, where more than 175 entrepreneurs gather to share ideas and learn how to scale their business.

After winners are selected by each of Cleantech Open’s eight regions, the entire class of startups convenes at the Global Forum to exhibit and pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors and industry leaders.  Expert judges select the overall winners, including the National Grand Prize Winner (which receives $200,000 in seed investment and services) from the eight category winners.  A separate panel of judges selects the National Sustainability Prize winner.

The Cleantech Open is designed specifically for cleantech entrepreneurs who:

  • Have an innovative cleantech idea and need help getting it funded
  • Have a prototype but need to take the next steps to commercialization
  • Need help developing an effective investor pitch and introductions to the right investors

Innovators who are selected to participate in the Cleantech Open can expect to receive:

  • Training through two National Academy events, national webinars, and regional workshops and training events.
  • One-on-one mentoring from 1,000+ participating mentors across the United States, and through dozens of regional business clinics.
  • Access to capital through the Cleantech Open network of strategic investors and at focused “investor pitch panels,” networking receptions, and the popular Investor Connect events.
  • Showcasing and press exposure of their technologies, products, and services at five major Regional Innovation Summits and at the Global Forum in November 2013.
  • A collection of free resources and lifetime membership to Cleantech Open’s alumni program, upon graduating.

The Cleantech Open has consistently proven it offers a recipe for entrepreneurial success.  Since business leaders in Silicon Valley founded the organization in 2006, the Cleantech Open has established itself as the leading force for accelerating cleantech entrepreneurs.

Over the past eight years, more than 700 startups have participated in Accelerator program, and nearly half of these have gone on to raise external capital that now totals more than $800 million. Internationally, cleantech startups from 33 countries have participated in Cleantech Open programs via the Global Ideas Competition.

For 2013, the Cleantech Open Accelerator covers 50 states across 8 regions. It will hold more than 100 regional and national events in over 25 different cities to unite its 1,500 professionals, many of whom are passionate volunteers, in their effort to find, fund and foster tomorrow’s cleantech success stories.

The organization expects between 175 and 200 entrepreneurs will participate in this year’s accelerator — and the website is now accepting applications.  This year, to align itself with industry trends, the Accelerator has been expanded to include a wider scope of products and technologies.

Personally, I’m excited to report that I have recently taken over the role of San Diego Metro Director for the Cleantech Open.  So you can feel free to contact me directly with any questions via email at elane@mckennalong.com.

Gevo Escapes Equivalents Infringement of Two Butamax Patents

April 4th, 2013

We’ve been tracking the major biobutanol patent litigation between advanced biofuels company Gevo and BP-DuPont joint venture Butamax, e.g., here, here and here.

In a signficant decision, a Delaware federal court judge recently ruled on several motions and cross-motions for summary judgment with respect to two Butamax patents – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,993,889 (‘889 Patent) and  7,851,188 (‘188 Patent).

The ‘889 and ‘188 Patents are both entitled “Fermentive production of four carbon alcohols” and directed to a more cost efficient method of producing isobutanol directly from pyruvate via a particular production pathway using recombinant microbial host cells.

Butamax had moved for summary judgment of infringement of the ‘889 and’ 188 Patents and no invalidity while Gevo had moved for summary judgment of non-infringement and invalidity of the two patents.

On infringement Gevo achieved a partial victory.  The court granted summary judgment of no infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, but denied both parties’ motions as to literal infringement. 

The doctrine of equivalents provides that there can be infringement of a patent where the accused device or process does not literally meet all the elements of a patent claim but has an equivalent or only insubstantially different element.

The patented processes use an enzyme called KARI, which needs a cofactor that donates electrons to enable it to catalyze a reaction.  Based on statements in the patents, the court interpreted the claims to require a KARI defined with respect to the NADPH cofactor only. 

Gevo’s process uses an NADH-dependent enzyme, so the issue was whether an NADH-dependent KARI enzyme is equivalent to an NADPH-dependent enzyme.  The court noted that their chemical structures are different and not interchangeable:

NADH and NADPH have distinct chemical structures, with NADPH containing an additional phosphate group.  This extra phosphate group allows NADPH “to be recognized selectively by the enzymes involved in biosynthesis;” thus, “despite their close chemical resemblance,’ NADH and NADPH are ‘not metabolically interchangeable.'”

Accordingly, the court held that the two cofactors could not be deemed equivalents:

For the reasons discussed above in claim constructions, the court does not agree that NADH and NADPH are insubstantially different.

However, the court denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment with respect to literal infringement because there was a question of fact about interpreting certain data about Gevo’s KARI enzymes’ NADH or NADPH dependency:

While Butamax’s evidence of infringement is less than compelling, nonetheless, the court finds it sufficient to withstand Gevo’s motion for summary judgment, as it raises genuine issues of material fact as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention was made would determine NADH-dependency.

The court also reached split decisions on validity, holding claims 12 and 13 of the ‘889 Patent invalid for lack of written description but denying Gevo’s summary judgment motion with respect to claim 8.  Finally, the court denied Gevo’s motions for summary judgment that some of the asserted claims of the ‘188 and ‘889 Patents are anticipated and obvious.

Although this is a significant decision, it appears to only slightly narrow the issues and only with respect to two of the patents.  There are at least 15 other patents in the dispute so there will undoubtedly be much more to come.

Latvian Green Tech Fast Track Grants Patents in “About an Hour”

April 1st, 2013

The Latvian Patent Office (LPO) announced today the launch of an accelerated examination program for green technology patent applications which would grant patents in “about an hour.” 

Apparently, the astonishing turnaround time is possible because of the chronically underutilized staff of the LPO.  Since its modern inception in 1992, the LPO has employed just one part-time patent examiner who works 2-3 days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM with an hour and a half for lunch and six 15-minute cigarette breaks).

The LPO has extremely light application volume in part because the current European patent system enables applicants to file in the European Patent Office, where substantive examination takes place, and simply validate any resulting patent in individual country patent offices like the LPO.

Applicants participating in the new fast track program will receive a first office action within 15 minutes of filing.  If the applicant is able to prepare and file a response by the half-hour mark, the LPO guarantees a final disposition (either final office action or patent grant) within an hour of the filing time.

One down side for participating applicants is that any continuations or divisional applications would have to be filed within 59 minutes and 59 seconds of the filing time of the parent application.

Jāzeps Pliekšāns Heinrihs Klapje de Kolongs Aleksandrs fon Freitāgs-Loringhofens, the LPO’s Director of Policy, is confident the office can deliver results in the promised time period:

If the glasses store can make glasses in about an hour, the Patent Office of the Republic of Latvia can grant a patent in the same time.  Glasses are complex plastic, metal or wire frames containing delicate discs of prescription glass.  Patents are just small stacks of paper.

Latvia joins a number of other countries that have instituted accelerated examination programs for green technology patent applications, such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Korea, but is by far the smallest market country to do so.

Some of the other green patent fast track programs such as those implemented by the Korean Intellectual Property Office and Brazil’s Institute of Industrial Property have received some heat for rules that smack of protectionism such as requiring the applicant to have received funding or certification from the government (Korea), have a local corporate entity and office (Korea), or limiting eligibility to national applications (Brazil).

Clearly aware of these criticisms, the LPO fast track does accept national stage applications and has only minimal local requirements.  Rather than make the applicant establish a local office, for example, the fast track rules simply require that the applicant build a local bird house in the country suitable to support a family of White Wagtails, the national bird of Latvia. 

According to Dr. Klapje de Kolongs Aleksandrs fon Freitāgs-Loringhofens:

Applicants will be very delighted at the beautiful plumage of the White Wagtail and have the option to build the bird house in the capital, Riga, and the surrounding area or in the countryside, for example, in the Courland, Latgale, Vidzeme, or Zemgale regions.

The LPO’s fast track rulemaking committee settled on the bird house provision after failing to reach a consensus on a requirement for the applicant to take “substantial steps to support” the population of Latvia’s national insect, the two-spot ladybird.

While there is no additional fee for the green patent fast track program, the LPO suggests a mandatory donation for each participating patent application of at least 5 kilograms of amber, a fossilized tree resin which is one of Latvia’s most important cultural symbols.