Archive for November, 2014

Non-Conformist Korean Car Companies Quickly Settle Gov’t Greenwash Suit for $100 Million

November 29th, 2014

A previous post discussed a host of class action lawsuits against Kia and/or Hyundai accusing the Korean automakers of making false or misleading fuel efficiency claims in their advertising and marketing materials.

Those suits allege 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 the companies knew or should have known the actual mileage was significantly lower.  One major problem, it seemed, was flawed fuel economy testing by the car makers.

A recent lawsuit brought by the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) provides more revelations about the automakers’ faulty testing (and led to a prompt settlement by Hyundai and Kia including a substantial monetary penalty).

Filed November 3, 2014 in federal court in Washington, DC, the complaint alleges that Hyundai and Kia sold over a million vehicles that did not meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act because the automakers used improper testing procedures and analysis and submitted faulty fuel economy data to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The subject vehicles include the 2012 and 2013 Hyundai Accent, Elantra, Veloster and Santa Fe and 2012 and 2013 Kia Rio and Soul.

Under the Clean Air Act, any new motor vehicle sold in the United States must be covered by a Certificate of Conformity issued by the EPA.  To obtain a Certificate of Conformity, a manufacturer must submit an application for motor vehicles it intends to sell in the United States.

One of the metrics a manufacturer must test and include in the application is a vehicle’s road load force, a measure of the internal and external forces that cause a vehicle to lose speed, such as driveline friction and wind resistance.  The road load force can be calculated by performing a “coastdown” test on the vehicle.

A vehicle’s fuel economy depends, in part, on its road load force.  The complaint explains the relationship between road load force and greenhouse gas emissions as follows:

A vehicle with a low road load force has relatively higher fuel economy and emits lower amounts of greenhouse gases because the vehicle efficiently maintains its momentum.  Conversely, a vehicle with a higher road load force has lower fuel economy and emits more greenhouse gases because it needs to burn more fuel to counteract that road load force and maintain speed.

According to the complaint, Hyundai and Kia, which worked together on testing of the subject vehicles for the Certificate of Conformity applications, used improper testing procedures and analysis, including cherry-picking results, leading to inaccurately low reported road load forces:

Defendants improperly selected results from test runs that were aided by a tailwind rather than correctly using the results of test runs in both directions, Defendants selected favorable results from test runs rather than average the results from the larger set of tests, Defendants restricted their testing times to periods when the temperature allowed vehicles to coast farther and faster, and Defendants specially prepared vehicle tires for optimized test results.

As a result, the EPA’s investigation and audit testing determined that the actual road load forces for the tested vehicles were about 14-54% higher than the automakers provided in their applications for Certificates of Conformity.

Hyundai and Kia quickly settled with the DOJ and CARB.  Under the settlement, the automakers did not have to admit the truth of the allegations but will have to pay about $100 million, about $93.6 million to the DOJ and about $6.4 million to the CARB.  This is the largest penalty ever imposed under the Clean Air Act.

The car companies will also forfeit 4.75 million greenhouse emission credits – earned for building vehicle emissions under the legal limit – which they had previously claimed and are estimated to be worth over $200 million.

Sometimes it’s better – for the environment and for the bottom line – to conform.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

November 19th, 2014

Several new green patent lawsuits were filed in the last couple of months in the areas of LEDs, smart grid technologies, concentrated solar power, solar inverters, green dry cleaning solvents, and water treatment.

 

LEDs

Cree, Inc. v. Harvatek Corporation et al.

North Carolina LED maker Cree filed a couple of patent infringement suits in September and October.  In the first, Cree sued Harvatek for alleged infringement of six patents relating to white light LED technology.  The complaint was filed September 15, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Three of the asserted patents are of a first patent family and share the same title.  Another two are part of a second family and share a title.  The patents-in-suit are as follows:

U.S. Patent No. 6,600,175, entitled “Solid state white light emitter and display using same”

U.S. Patent No. 7,943,945, entitled “Solid state white light emitter and display using same”

U.S. Patent No. 8,659,034, entitled “Solid state white light emitter and display using same” (‘034 Patent)

U.S. Patent No. 7,910,938, entitled “Encapsulant profile for light emitting diodes” (‘938 Patent)

U.S. Patent No. 8,766,298, entitled “Encapsulant profile for light emitting diodes” (‘298 Patent)

U.S. Patent No. 8,362,605, entitled “Apparatus and method for use in mounting electronic elements”

The complaint alleges that a number of Harvatek’s white LED products infringe the patents.

Cree, Inc. v. Honeywell International Inc.

The second suit accuses Honeywell of infringing the ‘034, ‘938, and ‘298 Patents as well as U.S. Patent No. 8,860,058, entitled “Solid state white light emitter and display using same.”

Filed in the Western District of Wisconsin on October 28, 2014, the complaint alleges that Honeywell’s Automation and Control Systems and Aerospace business units are selling infringing products using Cree’s patent white LED technology for backlighting.

The accused products include liquid crystal display devices in Honeywell’s Aviation Lighting and Cockpit Displays, Environment & Combustion Controls, Scanning and Mobility devices, and Measurement and Control Systems as well as certain programmable thermostat products.

Smart Grid

Endeavor MeshTech, Inc. v. EnergyHub, Inc.

On October 14, 2014, Endeavor MeshTech (a wholly-owned subsidiary of patent monetization firm Endeavor IP) filed a patent infringement complaint against Brooklyn-based EnergyHub in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The complaint (Endeavor complaint part_1Endeavor complaint part_2) accuses EnergyHub of infringing three patents in a family – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,379,981  8,700,749, and 8,855,019, each entitled “Wireless communication enabled meter and network.”  The patents-in-suit relate to a self-configuring wireless network including a number vnodes and VGATES.

According to the complaint, EnergyHub’s self-configuring wireless network marketed and sold under the name of its Mercury platform infringe the patents.

 

Concentrated Solar Power

Schott Solar CSP GmbH v. SkyFuel, Inc. et al.

Schott filed suit against SkyFuel and Weihai Golden Solar October 23, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.  The complaint alleges infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,013,887 (‘887 Patent) relating to solar absorption receivers used in certain concentrated solar power (CSP) applications.

Entitled “Absorber pipe for solar heating applications,” the ‘887 Patent is directed to an absorber pipe having a central metal pipe, a sleeve tube, folding bellows, and an expansion compensation device that connects the metal pipe and sleeve tube so that they can slide relative to each other.

According to the complaint, the defendants sell infringing receivers and/or build and install CSP plants incorporating infringing receivers.

 

Solar Inverters

Enphase Energy, Inc. v. SolarBridge Technologies, Inc.

Inverter maker Enphase Energy sued SolarBridge, alleging infringement of three patents relating to solar inverter technology.  The complaint was filed October 10, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,768,155 and 8,035,257, both entitled “Method and apparatus for improved burst mode during power conversion” and U.S. Patent No. 7,986,122, entitled “Method and apparatus for power conversion with maximum power point tracking and burst mode capability.”

The patents relate to systems and methods for converting DC power generated by solar panels to AC power for the electric grid and includes methodology for storing energy and drawing energy during burst periods and controlling burst modes to improve efficiency in low sunlight conditions.

The accused products are SolarBridge’s Pantheon microinverter and TrueAC module.

Green Dry Cleaning Solvents

GreenEarth Cleaning, L.L.C. v. Glyndon Laundry, Inc. d/b/a Glyndon Lord Baltimore Cleaners

Filed September 22, 2014 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, GreenEarth’s complaint accuses Glyndon of, among other things, patent and trademark infringement.

GreenEarth alleges that Glyndon is infringing its “base” patent – U.S. Patent No. 5,942,007 (‘007 Patent) – as well as nine other patents which are “variations” of the ‘007 Patent.  The ‘007 Patent is entitled “Dry cleaning method and solvent” and directed to methods of dry cleaning clothes using a cleaning fluid including a cyclic siloxane composition.

GreenEarth also accuses Glyndon of infringing its trademarks including its leaf and water droplet logo:

According to the complaint, GreenEarth licensed its trademarks and patented processes to Glyndon, but Glyndon stopped paying the requisite fees after August 2013 and continued to use the licensed intellectual property.

Water Treatment

Deerpoint Group, Inc. v. Acqua Concepts, Inc. (DBA Ag Water Chemical of California)

Deerpoint, a provider of water treatment solutions for the agriculture industry, sued Acqua and two former Deerpoint employees in federal court in Fresno, California.

Filed September 25, 2014, the complaint accuses Acqua of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 6,238,573 (‘573 Patent) and 7,638,064 (‘064 Patent) and alleges that its former employees misappropriated trade secrets including confidential products and services, client lists, and pricing information.

The ‘573 Patent is entitled “Water treatment” and directed to a process for producing chlorine for water treatment including blending calcium hypochlorite and water  to form a saturated solution of calcium hypochlorite and a sink of calcium hypochlorite and feeding chlorinated water to a water supply.

The ‘064 Patent is verbosely titled “Continuously feeding chlorine to the irrigation system, monitoring an outer field point to determine whether at least a detectable level of residual chlorine is seen at that point, whereby chlorination disinfection system-wide is achieved.”

GE Settles Signage LED Patent Suit; Offers Patents for License

November 12th, 2014

One of the major green patent lawsuits I’ve been following in this space – GE Lighting v. Agilight – has settled.  GE announced the settlement in a recent press release.

The suit involved four GE LED patents, some relating to use of LED modules for signage applications:  U.S. Patent Nos. 7,160,140 (‘140 Patent) and 7,832,896 (‘896 Patent), entitled “LED String Light Engine,” U.S. Patent No. 7,520,771 entitled “LED String Light Engine and Devices that are Illuminated by the String Light Engine” (‘771 Patent), and U.S. Patent No. 7,633,055 entitled “Sealed Light Emitting Diode Assemblies Including Annular Gaskets and Method of Making Same” (‘055 Patent).

GE filed the suit against AgiLight back in February 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  After the district court issued a claim construction ruling favorable to AgiLight, GE joined in a stipulation that two of the ‘140 and ‘771 Patents were not infringed to expedite appeal of the claim construction decision.

Shortly thereafter, the district court granted AgiLight’s motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims of the ‘055 Patent) and the ‘896 Patent.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, but according to the press release the litigation was resolved “to the parties’ mutual satisfaction.”

If the terms included AgiLight taking a license to the patents, it was non-exclusive:  GE Lighting’s General Manager – Global Product Management Jerry Duffy said the company is “offering non-exclusive licenses under these patents to interested parties.”