Archive for June, 2015

Class Action Alleges Ford Fusion Fuel Figure Fudge

June 23rd, 2015

In a recent lawsuit, a Ford Fusion owner has accused the automaker of misrepresenting the fuel efficiency of the hybrid vehicle and distributing a software update that displays false mileage figures.

In the proposed class action complaint filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, named plaintiff Dave DeLuca says that, not long after purchasing the vehicle, he realized its actual performance didn’t match the advertised performance.

Mr. DeLuca tested the car under “optimal conditions” as described by a Ford technician.  More particularly, he tested the car with the windows up, the air conditioner and stereo turned off, and driving at a speed of 62 miles per hour or less, and the car allegedly underperformed.

When Mr. DeLuca took the car into the dealership, the Ford technician tested the car under the same conditions, got the same results, but told Mr. DeLuca nothing could be done to fix the car because it wasn’t broken.

Up to this point, the allegations are pretty common for this type of lawsuit.  Most greenwashing cases against automakers include claims that the hybrid or electric vehicles fail to achieve the advertised fuel efficiency (see, e.g., previous posts here and here).

What’s new here is the software piece.  The DeLuca complaint also alleges that Ford issued a software update for the Fusion Hybrid, claiming the update would increase performance and mileage.  After the dealer installed the update in his car, Mr. DeLuca tested its performance again.

On a road trip to Sin City (Viva Las Vegas!), he drove the car under optimal conditions again and observed that the car’s monitor was indeed displaying better mileage and less gas usage.  But Mr DeLuca alleges, that was just smoke and mirrors:

[W]hen Mr. DeLuca filled his gas tank at a gas station, he realized the vehicle’s software relayed inaccurate mileage and use of gasoline.

The mileage had not really increased, according the complaint:

[A]lthough Ford’s software update displays a higher mileage, the vehicle’s mileage has not increased.

Mr. DeLuca performed one final test, doing comparative driving runs with gas-only Ford Fusion.  He found that the gas-only Fusion displayed accurate numbers while Fusion Hybrid displayed inaccurate figures.

It will be interesting to watch this case and see what, if anything, we learn about the alleged software greenwash.

Ford EV Patents Open, Not Free; You Can License For a Fee

June 16th, 2015

Once is an isolated incident, twice could be a coincidence, but three times – that may make a trend.  Following Tesla’s big patent giveaway about a year ago and Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle patent limited license offer a few months ago, Ford recently announced that it has “opened” its electric vehicle patent portfolio.

Don’t get too excited, though.  This one is fundamentally different from the prior patent pledges.  Ford is not donating its patents or even offering limited-time royalty-free licenses to the patents.

Rather, Ford is offering the patents for license “for a fee” as the company’s press release explains.  In view of the other automakers’ EV freebies, Ford issued a brief statement in defense of it’s for-profit licensing scheme (reproduced here from a Financial Times article):

Defending the decision to charge for the patents, the company said “We’re proud of the work that we do.”  It added: “From the research we’ve conducted already, we feel that licensing is appropriate.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  To the contrary, companies should generate revenue from their R&D, their innovation, and their patents.

But the headline of the announcement obscures the fact that it’s a for-profit licensing venture (“Ford Opens Portfolio of Patented Technologies to Competitors to Accelerate Industry-Wide Electrified Vehicle Development”).

In intellectual property, the word “open” signals free use or public domain (e.g., open source), and the headline is particularly misleading in view of the recent Tesla and Toyota royalty-free patent license moves in this field.  Note Toyota’s press release also used “open” (“Toyota Opens the Door and Invites the Industry to the Hydrogen Future”).

Of course, reasonable people can differ in opinion as to whether the developing EV industry is better served by truly open patent portfolios or revenue generating licensing opportunities.  But either way, the patent holders should not mislead and should get the messaging right.

By the way, this trend of pledging patents appears to be a hot topic:  it’s the subject of a recent article by Professor Jorge Contreras called Patent Pledges and a conference held just yesterday at American University.

 

Automakers Make Eco-mark Progress

June 9th, 2015

Two major automakers have made progress recently in protecting their present and future brands.

In previous posts (here and here), I reported on GM’s U.S. Trademark Application Nos. 86357513 and 86357523 for BOLT and CHEVROLET BOLT, respectively, for “motor land vehicles, namely, automobiles” (BOLT Applications).

The applications ran into some hitches when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) initially refused registration based on U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4,429,759, owned by Yamaha, for the mark BOLT for “Motorcycles and structural parts therefor, excluding wheels.”  According to the trademark examining attorney, there was a likelihood of consumer confusion because the marks are the same and goods are similar.

GM overcame this rejection by arguing differences between the goods and channels of trade (e.g., motorcycles and automobiles are typically sold in different dealerships).  GM also entered into and submitted to the USPTO a Consent Agreement whereby both parties consented to registration by the other of the BOLT mark for their respective goods.

However, the trademark examining attorney also suspended GM’s BOLT Applications based on provisional refusals to register the marks based on prior filed U.S. Trademark Application Serial Nos. 86108379 and 86108374 for the BOLT CUSTOM TRUCKS AND MANUFACTURING word and design marks for “truck parts, namely, a premium-outfitted truck cab.

GM was able to overcome these provisional rejections by agreeing to amend the identification of goods in their BOLT Applications to motor land vehicles, namely, automobiles in the nature of cars.”

Now both applications are moving forward toward publication and registration, assuming no third parties oppose registration.

 

Toyota recently prevailed in an opposition proceeding against HongKong WillRaise Integrated Circuit Company (HWICC), which had filed U.S. Application No. 86/357,165 for PRIUS for chemical flavorings for tobacco and various smoking paraphernalia (‘165 Application).

Toyota filed a Notice of Opposition in December of 2014 before the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board) opposing registration of the ‘165 Application.  Recently, HWICC withdrew the ‘165 Application (HWICC Withdrawal), and because the withdrawal did not include the consent of all the parties, the Board subsequently entered judgment against HWICC.

Guest Post: Vinson Conlan’s LED Patent Update

June 2nd, 2015

Lighting Science Group expanded their intellectual property for their LED Disc Light (Glimpse) with three recent patents.

The trio of patents cover LED light fixtures that are low profile and designed to cover recessed light fixtures and junction boxes. Most of these fixtures look like recessed trims with a lamp or a recessed light fixture trim with a lens.

Their latest patent is written to cover fixtures that are designed to cover a recessed light fixture housing and a junction box with a driver located between the light fixture and the junction box or recessed housing. The ratio of height to diameter is not included in the first claim as it was on the original patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,201,968 (‘968 Patent).

The combination of patents covers many fixture types currently manufactured in North America. Examples of their products can be found here.

The second patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,672,518, entitled “Low profile light and accessory kit for the same”, issued March 18, 2014.

U.S. Patent No. 8,967,844, entitled “Low profile light and accessory kit for the same” (‘844 Patent), issued on March 3, 2015. This is the third of the patents issued that provides coverage for their disc light LED product.

All of the patents claim the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/248,665, filed Oct. 5, 2009.

The following description from the ‘968 Patent has been separated into two claims in the ‘844 Patent:

wherein the heat spreader, the heat sink and the outer optic, in combination, have an overall height H and an overall outside dimension D such that the ratio of H/D is equal to or less than 0.25; wherein the combination defined by the heat spreader, the heat sink and the outer optic, is so dimensioned as to: cover an opening defined by a nominally sized four-inch can light fixture; and, cover an opening defined by a nominally sized four-inch electrical junction box.

In place of the above, claim 1 in the ‘844 Patent adds the following:

…and a power conditioner disposed and configured to receive AC voltage from an electrical supply and to provide DC voltage for the plurality of LEDs; wherein the power conditioner is disposed, configured and sized to fit at least partially within an interior space of: a nominally sized can light fixture; and, a nominally sized electrical junction box.

 

Another recent patent of interest

Copper Technologies (see Halo brand products) was granted U.S. Patent No. 9,010,956,entitled “LED module with on-board reflector-baffle-trim ring” (‘956 Patent). Claim 1 reads as follows:

A light module, comprising:

a heat sink comprising an internal surface surrounding a heat sink cavity formed therein, the internal surface comprising:

a mounting region; and

a reflector region extending from the perimeter of the mounting region to a distal end;

one or more light sources coupled to the mounting region within the heat sink cavity; and

a plurality of mounting pads disposed circumferentially around a portion of the heat sink to separably couple the light module to a housing having a five inch diameter cavity or a housing having a six inch diameter cavity, each mounting pad comprising:

a first receiving hole; and

a second receiving hole,

wherein either the first receiving hole or the second receiving hole is coupled to a torsion spring,

wherein when the torsion spring is coupled to the first receiving hole, the light module is coupled to the housing having the five inch diameter cavity, and

wherein when the torsion spring is coupled to the second receiving hole, the light module is coupled to the housing having the six inch diameter cavity.

One of the embodiments, which is on the shelf at a popular retail DIY chain, can be seen here.

The ‘956 Patent protects their current low cost LED trim; many low cost trims use a similar construction.

 

Vinson Conlan has been developing light fixtures for nearly 30 years and has spent the last 9 years specializing in LED products. He has 8 US patents and has a broad range of experience working for family owned businesses as well as Fortune 100 companies. Vinson currently heads up product development for a leading company in the solid state lighting industry.