Archive for November, 2015

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

November 19th, 2015

Several new green patent complaints were filed in September and October in the areas of LEDs, smart grid, smart meters and wastewater handling.

 

Smart Grid

JSDQ Mesh Technologies LLC v. Silver Springs, Inc. and Pepco Holdings, Inc.

JSDQ filed a patent infringement lawsuit on September 10, 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

This complaint accuses Silver Springs and Pepco of infringing three U.S. Patents Nos. 7,286,828 entitled “Method of Call Routing and Connection,” RE43,675 entitled “Wireless Radio Routing System,” and RE44,607 entitled, “Wireless Mesh Routing Method.”

The technology involved in the suit includes Silver Springs’ Smart Grid Mesh Network solutions, which the complaint alleges includes a wireless routing system and an Aerohive routing system used in conjunction with directional radio signals.

The complaint alleges Pepco is infringing the patents through its use of Silver Springs’ Smart Grid Mesh Network and associated products and services.

 

Smart Meters

 Transdata, Inc. v. Landis+Gyr, Inc. and Landis+Gyr Technology, Inc.

Transdata, Inc. v. Itron, Inc.

Transdata, Inc. v. General Electric Company and GE Energy Management Services, Inc.

On September 11, 2015, TransData filed three separate complaints in federal court in Tyler, Texas.

Each of the three complaints corresponds to a different defendant(s) (see the complaints here, here, and here), but each complaint asserts the same three patents.  These complaints follow a long list of consolidated “smart meter” cases, and in each complaint, Transdata notes that the defendant(s) indemnified and/or defended other defendant(s) in the earlier consolidated cases.

Two of the asserted patents, U.S. Patent Nos. 6,181,294 (‘294 Patent)and 6,462,713 (‘713 Patent) are related and entitled “Antenna for Electric Meter and Manufacture Thereof.”  The third patent, U.S. Patent No. 6,903,699, entitled “Wireless Communication Device for Electric Meter and Method of Manufacture Thereof,” is a continuation-in-part of ‘713 and continuation of ‘294.

These patents describe an electric meter capable of bi-directional communication over a wireless network.  The meter is equipped with wireless communication circuitry and an antenna allowing the meter to wirelessly send usage data to a remote location and wirelessly, receive operational instructions from the remote location.

For a more detailed discussion of the patented meter technology and discussion of earlier case, see our previous post here.

Numerous industrial and residential electric meters made by the defendants are at issue in these cases.

The Landis+Gyr products include residential meters containing the Landis+Gyr Gridstream RF Mesh Residential Endpoint; industrial and commercial meters containing Landis+Gyr Gridstream RF Mesh Commercial  and Industrial Endpoint; and meters with the AMI communication modules and antenna.

The Itron and General Electric meters include various residential and industrial meters equipped with under-the-glass wireless communication modules and meters with the AMI communication modules and antenna.

 

LEDs

Global Tech LED, LLC. V. Every Watt Matters, LLC and DRK Enterprises, Inc.

Global Tech LED, LLC V. Hilumnz International Corp., Hilumnz, LLC and Hilumnz USA, LLC

Global Tech LED filed a complaint against Every Watt Matters and DRK (“EWM”) on September 14, 2015 and a complaint against Hilumnz on September 15, 2015.

Both complaints were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and allege the defendant(s) infringed U.S. Patent No. 9,091,424, entitled “LED Light Bulb.”

The patent pertains to an LED device that can replace or retrofit a light bulb in an electrical socket.  The LED device has a screw connector for screwing into a light bulb socket.  A bracket connects the screw portion to the housing, which holds one or more LEDs.  The housing can rotate to direct the light from the LED and contains an electrically powered cooling fan to dissipate heat generated by LED.

Both complaints allege EWM and Hilumnz offer for sale infringing LED lamp products.  The Hilumnz complaint also alleges that Hilumnz offers for sale various Retrofit Kits.

 

Wastewater Handling

Liberty Pumps Inc. v. Franklin Electric Co., Inc.

On October 23, 2015, Liberty Pumps Inc. (“Liberty”) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.  The complaint alleges Franklin Electric Co. Inc. (Franklin) is infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 8,523,532 (‘532 Patent) and 8,888,465 (‘465 Patent) entitled, “Sewage Handling System, Cover and Controls.”

The ‘532 and ‘465 Patents describe a basin/pump assembly for moving liquids such as sewage.  If a bathroom is lower than a household sewer effluent pipe, this assembly would pump the bathroom wastewater to the level of sewer effluent pipe.

The assembly has a basin with a bottom, sides and a hanging feature formed into the basin.  The hanging feature has a hanging portion with a level switch.  A pump is disposed in the basin.  Also, the basin may have a cover assembly that can be fastened to the open top of the basin.

The accused products include Franklin’s LittleGIANT Pit+Plus Sewage Basin.

 

Jayne Saydah is a registered patent attorney with experience prosecuting patent applications for a broad range of technologies.  She has a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and an interest in protecting the intellectual property rights of any environmentally conscience inventions and businesses.

Supremes’ Alice Ruling Drowns Water Treatment Patent

November 10th, 2015

A Green Patent Complaint Update post reported on the patent infringement suit between Neochloris and Emerson Process Management Power & Water Solutions.  Citgo was also named as a defendant.

In the lawsuit, Neochloris accused Emerson and Citgo of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,845,336 (‘336 Patent).

The ‘336 Patent is entitled “Water treatment monitoring system” and directed to a monitoring system to receive data from water sensors, analyze water quality conditions inputted by the sensors and predict effluent water quality and process upsets.  The monitoring system includes an artificial neural network module to determine solutions to actual and potential water quality and process upsets.

The defendants jointly moved for summary judgment that the ‘336 Patent is invalid because it covers non-patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.  Section 101 of U.S. patent law delineates the broad categories of subject matter deemed eligible for patent protection.

These comprise “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof…”

Generally excluded from eligibility are laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.  Patentable subject matter has been in flux for the last several years and recent case law has rendered previously eligible areas such as business methods and software very difficult to patent.

In a recent decision, Judge Edmond E. Chang of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the summary judgment motion, ruling that the ‘336 Patent protects an unpatentable abstract idea.

The court’s decision began with a summary of the asserted claims of the ‘336 Patent, stating that they describe a method for:

  1. collecting data at a water treatment plant;
  2. sending the data over an internet connection to a computer;
  3. monitoring and analyzing the data with an ordinary computer and software; and
  4. alerting the facility of any abnormalities.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Alice v. CLS Bank decision laid out the current analysis for determining patentable subject matter under Section 101.  The first question is whether the claims are “directed to a patent ineligible concept” on their face.  If so, the second question is whether the claims nonetheless contain an “inventive concept” that can make the concept a patent eligible invention.

Judge Chang concluded that the claims of the ‘336 Patent cover an abstract idea:

[A]t bottom, the claims cover the general process of observing, analyzing, monitoring, and alerting that can be done entirely by the human mind and by using pen and paper….the Federal Circuit has determined that collecting and processing data is an abstract idea.

The court went on to find that the claims do not contain any inventive concept.  Neochloris argued that the claims have three patent-eligible inventive features:  the use of computers and software, the ability to predict future failure events, and the ability to reduce human error.

However, the court found all of these functions to be conventional and that the claims of the ‘336 Patent merely recite basic computer functions:

[T]he ‘336 patent employs any “monitoring computer” and any “software” to perform basic computer functions.  The computer and software simply make routine calculations to monitor and analyze water data.  The claims are not limited to any particular software or hardware, and this generic technology has no special capabilities that “improve the functioning of the computer itself” or “effect an improvement in any other technology or technical field.”  Because the addition of a computer and software in the ‘336 patent “does no more than require a generic computer to perform generic computer functions,” this generic technology does not save the ‘336 patent.

Similarly, the ability of the patented system to predict future failure events, even if it is better than could be done by a human operator, is not inventive:

There is no inventive concept when a computer just replicates what a person can do, only more quickly and accurately.

Finally, the court found that reducing human error “only describes the generic ability of a computer to work more accurately and does not make the claim inventive.”

With software so integral to so many environmental and other green technologies, this surely is not the last we’ll see of Alice impacting green patents.

Remembering Innovator Stanley Klein

November 4th, 2015

The late Dr. Stanley Klein was a well-known engineer and innovator in a number of fields, including utilities, smart grid, and power systems design and development.

Dr. Klein is the named inventor on U.S. Patent No. 8,731,732, entitled “Methods and system to manage variability in production of renewable energy” (‘732 Patent).  Unfortunately, Dr. Klein passed away while the ‘732 Patent was pending.

The ‘732 Patent is directed to systems and methods of controlling loads coupled to an electric grid to manage variability in production of renewable energy.

The loads may be controlled in response to an indication of balance between available power and loads, in response to new loads, or grid disconnections, and may be controlled repeatedly over time to adjust a sum load in response to changes in balance between available power and loads, new loads, and grid disconnections.

I recently spoke with Dr. Klein’s daughter and son-in-law, Mitch Billian, who together prosecuted the application after his death and obtained the granted patent on his behalf.

Mr. Billian told me the ‘732 Patent is a significant innovation in controlling loads.  The patent includes a “detailed consideration of the communications and networking required to achieve the desired control, including the communication protocol exchanges between the control centers and the controlled loads.”

The patent also discusses the role of aggregators in load control, providing an “identification of the role and facilities of aggregators in combining control of such controllable loads to supply ancillary services to the grid,” Billian said.

FIG. 4 of the ‘732 Patent illustrates a load control center (416) which aggregates load information from multiple loads:

FIG. 4

In environment (400) load control center (416) receives load parameters from controllable loads (404) through load control network (406) to calculate load settings for one or more of the controllable loads (404) in view of the aggregated indications of available power and to communicate the load settings to the corresponding controllable loads (404) through load control network (406).

The impact of the patented technology on renewable energy use could be substantial as it allows “control of large numbers of existing and future residential, commercial, or industrial loads to help in achieving real power balancing control to compensate for the variability of wind power and other renewable generation,” Billian said.

An excerpt form Dr. Klein’s bio shows some of the diverse areas in which he made an impact during his life:

Dr. Stanley Klein, a Managing Principal of OSECS, represents OSECS in Smart Grid efforts and
in numerous other standards activities. He is active in SGIP activities including the Cyber
Security Working Group (CSWG) and several of its subgroups the Transmission and
Distribution Domain Experts Working Group (T&D DEWG), Priority Action Plans PAP-11 (on
Common Object Models for Electric Transportation), the Vehicle-to-Grid DEWG, PAP-14 (on
T&D Model Mapping), and PAP-16 (on Wind Plant Communications). He is also a member of
IEC TC 57 WG-15 on cybersecurity for the IEC standards, was a member of the IEC task group
that prepared IEC-61400-25-4 Annex A, has participated in a number of IEEE standards efforts
as a member of either a working group or a ballot pool, and is a member of the NERC Control
System Security Working Group (that prepares relevant NERC guidelines).

The world could use more brilliant innovators like Dr. Klein.