Archive for the ‘Energy Efficiency’ category

Pressing Matters: Inserting Indow Windows for Energy Efficiency

October 17th, 2014

Indow Windows (Indow) is a Portland, Oregon, company that has developed energy efficient window inserts.

Indow owns at least one U.S. Patent and a pending patent application covering its storm window technology.  U.S. Patent No. 8,272,178 (’178 Patent) is entitled “Press-fit storm window” and directed to a storm window assembly comprising a transparent panel and tubes or gaskets for insertion into a window frame.

The tube (102) has a hollow interior and a channel groove that connects it to the panel (130).  The tube allows a pressure fit (350, 352, 354) into a window frame.

FIGS. 6(A)-6(C) show a molded tube corner piece which includes parallel plates (605, 615) with a gap (617).  Notch (643) facilitates better coverage and flexibility while find (641) provides improved adhesion and insulation.

FIG. 5 shows the corner piece being inserted into a window frame.

U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2014/0174006 is a related application (continuation-in-part of a continuation-in-part) owned by Indow, which adds some new material to the original disclosure of the ’178 Patent.

According to the ’178 Patent, the invention is intended to supplement, rather than replace, existing windows:

The windows are not designed to replace existing windows, but rather to supplement them by creating a tight seal between the interior space or exterior space and the existing window.

The invention accomplishes this by creating outward pressure around the edge of the panel:

In one embodiment of the inventive press-fit storm window, a transparent panel of acrylic glass, such as PLEXIGLAS, glass, or other clear rigid material is held in place by the spring action created by a continuous (or partial, conceivably) round gasket (or other spring-like gasket), that creates outward pressure around the entire exterior edge of the clear panel (or the top, left, and right sides). The panel is held securely in place through a combination of this outward pressure and friction.

A press release emailed to me by the company notes that its compression tube requires no mounting hardware or track system.  Significantly, the press release cites a U.S. Department of Energy study which found that installation of Indow Windows in a home in Seattle “led to a more than 20 percent reduction in heating, ventilating and air-conditioning use.”

The windows have gotten some recognition – according to the press release it has won a number of awards including the 2014 Top Product of the Year Award in the Environmental Leader Product & Project Awards.

Optimizing Green Patent Protection: A Study in Energy Storage Service

December 3rd, 2013


Stem is a Millbrae, California, startup that sells and leases its battery energy storage system, which is marketed as a way to reduce consumers’ energy bills.  Specifically, the company makes a lithium-ion battery connected to analytics software that determines the best times to draw energy from the battery, thereby reducing electricity demand charges.

As more demand side energy efficiency / smart grid technologies are being offered as services (with leasing of equipment rather than sale), I’ve been thinking about what this might mean for green patent drafting.  One of the things patent prosecutors consider when preparing a patent application is how to draft the claims to ensnare as many different potential infringers in the chain of commerce as possible.

On this score, it is important to keep in mind the acts that can constitute infringement, viz., making, using, selling, offering for sale, and importing into the United States.

In conventional scenarios, the competitors that could be infringers are typically manufacturers that make, offer for sale, and sell competing products as well as the end users of the products.  There could be distributors in the chain too, but these may or may not be viable infringement targets because of the patent exhaustion doctrine, which holds that an unrestricted authorized sale of a patented product “exhausts” the patent holder’s rights to control the use and sale of the product.

Taking Stem’s battery energy storage as a service as an example, the company owns at least one U.S. patent and one pending patent application relating to its technology.  Both are entitled “High speed feedback adjustment of power charge / discharge from an energy storage system” and are Publication No. 2013/0207591 (’591 Application), which is a continuation of U.S. Patent No. 8,350,521 (’521 Patent).

Generally speaking, the ’521 Patent and ’591 Application are directed to smart charge systems and power management methods in which power demand load data and variable generator power data are synchronized in time and used to provide optimal charge/discharge instructions to an energy storage unit.

The simplest infringement scenario, of course, would be competing manufacturers that make and sell products that infringe the ’521 Patent by their manufacturing and sales activities; there also could be end users who infringe by their use.  But what about a competitor that simply leases infringing systems to end users? 

This hypothetical competitor has situated itself at a spot in the commercial chain where it may be able to avoid a charge of direct infringement because it is not making, selling, offering for sale, or importing an infringing product.  Depending on how the claims of the relevant patent are written, this competitor may not be using the product either.  It’s conceivable that the end users may be the only direct infringers in this scenario.

However, the patentee may have a case for inducing infringement against a competing storage as a service lessor if the patent claims are drafted carefully.  Section 271(b) of the patent statute provides that anyone who “actively induces” infringement of a patent is an infringer.  This means that someone who himself does not infringe, but induces another to do so (e.g., by providing a product with advertising or instructions about an infringing use), may be held liable for inducement, a form of secondary liability for patent infringement.

The ’521 Patent (and the ’591 Application) contains both system and method claims:  claims directed to a smart charge system and claims directed to a method of power monitoring and management.  Independent claim 1 of the ’521 patent is directed to a smart charge system including a premise sensor for measuring premise power information, a variable generator sensor for measuring generator power information, an energy storage unit, and a control computer that receives synchronized information from the sensors and energy storage unit and provides charge/discharge instructions.

It’s possible that an end user of the smart charge system might, through use of the system, be a direct infringer of claim 1 of the ’521 Patent and the company leasing the system could be liable for inducing the infringement of the end user.

A better candidate for inducement is independent claim 10 of the ’521 Patent because this is a method claim:

10. A method of power monitoring and management comprising:

providing, at a controller, a desired limit load;

receiving, at the controller, power demand load information;

receiving, at the controller, variable generator power information; and

transmitting, from the controller to an energy storage unit, a charge/discharge instruction based on the desired limit load, the power demand load information, and the variable generator power information.

Even if the end user isn’t using the whole system with all the components recited in claim 1, or if a different system is being used, the storage as a service lessor could still be liable for inducing infringement if it directs or instructs the end user to carry out the method steps recited in independent claim 10.

Having method claims in a patent provides better protection and greater flexibility for enforcement by exposing more players and activities in the commercial chain to potential infringement liability.  As clean tech companies continue to explore new business models, careful green patent claim drafting will become more important to ensure optimal protection.



Does Use of a Certification Mark Constitute an Express Warranty?

November 26th, 2013


Unlike ordinary trademarks, which indicate the commercial source of a product, certification marks communicate to the consumer that the products to which they are affixed meet certain manufacturing or quality standards.

One question that flows from this quality communication function is whether a manufacturer that affixes a certification mark to a product, by doing so, expressly warrants that the product meets the standards signaled by the certification mark.

This legal issue has begun to split the courts in the context of the Energy Star certification program for energy efficient appliances.  In the last year or so, an Ohio federal court dismissed a plaintiff’s express warranty claim based on affixation of the ENERGY STAR logo to a washing machine while a California federal court allowed a similar claim involving refrigerators to move forward.

The defendant was Whirlpool in both cases.  In the Ohio case, Savett v Whirlpool Corporation, the defendant moved to dismiss all of plaintiff’s claims, including a breach of express warranty.

The court granted Whirlpool’s motion on that claim because it found the ENERGY STAR logo does not in itself affirm any fact or promise:

[T]he Court finds that plaintiff fails to allege the existence of an express warranty because use of the ENERGY STAR logo is not an “affirmation of fact or promise” as alleged in this case . . . . the logo itself contains no assertion of fact or promise.  Unlike traditional express warranties where unambiguous promises or factual assertions are made, which are clearly understood on their own footing, any meaning conveyed by the logo requires independent knowledge.

The court also noted the lack of any precedent “in which a logo has . . . been held to constitute an express warranty.”

Contrast that with Dei Rossi v. Whirlpool Corporation, decided by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.  This case, discussed in a recent post, came out the other way.

The California court denied Whirlpool’s motion to dismiss the express warranty claim, holding that it was satisfied by affixation of the ENERGY STAR certification mark to the refrigerators.  This act by Whirlpool conferred a specific and express warranty because it communicated that the products met the Energy Star requirements:

Although Defendant alleges that this logo does not confer a specific and express warranty, Defendant does not provide any reason for affixing this logo to the product other than to signify that the product meets the Energy Star specifications.  Simply put, the Court cannot fathom any other reason for affixing the logo in such a manner. . . if Defendant’s intention was simply to signify that the product was energy efficient, it could have done so without affixing the Energy Star certification logo.  Thus, the Court finds that affixing this logo to the product satisfies the definition of an express warranty . . .

The court further found that the Plaintiffs adequately pleaded the exact terms of the warranty because the complaint noted that the Energy Star certification required the refrigerators to be at least 20% more efficient than minimum standard models.

Which is the better answer to this legal conundrum?  We may find some guidance by attempting to reconcile the conflicting results in these two cases.

It should be noted initially that we can’t reconcile these decisions based on any differences in the express warranty statutes in Ohio and California; the salient provision in each state is identical:

Any affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller to the buyer which relates to the goods and becomes part of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the affirmation or promise.

One key factual difference is that the Ohio plaintiff apparently did not see the ENERGY STAR logo on the product or understand its meaning.  The Ohio court noted this in footnote 8 of its decision, stating it is notable that “plaintiff does not allege that he saw or understood any purported meaning of the logo.”

The California court did in fact distinguish its decision, at least in part, on this basis:

[U]nlike the plaintiff in Savett, in the instant case Plaintiffs have alleged that they independently understood the meaning of the logo and relied on it in deciding to purchase the products.

Ultimately, however, where a court comes out on this issue seems to depend on whether it attaches more importance to the motive of the manufacturer or the motive of the consumer.  That is, the California court found the manufacturer’s intention in affixing the ENERGY STAR logo to the product was to communicate that it meets the Energy Star specifications.

The Ohio court, by contrast, seemed swayed by the knowledge and purpose of the consumer, noting that “any meaning conveyed by the logo requires independent knowledge,” which the plaintiff in the suit notably lacked.

To be sure, there are a number of other causes of action consumers can bring against manufacturers that don’t satisfy green certification standards as advertised.  Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll see more case law on this issue as green certification marks continue to proliferate and influence the purchasing decisions of environmentally conscious consumers.

No Fahrvergnügen for Kruse as Volkswagen Escapes Infringement of Diesel Engine Patents

October 24th, 2013

In a previous post, I discussed the infringement suit in which Kruse Technology Partnership (“Kruse”) accused several automakers, including Daimler, Mercedes-Benz USA, Volkswagen, Ford and Chrysler of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 5,265,562 (“’562 patent”), 6,058,904 (“’904 patent”) and 6,405,704 (“’704 patent”) relating to higher efficiency and lower emission diesel engines.

The asserted patents are entitled “Internal combustion engine with limited temperature cycle” and directed to Kruse’s “Limited Temperature Cycle” technology, which limits peak combustion temperatures in direct injection gas and diesel engines.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently affirmed a district court grant of summary judgment of non-infringement of the ’562 and ’904 Patents in favor of Volkswagen.

According to the ’562 and ’904 Patents, fuel is injected in first and second fractions at different points in the operating cycle of the engine, resulting in a combustion process having “a constant volume (isochoric) phase and a constant temperature (isothermal) phase.”

The asserted claims recite “the combustion as a result of the introduction of the second fraction is a substantially isothermal process,” which was construed by the district court to require that the average cylinder temperature “remains substantially constant from the beginning until the end of the combustion.”

On appeal Kruse first argued this interpretation was incorrect and unduly narrow, but the Federal Circuit disagreed and said the district court’s construction is the “only permissible reading” of the term:

The only permissible reading of the limitation “the combustion . . . is a substantially isothermal process,” is that it requires a substantially constant temperature for the entire second fraction combustion. . . . [T]he combustion . . . is a substantially isothermal process,” does not indicate that only a portion of the combustion is isothermal.

Kruse also contended that the district court erred in holding that isothermal combustion of 23% – 48% of the second fraction in the Volkswagen products was not an infringing equivalent element of the claimed “substantially isothermal process” limitation.  Specifically, Kruse argued that the difference in combustion is insubstantial and one of degree.

The Federal Circuit disagreed.  While some deparature from the entirety of the second fraction combustion might be permissible, the court held that a 23% – 48% duration cannot be equivalent to combustion over the full duration of the fraction:

While the claim limitation, as construed, by no means precludes some departure from the entirety of the second fraction combustion, we find no error in the district court’s conclusion that the claim term is not flexible enough to allow the 23% to 48% duration of the second fraction combustion.  Allowing such a percentage to be equivalent to combustion over the full duration is contrary to the meaning of the claim limitation and would render it meaningless.  Isothermal combustion for less than half of the second fraction combustion cannot logically be considered insubstantially different from combustion from beginning to end; and . . . no reasonable juror could find otherwise.


Court Enjoins LED Greenwashing; Orders Lighting Co. to Pay $21 Million for Consumer Redress

October 11th, 2013


A previous post discussed a recent court decision giving the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a big win and holding that Lights of America (LOA) violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by making false claims about LED lamps replacing certain wattage incandescent lamps and about the lifetime of the company’s LED lamps.

At issue were LOA’s ”replacement” claims and “lifetime” claims.  The replacement claims stated that certain LED lamps replace 20-, 40-, and 45-watt incandescent light bulbs and indicated that the lamps produce the lumen equivalent of each compared incandescent.

The lifetime claims included statements by LOA that certain lamps last six, seven, ten, and even fifteen times longer than 2,000 hour incandescent bulbs, for a maximum claimed 30,000 hours of life. 

The court found both LOA’s “replaces watts” claims and its LED lifetime claims false and unsubstantiated and constituted violations of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.

The court has now issued a Final Judgment and Order imposing an injunction that prohibits LOA from making any misrepresentations about its LED products relating to four categories of product features:

(1) Light output or brightness in lumens;

(2) Light output equivalency to incandescent or any general service lamp;

(3) Lifetime of the product; or

(4) Energy costs, energy savings, energy consumption, or energy-related efficacy.

If LOA is to make any such claims they must be backed up by “competent and reliable evidence that substantiates that the representation is true.”

The decision also includes a substantial monetary judgment, ordering LOA to pay the FTC $21,165,863.47.  This is the amount the court determined represented the injury to consumers or LOA’s unjust enrichment resulting from its violations of the FTC Act.

The court directed the FTC to deposit the money into a redress fund to be used for consumer redress, and if not practicable or there are funds left over, to use the remaining money for equitable relief reasonably related to LOA’s deceptive practices.

Any money left after that, the court said, will be deposited to the U.S. Treasury as disgorgement, which could come in handy should Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling next week and the government default on its debt obligations.

In LED Greenwashing Case Court Unplugs Lights of America

October 3rd, 2013

A previous post discussed an action brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Lights of America (LOA), charging the California LED lamp maker of violating the FTC Act by making false or unsubstantiated advertising claims about its products.

In a recent decision, a Los Angeles federal court held that LOA violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by making false claims about LED lamps replacing certain wattage incandescent lamps and about the lifetime of the company’s LED lamps.

Section 5(a) of the FTC Act prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.”

At issue were LOA’s ”replacement” claims, which stated that certain LED lamps replace 20-, 40-, and 45-watt incandescent light bulbs and indicated that the lamps produce the lumen equivalent of each compared incandescent.

The court found that none of lumen output readings for the LED lamps at issue equaled the typical lumen output range for any of the compared incandescents.  In fact, the measured lumen outputs of LOA’s best performing products were significantly lower than each incandescent:

Even the lamp with the highest measured lumen output . . . provides only 48% of the highest point in the range of typical lumen output [of a 45-watt incandescent], and 80% of the lowest point in the range of the typical lumen output.

The lamp with the highest measured lumen output . . . provides only 23% of the highest point in the range of typical lumen output [of a 40-watt incandescent], and 36% of the lowest point in the range of typical lumen output.

The lamp with the highest measured lumen output . . . provides only 39% of the highest point in the range of typical lumen output [of a 40-watt incandescent], and 20% of the lowest point in the range of typical lumen output.

Thus, the court found LOA’s “replaces watts” claims false and unsubstantiated and constituted a violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.

The lifetime claims at issue included statements by LOA that certain lamps last six, seven, ten, and even fifteen times longer than 2,000 hour incandescent bulbs, for a maximum claimed 30,000 hours of life. 

The court used as the standard for measuring the lifetime of an LED lamp something called “L70,” which is the point at which the light output of an LED lamp diminishes to 70% of its original light output.

Here the issue was partly lack of substantiation as the court found that LOA had no life test data for some of its LED lamps prior to February 2008. 

Subsequent testing failed to support LOA’s 30,000 hour life claim or its later 20,000 claims:

None of the lamps tested by LOA maintained lumen output above L70 during the period tested.  All had reached the end of life under L70 during . . . less than 7,000 hours of testing. 

The court therefore held the lifetime claims false:

LOA’s substantiation does not support its 30,000 or 20,000 hour lifetime claims.  Rather, the documents and data LOA relies upon show that none of the LEDs or Lifetime Lamps tested would last beyond a few thousand hours.

The false lifetime claims also constituted a violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.

The court found injunctive relief warranted as well as restitution and disgorgement of LOA’s gross revenues from the deceptively advertised products, and requested the FTC to submit a proposed judgment for the court to consider.

The monetary penalty for LOA could be quite severe.  According to the court’s decision, the company’s total gross sales for all of its LED lamps that it falsely and deceptively advertised through April 2011 equals $21,165,863.47.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update, Part I

August 5th, 2013

I will catch up on the new green patent lawsuits filed in the last few months with a two-part green patent complaint update.  The first part covers May through mid-June, which saw several new green patent complaints in the areas of biofuels, fuel recycling, smart grid, and LEDs, and other energy efficient lighting.



GS Cleantech Corp. v. Guardian Energy, LLC

GS Cleantech recently filed suit against Guardian Energy in federal court in Minnesota, alleging infringement of four patents relating to ethanol production. 

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,601,8588,008,516, and 8,283,484, each entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems” and U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517, entitled “Method of recovering oil from thin stillage.”  The patents relate to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.

According to the complaint filed June 7, 2013, Guardian uses infringing processes performed by ethanol production plants purchased from a plant designer called ICM.  ICM was involved in prior litigation with GS.

GS has been on an aggressive patent enforcement campaign over the last several years.  The multiple cases were consolidated in the Southern District of Indiana, where the asserted patents were construed and re-construed.


 Fuel Recycling

Yellow Dog Technologies, LLC v. Fuel Recyclers Arizona LLC

On May 15, 2013, Yellow Dog filed a patent infringement suit against Fuel Recylers, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,165,781 (’781 Patent).

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, alleges that the fuel pump controllers used by Fuel Recyclers to provide automotive defueling services infringe claims 1 and 16 of the ’781 Patent.

The ’781 Patent is entitled “Fuel recovery” and directed to fuel pump controllers and software for operation of a fuel pump of a combustion engine so it pumps a predefined amount of fuel in the fuel line directly to a drain conduit.



Formosa Epitaxy Inc. v. Lexington Luminance LLC

On May 3, 2013 Formosa Epitaxy sued Lexington Luminance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts for a declaratory judgment that Formosa does not infringe Lexington’s U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851 (’851 Patent) and that the ’851 Patent is invalid.

The complaint refers to Lexington’s prior patent infringement suit against Google in which it is asserting that certain Google products containing LED chips and wafers manaufactured by Formosa infringe the ’851 Patent.

The ’851 Patent is entitled “Semiconductor light-emitting device and method for manufacturing the same” and is directed to LEDs having textured districts on the substrate such that inclined layers guide extended defects to designated gettering centers in the trench region where the defects combine with each other.  This structure reduces the defect density of the LEDs.


Trustees of Boston University v. Arrow Electronics, Inc. et al.

BU continued its patent enforcement campaign against various LED makers and electronics manufacturers with another lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston on May 3, 2013.  The complaint again asserts U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (’738 Patent). 

The ’738 Patent is entitled “Highly insulated monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” and directed to gallium nitride semiconductor devices and methods of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber.

The accused products are electronics that include certain Samsung LED devices.


Star Co. LED Technologies, LLC v. Sharp Corp. et al.

Star Co. LED sued Sharp, Sony, and Modia Home Theatre Store for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,964,489, entitled “Device for producting an image” (’489 Patent).

Filed May 17, 2013 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, the complaint alleges that certain LED televisions manufactured, imported and sold by the defendants use LED and LCD technologies that infringe the ’489 Patent.

The ’489 Patent is directed to an LED device for background lighting in which an optical device for focusing and scattering light is arranged between the light source and the image reproduction apparatus.   A matrix point is formed by a number of LEDs, with four LEDs forming one matrix point and two green LEDs and two red LEDs provided for each matrix point.


Plastic Inventions and Patents, Inc. v. JS LED Technology Corp.

On June 19, 2013 Plastic Inventions and Patents (PIP) sued JS LED in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,114,830 (’830 Patent).

The ’830 Patent is entitled “LED Replacement for fluorescent lighting” and directed to a tubular LED lighting unit with a reflective coating.

According to the complaint, JS LED’s web site offers for sale LED replacements for fluorescent tube lighting, including the model JE-T8-4C15, that infringe the ’830 Patent.


Energy Efficient Lighting

Richmond v. Walgreen Co.

Simon Nicholas Richmond filed suit against Walgreens for alleged infringement of three U.S. patents relating to a solar power lighting assembly.

The asserted lighting assembly patents are all part of the same family and consist of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,196,477, 7,429,827 and 8,362,700, each entitled “Solar powered light assembly to produce light of varying colors.” 

Filed May 6, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the complaint alleges that Walgreens is infringing the asserted patents by selling the Living Solutions brand Solar Fiber Optic Garden Snake solar-powered garden light.


Walton v. Solar Energy USA, Inc.

On June 12, 2013, Randal Walton filed a patent infringement suit against Solar Energy USA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The asserted patents are all part of the same family and consist of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,178,944, 7,390,106 and 7,748,871, each entitled “Lighting apparatus” and directed to enhanced illumination lamps utilizing low wattage fluorescent tubes having reflective surfaces for focusing otherwise lost light toward a target illumination area.

According to the complaint, Solar Energy’s T-5 lighting fixture adaptors infringe the lighting apparatus patents.


Smart Grid

 Allure Energy, Inc. v. Nest Labs, Inc. et al.

Allure Energy, a Texas company that provides home environment and energy management products, sued Nest Labs for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,442,695 (’695 Patent).

Filed May 14, 2013 in federal court in Lufkin, Texas, the complaint alleges that Nest’s Learning Thermostat infringes the ’695 Patent.

The ’695 Patent is entitled “Auto-adaptable energy management apparatus” and directed to a smart thermostat device.

Nest has been involved in a high profile patent suit with Honeywell in which it scored some major initial victories in reexaminations of Honeywell’s patents.

Alphabet Generates Energy from Nanostructured Thermoelectric Devices

March 21st, 2013

Alphabet Energy (Alphabet) is a Hayward, California, company that develops thermoelectric materials and products that convert waste heat to electric power.

Alphabet’s web site provides this overview of the concept of thermoelectrics:

Thermoelectrics are solid-state semiconductors that turn heat into electricity. They generate power cleanly and with few or no moving parts from a difference in temperature. They are like solar panels that use heat–instead of light–as an energy source. Alphabet is revolutionizing the way we think about both thermoelectrics and the prototypical functional material, silicon. We have developed and licensed the key technologies to use silicon as a thermoelectric generator.

Alphabet owns at least five U.S. patent applications relating to its thermoelectric materials.  U.S. Application Publication No. 2011/0114146 (’146 Application) is entitled “Uniwafer thermoelectric modules” and directed to a single wafer device (100) including functionalized n-type regions (113) and p-type regions (115) with shunts (123) formed overlying those regions from the front side (102) of the wafer substrate (101).

A partial portion of wafer material (101A) is removed from the back side (103) of the substrate.  One or more conductor shunts (125) are formed overlying the exposed n-type regions (113) and p-type regions (115) from the back side (103). 

According to the ’146 Application, this device can be used to output power from thermoelectrics:

As an implementation of the present invention, the two external electric leads 131 and 132 can [be] used as two electrodes for outputting electric power induced by thermoelectric effect when the single-wafer device 100 is subjecting the conductor shunts 123 at the front side 102 and conductors 125 at the back side 103 to a temperature gradient.

Alphabet’s other patent applications relate to nanostructures and fabrication processes for nanostructure thermoelectric devices.  They are U.S. Application Publication Nos. 2012/0152295, 2012/0247527 (’527 Application), 2012/0295074, and 2012/0319082

The ’527 Application is entitled “Electrode structures for arrays of nanostructures and methods thereof” and directed to a thermoelectric device comprising an array (110) of nanowires (120) with spacings (150) between them.  The spacings (150) may contain fill materials (160) having a low thermal conductivity.

An electrode structure (195) is formed on the array (110) of nanowires (120) by covering protruding segments (135) with semiconductor contact materials (170).  A contact layer (174) provides electrical connection between each of the protruding segments (135), and a shunt (180) may be formed to provide an electrical connection between the contact layer (174) and other devices in the thermoelectric device.

According to this Greentech Media piece, thermoelectrics is a “brilliant pursuit” which no one has brought to market economically at scale yet.  Perhaps Alphabet Energy will be the first.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

February 25th, 2013


There have been a number of green patent complaints filed recently in such technology areas as compact fluorescent lamps, LEDs, and battery chargers.


Compact Fluorescent Reflector Lamps

In the Matter of: Certain Compact Fluorescent Reflector Lamps and Products and Components Containing Same

On January 28, 2013, Andrzej Bobel and Neptun Light (Complainants) filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) requesting an investigation of Maxlite, Technical Consumer Products, Satco Products, and Litetronics International (Respondents) for the alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,053,540 (’540 Patent).

The ’540 Patent is entitled “Energy efficient compact fluorescent reflector lamp” and directed to a reflector lamp which makes use of a fluorescent bulb, rather than an incandescent bulb, to improve the energy efficiency and service life of the bulb and allow for a wider array of color temperatures of emitted light.  The disclosed lamp is “directly compatible with incandescent and halogen PAR lamps” and “used in the same type [of] light fixtures as incandescent” lamps.

Complainants allege that Respondents are engaged in the importation and sale of reflector compact fluorescent lights that infringe the ‘540 Patent.  Complainants are seeking a permanent limited exclusion order and a permanent cease and desist order regarding the importation and sale of the infringing products.



Whelen Engineering Co., Inc. v. Able 2 Products Co.

On January 23, 2013, Whelen brought suit against Able in the District of Connecticut for the alleged infringement of its patent and corresponding trademark concerning an LED light display.

The patent at issue, U.S. Patent No. 6,641,284 (‘284 patent), is entitled “LED Light Assembly” and discloses a linear array of LEDs within a linear parabolic reflector that allows for the production of uniform, directional light beams. 

Whelen also asserted U.S. Trademark Registration No. 2,762,987 (listed in the complaint by its application number), for the mark LINEAR-LED, which, according to the complaint, is “used in connection with . . . warning lights and warning light systems.”

Whelen argues that Able is infringing its patent and trademark through the sale of a number of its warning light products.  Whelen seeks damages and destruction of the infringing products.

Last year Whelen sued another LED maker for infringement of the ’284 Patent, a design patent, and a few of its trademarks. 


Cree, Inc. v. Cooper Lighting, LLC

Cree brought suit against Cooper Lighting (Cooper) on February 19, 2013 for the alleged infringement of two patents relating to an LED apparatus and fixture.  The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

The patents at issue are U.S. Patent Nos. 8,282,239, entitled “Light-directing apparatus with protected reflector-shield and lighting fixture utilizing same” (’239 Patent) and 8,070,306, entitled “LED lighting fixture” (’306 Patent).  Ruud, a subsidiary of Cree, and Cooper are also in litigation surrounding the alleged infringement of a number of Ruud’s patents (see previous posts here and here).

Cree alleges that Cooper’s Ventus LED product infringes the ‘306 Patent and its AccuLED Optics system infringes the ‘239 patent.  According to the complaint, Cooper also offers and sells a number of other infringing products under numerous brands. Cree is seeking a permanent injunction and damages.


Illumination Management Solutions, Inc. v. Ruud Lighting, Inc.

On February 13, 2013, Illumination Management Solutions (IMS) filed suit against Ruud Lighting (Ruud) in federal court in Tyler, Texas for alleged patent infringement and civil conspiracy.

The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 7,674, 018 entitled “LED device for wide beam generation.” This LED device produces light in a wide-angle profile which can be used for street lighting purposes.

IMS is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent further infringement, an award of compensatory, exemplary, and treble damages, attorney’s fees, and an order that Ruud “transfer to [IMS] any interest assigned to Ruud Lighting. . . .”


Battery Chargers

VoltStar Technologies, Inc. v. Superior Communications, Inc.

On February 1, 2013, VoltStar filed suit against Superior in the Eastern District of Texas for alleged patent infringement of three of its patents.

The complaint asserts three patents:  U.S. Patent Nos. 7,910,833 and 8,242,359, each entitled “Energy-saving power adapter/charger,” and 7,960,648, entitled “Energy saving cable assemblies.”

According to the complaint, the patents pertain to a battery charger “that automatically shuts off when a device is fully charged or not plugged in, eliminating ‘vampire load.’ This feature reduces power consumption and extends battery life.”

VoltStar is seeking a permanent injunction as well as monetary damages for Superior’s alleged infringement.


*Cliff Brazil is a contributor to the Green Patent Blog.  Cliff is currently in his second year at the University of Kansas School of Law in Lawrence, Kansas.  He received his undergraduate degree in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.

Green Patent Acquisitions: Acuity Buys Adura

January 28th, 2013

Adura Technologies (Adura) is a San Francisco company that provides wireless lighting controls and energy management systems.  Adura was recently acquired by a large Atlanta-based commercial lighting company called Acuity Brands.

Adura’s patent portfolio includes at three U.S. patents and at least five published patent applications.  The patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,839,017 (’017 Patent); 7,925,384 (’384 Patent); and 8,275,471 (’471 Patent).

The ’017 Patent is entitled “Systems and methods for remotely controlling an electrical load” and directed to an adapted switch (205) including an adapter (225) and switch (105). 

The adapter (225), in turn, includes a sensor (305), a communications interface (310), and a power unit (315), which provides power to the sensor (305) and the communications interface (310).

The sensor (305) is configured to detect a state of the switch (105), and the communications interface (310) wirelessly transmits a signal based on the detected state of the switch (105) to a controller (230), which controls a load device (110) based on the signal.

According to the ’017 Patent, the switch (105) may be electrically isolated from the load device so physical manipulation of the switch does not affect the electrical load with respect to the load device (110).  Because the state of the switch (110) can be detected by the sensor (305) using a low voltage signal, this configuration requires very little power.

The ’384 Patent is entitled “Location-based provisioning of wireless control systems” and directed to methods of provisioning wireless control comprising the step (210) of broadcasting a message from a computing device (120) to a communication network (100) including one or more control devices (130A-C).

In step 220, a response is received from a control device (130A).  In the next step (230), a “scene” is assigned to the control device 130A.  A scene is defined by the ’384 Patent to be a set of one or more specifications concerning operation of light fixtures associated with the control device (130A).

In step 240, a scene command is generated based on the assigned scene.  The scene command is then transmitted to the control device (130A) in step 250.

The ’471 Patent is entitled “Sensor interface for wireless control” and relates to systems and methods for enabling wireless communication with wired sensors.

Adura also has invested in its branding and enforced one of its trademark registrations back in 2009.

According to this Greentech Media story, this is the first in what could be a “wave of acquisitions” in the “still-nascent” networked lighting space.