Archive for the ‘Batteries and Fuel Cells’ category

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

September 23rd, 2016

A number of new green patent infringement complaints were filed in July and August in the areas of advanced batteries, biofuels, LEDs, and electric motors.

 

Advanced Batteries

Dynavair LLC v. AMS USA, Inc.; Dynavair v. Atmel; Dyanavair v. Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions; Dynavair v. Eaton; Dynavair v. Freescale Semiconductor; Dynavair v. Intersil; Dynavair v. Linear Technology; Dynavair v. Microchip Technology; Dynavair v. OKW Electronics; Dynavair v. Samsung SDI America; Dynavair v. SII Semiconductor; Dynavair v. Texas Instruments

Dynavair has initiated at least twelve lawsuits accusing, inter alia, AMS USA, Atmel, Eaton, Freescale Semiconductor, Samsung, and Texas Instruments of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,271,645 (‘645 Patent).

A representative complaint, filed July 5, 2016 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, against AMS lists AMS’s AS8506C Battery Cell Monitor and Balancer IC as the accused instrumentality.  According to the complaint, the product balances energy levels between two battery groups in a battery pack.

The ‘645 Patent is entitled “Method for balancing battery pack energy levels” and directed to a method and circuit for balancing energy levels among first and second battery groups within a battery pack by controlling a first energy level responsive to a first state of charge value indicative of a first energy level of the first battery group and a second energy level responsive to a second state of charge value indicative of the energy level of the second battery group so as to balance the first and second energy levels.

Biofuels

DSM IP Assets et al. v. Lallemand Specialties, Inc. et al.

Filed July 13, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, DSM’s complaint accuses Lallemand and Mascoma LLC of infringing a patent relating to yeast products used in ethanol production.

U.S. Patent No. 8,795,998 is entitled “Fermentative glycerol-free ethanol production” and directed to transgenic yeast cells that reduce or eliminate the production of glycerol during fermentation.

More particularly, the patent relates to a recombinant yeast cell lacking enzymatic activity needed for the NADH-dependent glycerol synthesis or the cell having reduced enzymatic activity with respect to the NADH-dependent glycerol synthesis.

The accused products are yeast products, including Lallemand’s TransFerm Yield+ yeast.

LEDs

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Titch Industries, Inc. et al.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Shenzhen Jiawei Photovoltaic Lighting Co.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Satco Products, Inc.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Technical Consumer Products, Inc.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Wangs Alliance Corporation et al.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Amax Lighting

Lighting Science Group filed at least six more infringement suits in July, asserting various combinations of the following three patents: U.S. Patent No. 8,201,968 (‘968 Patent), U.S. Patent No. 8,967,844 (‘844 Patent), and U.S. Patent No. 8,672,518 (‘518 Patent).

Entitled “Low profile light,” the ’968 Patent is directed to a luminaire including a heat spreader and a heat sink disposed outboard of the heat spreader, an outer optic securely retained relative to the heat spreader and/or the heat sink, and an LED light source.

The ‘518 Patent and the’ 844 Patent are entitled “Low profile light and accessory kit for the same” and relate to LSG’s disc light LED devices.

With the exception of the Shenzhen complaint, filed July 11, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, all of the lawsuits were filed in Orlando, Florida.  The Titch complaint was filed July 7th; the Satco complaint and the Technical Consumer Products complaint were filed July 13th; the Wangs Alliance complaint and the Amax Lighting complaint were filed July 22nd.

 

Lexington Luminance LLC v. TCL Multimedia Holdings, Ltd. et al.

In a complaint filed July 13, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Lexington Luminance accused TCL Multimedia Holdings and TTE Technology of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851 (‘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.

The accused products include television model 40FD2700 using backlighting LEDS which, according to the complaint, use an infringing patterned sapphire substrate.

 

Lemaire Illumination Technologies, LLC v. LG Electronics USA, Inc. et al.

Lemaire Illumination Technologies sued LG for alleged infringement of three patents relating to LED lighting technology.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,095,661 (‘661 Patent), 6,488,390 (‘390 Patent) and 9,119,266 (‘266 Patent).

The ‘661 Patent is entitled “Method and apparatus for an L.E.D. flashlight” and the ‘390 Patent is entitled “Color-adjusted camera light and method” and these related patents are directed to an LED flashlight including  a control circuit for maintaining a predetermined light output level of the LED units as a charge on a battery varies.

The ‘266 Patent is entitled “Pulsed L.E.D. illumination apparatus and method” and directed to an illumination source for a camera including one or more LEDs and a control circuit for driving the LEDs with electrical pulses at a frequency high enough that light produced has an appearance to a human user of being continuous rather than pulsed.

Filed in federal court in Marshall, Texas on July 14, 2016, the complaint lists the LG G3 and G4 smartphones as accused devices.

 

Nichia Corporation v. Mary Elle Fashions, Inc. et al.

Nichia Corporation v. Lowe’s Companies, Inc. et al.

Nichia Corporation v. TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings, Ltd. et al.

Nichia filed these three lawsuits in July and August asserting U.S. Patent No. 7,915,631 (‘631 Patent) against Mary Elle Fashions, Lowe’s, and TCL.

The complaint against Mary Elle Fashions was filed July 19, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and lists the Meridian 13w Equivalent Bright White G24 Non-Dimmable LED Bulb as the accused product.

The Lowe’s complaint, filed July 19, 2016 in federal court in Statesville, North Carolina, alleges that the Utilitech Pro 48-inch Strip Light and the Utilitech Pro 24-inch Strip Light infringe the ‘631 Patent.

The complaint against TCL was filed August 8, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware and names the TCL 48″ Class Television as the accused product.

Entitled “Light emitting device and display,” the ‘631 Patent is directed to an LED having a phosphor capable of absorbing a part of light emitted by a light emitting component and emitting light of a wavelength different from that of the absorbed light.

 

Nichia Corporation v. v. TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings, Ltd. et al.

Separately, Nichia also sued TCL in federal court in Marshall, Texas allegint that the TCL 55GS3700 55 inch 1080p Roku Smart LED TV infringes U.S. Patent No. 8,530,250 (‘250 Patent).

Entitled “Light emitting device, resin package, resin-molded body, and methods for manufacturing light emitting device, resin package and resin-molded body,” the ‘250 Patent is directed to a method of manufacturing an LED such that the optical reflectivity at a wavelength of 350-800 nm after thermal curing is 70% or more.

The method includes the steps of sandwiching a leadframe with a notched section, transfer-molding a thermosetting resin containing a light-reflecting substance, forming a resin-molded body on the leadframe, and cutting the resin-molded body and the leadframe along the notched section.

The complaint was filed August 8, 2016.

 

Seoul Viosys Co., Ltd. v. P3 International Corporation

This lawsuit was filed August 8, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In the suit, Seoul accuses P3 of infringing five LED patents:

U.S. Patent No. 7,982,207, entitled “Light emitting diode”

U.S. Patent No. 7,951,626, entitled “Light emitting device and method of manufacturing the same”

U.S. Patent No. 9,203,006, entitled “Light emitting device”

U.S. Patent No. 8,692,282, entitled “Light emitting diode package and light emitting module comprising the same”

U.S. Patent No. 8,168,988, entitled “Light emitting element with a plurality of cells bonded, method of manufacturing the same, and light emitting device using the same”

The accused products listed in the complaint include P3’s P7880 LED Bug Trap and P7885 LED Bug Trapper II.

 

Philips Lighting North America Corp. et al. v. GVA Lighting, Inc.

Philips has asserted four of its LED patents against Canadian company GVA, alleging that GVA’s STR9 RGBW linear surface mount LED luminaires infringe the patents.

The patents-in-suit are:

U.S. Patent No. 6,692,136, entitled “LED/phosphor-LED hybrid lighting systems”

U.S. Patent No. 6,788,011, entitled “Multicolored LED lighting method and apparatus”

U.S. Patent No. 7,014,336, entitled “Systems and methods for generating and modulating illumination conditions”

U.S. Patent No. 7,255,457, entitled “Methods and apparatus for generating and modulating illumination conditions”

The complaint was filed August 11, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

 

Bitro Group v. Blueview Elec-Optic Tech

Bitro Group v. Global Lux

Bitro Group v. Jb Online LLC dba Ellumiglow.com

Bitro Group v. LEDwholesalers.com

Bitro Group v. The LED Light, Inc.

Bitro Group filed five lawsuits on August 16, 2016 against various defendants asserting infringement of U.S. Patent No. 9,113,558 (‘558 Patent).

The ‘558 Patent is entitled “LED mount bar capable of freely forming curved surfaces thereon” and directed to an LED tape light strip with a structure that allows it to be bent in the direction of its width so it can be used for lighting that must conform to unique shapes.

The complaints (Blueview Elec-Optic complaintGlobal Lux complaintJB Online complaintLEDwholesalers.com complaintThe LED Light complaint) were all filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

The accused products are Blue View Elec-Optic’s Bendable Zig Zag LED tape, Global Lux’s Zigzag Ribbon lights, JB Online’s Wavelux Bendable 3528 LED Strip Light, LEDwholesalers’ Ultra-Flex 6.56-Feet Single Color LED Strip, and the LED Light’s Bendable Flexible LED Strips.

 

Innovative Display Technologies LLC v. LG Display Co. et al.

U.S. Patent Nos. 7,322,730, entitled “Light emitting panel assemblies” (‘730 Patent) and 7,178,965, entitled “Light emitting panel assemblies having LEDs of multiple colors” (‘965 Patent).

The ‘730 and ‘965 Patents relate to optical assemblies including a light emitter having at least one layer of a transparent film, sheet or plate through which light emitted by the light emitter passes.  A pattern of deformities on or in at least one side of the film, sheet or plate control an output ray angle distribution of light emitted by the optical assemblies.

The complaint was filed August 24, 2016 in federal court in Marshall, Texas.

The accused products are various mobile phones, tablets, televisions, monitors, laptops, and liquid crystal display modules containing edge-lit and/or 2-D array backlights.

 

Epistar Corporation v. Adamax, Inc.

In this action, filed August 30, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Epistar has asserted six patents relating to LED filament technology.

U.S. Patent No. 6,346,771, entitled “High power LED lamp”

U.S. Patent No. 6,489,068, entitled “Process for observing overlay errors on lithographic masks”

U.S. Patent No. 7,560,738, entitled “Light-emitting diode array having an adhesive layer”

U.S. Patent No. 8,240,881, entitled “Light-emiting device package”

U.S. Patent No. 8,791,467, entitled “Light emitting diode and method of making the same”

U.S. Patent No. 9,065,022, entitled “Light emitting apparatus”

The complaint names Adamax’s NewHouse Lighting Dimmable Flame Tip 3.5 W LED Vintage Edison Filament Bulb, 2200K as infringing products.

Electric Motors

Cannarella v. Volvo Car USA LLC et al.

An individual inventor, R. Thomas Cannarella, sued Volvo and others alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,232,661 (‘661 Patent).

The ‘661 Patent is entitled “System and method for generating and storing clean energy” and directed to a system for generating electrical energy from pressurized fluid and peristaltic compression and expansion cycles.

Filed August 17, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the complaint alleges that the defendants have made a commercial entitled “Highway Robbery: Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Hybrid” featuring an infringing peristaltic energy generation system.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

March 15th, 2016

A number of new patent infringement lawsuits were filed in January and February in the areas of electric vehicle charging, LEDS, smart grid, and solar battery phone cases.

 

Electric Vehicle Charging

Technology for Energy Corporation v. Hardy et al.

In a lawsuit against a former employee, Technology for Energy alleges various breach of contract claims, breach of an employment agreement, and requests a declaratory judgment of patent invalidity and unenforceability.  The complaint was filed February 22, 2016 in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 9,020,771, entitled “Devices and methods for testing the energy measurement accuracy, billing accuracy, functional performance and safety of electric vehicle charging stations” (‘771 Patent).

The ‘771 Patent is directed to an instrument for testing electric vehicle charging stations (EVCS).  Energy delivery from the EVCS to the load is monitored by the instrument to determine energy measurement and billing accuracy of the EVCS.

 

LEDs

Harvatek Corporation v. Cree, Inc.

This is the third lawsuit between these two LED makers involving white LED lighting technology (see previous posts here and here).

Filed January 26, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Harvatek’s complaint accuses Cree of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,841,934 (‘934 Patent).

The ‘934 Patent is entitled “White light source from light emitting diode” and is directed to an LED white light source that emits short wavelength color light.  The LED has a split metal substrate and a fluorescent glue that covers the LED chip and converts the short wavelength color light into white light.

Harvatek alleges that Cree’s CLM1 Series LED products infringement the ‘934 Patent.

 

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Sea Gull Lighting Products LLC et al.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Hyperikon, Inc.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. U.S.A. Light & Electric, Inc.

Lighting Science Group (LSG) filed three patent infringement lawsuits in late February, all in federal court in Orlando.

The complaint against Sea Gull was filed February 25, 2016 and asserts U.S. Patent No. 8,201,968 (‘968 Patent) and U.S. Patent No. 8,967,844 (‘844 Patent).  The accused products are Sea Gull’s Traverse Collection and Traverse II Collection products.

The complaint against Hyperikon was filed February 26, 2016 and alleges that Hyperikon’s LED Downlight products infringe the ‘844 Patent and U.S. Patent No. 8,672,518 (‘518 Patent).

Also filed February 26, 2016, the complaint against U.S.A. Light & Electric asserts the ‘968, ‘844, and ‘518 Patents and alleges that the defendant’s Recessed LED Downlight products infringe the patents-in-suit.

Entitled “Low profile light,” the ’968 Patent is directed to a luminaire including a heat spreader and a heat sink disposed outboard of the heat spreader, an outer optic securely retained relative to the heat spreader and/or the heat sink, and an LED light source.

The ‘518 Patent and the’ 844 Patent are entitled “Low profile light and accessory kit for the same” and relate to LSG’s disc light LED devices.

 

Lexington Luminance LLC v. Samsung Electronics Co. et al.

In a complaint filed February 25, 2016 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, Lexington Luminance accused Samsung of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851 (‘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.

The complaint lists a host of Samsung products including a number of Galaxy smartphones.

 

Smart Grid

Endeavor MeshTech, Inc. v. Rajant Corporation

Endeavor MeshTech (a wholly-owned subsidiary of patent monetization firm Endeavor IP) sued Rajant in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 4, 2016.

The complaint accuses Rajant of infringing three patents in a family – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,379,981 (‘981 Patent),  8,700,749 (‘749 Patent), and 8,855,019 (‘019 Patent), each entitled “Wireless communication enabled meter and network.”

The patents-in-suit relate to a self-configuring wireless network including a number of vnodes and VGATES.

The accused products and services include Rajant’s BreadCrumb Wireless Nodes, InstaMesh Networking Technology, CacheCrumb, and Mesh Antennas.

 

Dipl.-In. H. Horstmann GmbH v. Smart Grid Solutions, Inc.

Horstman, a German company, filed this lawsuit against Smart Grid Solutions (SGS) in federal court in Atlanta, Georgia.

Filed on January 12, 2016, the complaint accuses SGS of trade dress infringement and various deceptive trade practices, as well as infringement of U.S. Patent No. D578,478 (‘478 Patent), a design patent entitled “Fiber optic cable.”

The ‘478 Patent protects Horstmann’s fiber optic cable design with each end including a semi-transparent curved end attached to the cable and a ribbed segment terminating at a flange.

Horstman alleges that SGS’s E-Scout FI-3C Underground Fault Indicator product infringes the ‘478 Patent.

 

JSDQ Mesh Technologies LLC v. Teco Energy, Inc. et al.

On February 2, 2016, JSDQ filed suit against Teco Energy and Tampa Electric Company, alleging infringement of four patents relating to wireless routing systems used in smart grid networks.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,286,828 and 7,916,648, both entitled “Method of Call Routing and Connection,” RE43,675 entitled “Wireless Radio Routing System,” and RE44,607 entitled, “Wireless Mesh Routing Method.”

JSDQ alleges that Teco and Tampa Electric infringe the patents-in-suit because of their deployment of wireless mesh networking systems that incorporate Trilliant’s SecureMesh broadband mesh network.

JSDQ filed a similar infringement suit against Silver Spring and Pepco in September last year.

 

Solar Battery Phone Cases

iPowerUp Inc. v. Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc.

iPowerUp sued Ascent Solar Technologies (AST) for alleged infringement of two patents relating to solar battery charging cases for mobile phones.

The complaint was filed February 12, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent No. 8,080,975, entitled “Portable and universal hybrid-charging apparatus for portable electronic devices” (‘975 Patent) and U.S. Patent No. 8,604,753, entitled “Method of distributing to a user a remedy for inadequate battery life in a handheld device” (‘753 Patent).

The ‘975 Patent is directed to a modular hybrid-charger assembly comprising a rechargeable internal battery connected to a port operable to function as a tetherless connection to a portable electronic device and a device holder having a framework operable to receive, hold, and release the portable electronic device.  The ‘753 Patent claims methods relating to use of the hybrid-charger assembly of the ‘975 Patent.

The accused products are AST’s Enerplex Surfr and Enerplex Surfr Amp cases for the iPhone 6/6s and the Enerplex Surfr for iPhone 5/5s.

BASF Brings Battery Battle to the Border

April 14th, 2015

A previous post reported that chemical giant BASF and UChicago Argonne LLC (Argonne) sued Belgium-based Umicore and Japan-based Makita Corporation for infringement of two patents relating to cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.  That lawsuit was filed February 20, 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

The same day BASF and Argonne filed a complaint in the U.S. International Trade Commisson (ITC) asking the ITC to investigate whether Umicore, Makita and their U.S. subsidiaries have imported and sold in the United States lithium ion cathode materials and batteries that infringe the same patents.

The ITC is a federal agency that investigates trade and importation issues, including conducting quasi-judicial proceedings involving alleged infringement of intellectual property rights by importation of accused products pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1337.  It is a popular forum for patentees (though only injunctive relief is available, not monetary damages) because the proceedings progress much faster than those in the federal courts.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,677,082 (’082 Patent) and 6,680,143 (’143 Patent), both entitled “Lithium metal oxide electrodes for lithium cells and batteries” and directed to a lithium metal oxide positive electrode for a non-aqueous lithium cell.

The cell is prepared in its initial discharged state and has a general formula xLiMO2.(1−x)Li2M′Oin which 0<x<1, and where M is one or more ion with an average trivalent oxidation state and with at least one ion being Mn or Ni, and where M′ is one or more ion with an average tetravalent oxidation state.

According to the ITC complaint, Argonne is the owner of the ‘082 and ‘143 patents and BASF produces lithium ion cathode materials under an exclusive license to the patents.

Recently, the ITC issued a Notice announcing that it would investigate BASF’s and Argonne’s claims of infringement.

BASF and Argonne have requested a limited exclusion order that would prevent Umicore and Makita from importing Umicore’s cathode materials, allegedly marketed and sold under the Cellcore product group, and certain Makita power tools using lithium ion batteries.

Although Umicore and Makita are now squeezed in both the ITC and federal court, they may ask the court to stay the parallel court action in view of the ITC investigation.

Toyota Offers Limited Free Trial of Fuel Cell Vehicle Patents

February 10th, 2015

In the wake of Tesla’s move to make its entire patent portfolio available via a blog post / covenant not to sue, Toyota made big news recently with a similar though more limited green patent proclamation of its own.

The automaker announced that its patents related to hydrogen fuel cell technology would be available for use without any royalties.

Toyota’s press release provides a general overview of the number and nature of the patents on offer:

Toyota will invite royalty-free use of approximately 5,680 fuel cell related patents held globally, including critical technologies developed for the new Toyota Mirai.  The list includes approximately 1,970 patents related to fuel cell stacks, 290 associated with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 related to fuel cell system software control and 70 patents related to hydrogen production and supply.

While there appear to be no restrictions on hydrogen production and supply technologies (“patents for hydrogen production and supply will remain open for an unlimited duration”), the fuel cell patents are subject to an important caveat:

Patents related to fuel cell vehicles will be available for royalty-free licenses until the end of 2020.

This is a significant limitation for putative car makers that might elect to manufacture fuel cell vehicles based on Toyota’s patented technologies.  They would get six years of free use, but come January 1, 2021 it seems these automakers would become licensees obligated to pay royalties to Toyota.

And it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine in advance the amount of royalties that would be owed at that time.  The royalty figure presumably would be negotiated between Toyota and each licensee and would vary depending on a number of factors including how many and which patents cover the licensee’s vehicles and the territories in which the licensor is making and selling the vehicles.

Furthermore, the licensee would be in a terrible negotiating position because it would have already invested substantial resources in developing, manufacturing, and marketing the licensed vehicles and might now be facing a patent infringement lawsuit if it doesn’t reach a deal with Toyota.  With this leverage, Toyota might be able to impose a higher royalty rate than would otherwise be justified.

This uncertainty around the eventual royalty rate could make even a putative royalty-free (for now) licensee think twice about using the patented technologies on offer.  It might actually make more long-term economic and business sense for a car company to independently develop its own fuel cell vehicle technology than to pay royalties to Toyota for the life of the offered patents.

Of course, this concern doesn’t apply to potential licensees of Toyota’s patented hydrogen production and supply technologies, which are royalty-free in perpetuity, and thus truly constitute a Toyota Hydrogen-Patent Commons.

But with respect to the fuel cell vehicle patents, you might get a free trial now, but you’ll eventually have to pay the piper.

Law Firm Disqualified in Li-ion Battery Patent Suit

January 27th, 2015

Previous posts (here and here) discussed some of the patent enforcement activity by Celgard, a North Carolina company that manufactures specialty membranes and separators for lithium ion batteries.

Celgard has filed several lawsuits alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,432,586 (’586 Patent), including one against LG Chem.  The ’586 Patent is entitled “Separator for a high energy rechargeable lithium battery” and directed to a separator including a ceramic composite layer and a polyolefinic microporous layer.  The ceramic layer has a matrix material and is adapted to block dendrite growth and prevent electronic shorting.

Last month, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit disqualified the Jones Day law firm from representing Celgard in the litigation due to a conflict of interest.  Jones Day was concurrently representing Apple in other matters when it entered the case on behalf of Celgard against LG Chem.

The problem was LG Chem is Apple’s Li-ion battery supplier.  The district court granted Celgard’s motion for a preliminary injunction against LG Chem, the case was appealed, and Apple intervened seeking to disqualify Jones Day.

In a 5-page opinion, the Federal Circuit ruled for Apple, finding that the duty of loyalty protects Apple from Jones Day continuing to represent Celgard.  This despite the fact that Apple was not a named party in the case:

This conclusion is not altered by the fact that Apple is not named as a defendant in this action.  The rules . . . make clear it is the total context, and not whether a party is named in a lawsuit, that controls whether the adversity is sufficient to warrant disqualification.

Here, the total context, which included both Apple’s potential problem with LG Chem as a supplier and Celgard as a putative licensor or supplier, compelled a conclusion that Jones Day’s representation of Celgard was adverse to Apple:

Apple faces not only the possibility of finding a new battery supplier, but also additional targeting by Celgard in an attempt to use the injunction issue as leverage in negotiating a business relationship.  Thus, in every relevant sense, Jones Day’s representation of Celgard is adverse to Apple’s interests.

The Patently-O blog discusses this case here and notes the danger this opinion may raise for law firms involved in patent infringement litigation.

In view of this decision, some of those firms might attempt to extend the scope of their already unenforceable advance conflict waivers, which I previously wrote about here.

Developing Details on Our Tesla Patents

July 17th, 2014

In a prior post, I discussed the Tesla-Patent Commons.  Further to that piece and the other media attention around Elon Musk’s announcement, there have been a couple of notable follow-on lists and analyses of the Tesla patents, which now belong to all of us.

First, Envision IP published this infographic, which provides a nice breakdown of the Tesla patent portfolio.  According to their count (as of June 12, 2014), Tesla had 172 issued U.S. patents and 123 published U.S. applications.

By far the largest group is batteries & charging technology, which makes up 120 patents and 71 applications.  Motor & drive controls is next with 20 patents and 15 applications, followed by 10 patents and 4 applications directed to frame & chassis inventions.  Bringing up the rear are doors & latches, HVAC tech, and sunroofs.

Cleantechnica offers a footnote of sorts in a recent piece noting that 25 Tesla patents and applications relate to battery fire & hazard risk reduction technologies.   An example of an issued patent is U.S. Patent No. 8,445,126, entitled “Hazard mitigation within a battery pack using metal-air cells.”

I figure it’s good for us to know more details about these patents.  After all, they belong to us.

Elon Musk Launches the Tesla-Patent Commons

June 14th, 2014

About six years ago, a handful of tech companies launched the Eco-Patent Commons.  This initiative to share environmentally friendly patented technologies is administered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a Geneva-based organization that promotes sustainability in business.

Last week, of course, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, made quite a splash by announcing on the company blog that the EV maker would “donate” its entire patent portfolio.  To be precise, what Musk said was “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

Although Musk’s move is very much in the tradition of the Eco-Patent Commons, it is more significant and likely to have a greater impact.  The significance of the brand new Tesla-Patent Commons is best understood by comparing and contrasting it with the Eco-Patent Commons before it.  This comparative analysis reveals both major relative strengths and some flaws.

The greatest distinction between the two is in the nature, quality, and breadth of the available patents.  The Eco-Patent Commons is comprised of tiny random slices of technologies developed by an eclectic mix of donating companies.  An entity that wishes to commercially exploit technology in the Eco-Patent Commons would have to locate a donated patent directed to an important innovation, and any business opportunity would have to logically flow from that patented innovation.

Commercial success in this way seems unlikely for two reasons.  First, aside from patent “troll” activity and similar secondary market business models, businesses do not flow from patents.  It works much better the other way round:  innovate, start a business around the innovation, and then, if possible, patent the innovation.

Second, the patents in the Eco-Patent Commons are those which the donating companies had little interest in exploiting themselves (or licensing to others) so the odds are slim that they are directed to important innovations that will be worthwhile for others.

Tesla’s patent portfolio, on the other hand, is large in scope, holistic in its breadth (i.e., supporting established commercial products) and presumably includes the crown jewels of the company.  Everyone knows the technology areas, product areas, and business ventures Tesla’s patents can support.  One can easily envision a number of well-defined businesses successfully selling electric vehicles, advanced batteries, and charging systems based on the freedom to operate provided by the Tesla-Patent Commons.

Keep in mind, though, that no commons can provide 100% freedom to operate.  True, if you manufacture and sell EVs, batteries, or charging systems employing innovations that are entirely coextensive with the claims of Tesla’s patents you won’t be sued by Musk.  However, these are complex technologies.  What if your EV includes Tesla-patented innovations along side other technical features patented by another less commons-y patentee with enforcement proclivities?

Perhaps the possibilities are not so limited.  Maybe instead of the need to match the features of their products to the donated patent claims, budding Tesla-tech businesses could copy the EV maker’s actual products, e.g., manufacture the Tesla Model S under another name.  After all,  the company has been around for a while and, to my knowledge, hasn’t been sued for patent infringement.  So it seems Tesla has the freedom to operate for its existing product lines.

Then the question becomes whether there are any mechanisms besides its patents that confer upon Tesla this freedom to operate.  For example, does Tesla license any of the technologies in its vehicles from other patentees?  If so, a budding Tesla-tech business might need to ask Musk if he would consider assigning the rights under any relevant license agreements to which Tesla is a party.

So the Tesla-Patent Commons is very significant, and unlike any prior (small “e”) eco-patent commons, but the commercial and legal realities of dealing with patents and positioning technological businesses to be free to operate are always extremely complex.

Ultimately, the impact of Musk’s decision may turn on to what extent other such players will be motivated to invest in manufacturing vehicles, batteries, etc. using Tesla’s patented and patent-pending technology with the obvious upside being the proven innovation that technology brings and the down side being no exclusivity, instead of investing in their own R&D and patent protection where the upside may be exclusivity and the down side may be inferior or unproven technologies.

Only time will tell, and I’m sure this author and many other commentators will be watching this closely.

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.

 

 

Tesla Battery Pack Patents Reveal a Different Kind of Hybrid

October 14th, 2013

 

A family of Tesla patents and pending applications relating to a hybrid battery system has been generating a bit of buzz (see, e.g., Cleantechnica’s story here). 

The patent family includes U.S. Patent Nos. 8,190,320, 8,450, 974, 8,471,521 and 8,543,270 as well as U.S. Patent Application Publication Nos. 2013/0181511 (‘511 Application) and 2013/0187591 (‘591 Application), some of which are entitled “Electric vehicle extended range hybrid battery pack system” and others entitled “Efficient dual source battery pack system for an electric vehicle” (collectively, “Hybrid Battery Pack Patents”).

Some of the applications were filed back in 2010, and some of the patents issued in 2012.  The Cleantechnica piece refers only to the ‘511 and ‘591 Applications, which published in July, because these applications apparently were cited in a recent report by Global Equities Research.

The Hybrid Battery Pack Patents are directed to methods of extending an electric vehicle’s driving range through a discharge cycle (201) using energy paths (203, 204) flowing from two battery packs, one being a metal-air battery pack (101) and the other being a non-metal-air battery pack (103), presumably a lithium ion battery.

Controller (107) controls the flow of energy to and from both the metal-air battery pack (101) and the non-metal-air battery pack (103).  The methodology applied by the controller (107) is based on input from a variety of sensors (211) as well as the current operating conditions such as temperature and state-of-charge (SOC) of both battery packs.

One example of the methodology can be seen in FIG. 3 of the Hybrid Battery Pack Patents, in which the metal-air (MA) battery pack is used to charge the non-metal-air (NMA) battery pack when the SOC of the NMA battery pack falls below a preset value.

This is consistent with the Cleantechnica article, which notes the patents’ mention of a mode whereby the metal-air battery woudl charge the lithium-ion battery.  The article says the hybrid battery pack would primarily use the lithium ion battery and draw power from the metal-air battery only on extended journeys.

From the patents’ summary section:

The present invention provides a power source comprised of a first battery pack (e.g., a non-metal-air battery pack) and a second battery pack (e.g., a metal-air battery pack), wherein the second battery pack is only used as required by the state-of-charge (SOC) of the first battery pack or as a result of the user selecting an extended range mode of operation.

The Hybrid Battery Pack Patents note that metal-air batteries have certain advantages over conventional rechargeable batteries such as extremely high energy density, but they also have drawbacks like electrolyte evaporation and the need to ensure sufficient air supply.  By combining a metal-air battery with a lithium ion battery, the hybrid system takes “advantage of the benefits of both battery types, while significantly limiting the negative effects of either type.”

Cleantechnica calls this a “different kind of hybrid” and says “[a] hybrid battery of this type could offer Tesla customers greater driving ranges, while not drastically increasing costs.”

Softbank, Bloom Boxes, and Green Patenting in Japan

August 19th, 2013

Softbank, a Japanese telecommunications and internet company, recently formed a joint venture with U.S. fuel cell maker Bloom Energy to sell electricity from Bloom’s natural gas fuel cells in Japan.

A theme of this Greentech Media article about the JV is that Japan is “energy-poor” after the almost complete shutdown of its nuclear energy program.  SoftBank believes Bloom’s fuel cells are a perfect fit for the country.

The article quotes the companies’ press release, which notes “a significant electrical power deficit in Japan” and a recent increase in energy imports to Japan.  The article also observes that the country’s solar industry is trying to fill the gap.

All of this got me thinking about patenting green technologies in Japan. 

Initially, I was curious whether Bloom owns any Japanese patents for its fuel cell technology.  The Greentech Media article says the JV with SoftBank is Bloom’s “first foray” into international markets.

Indeed, a search of a couple of international patent databases does not turn up any Japanese patents or published applications in the name of Bloom Energy.  Bloom does own a number of international, or PCT, patent applications, which, depending on their priority dates, may still be eligible for filing in Japan.

But filing a patent application in Japan is expensive.  Unlike the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO) does not allow any free claims; it charges for each claim.  In addition, translation costs can be very high for technical documents such as patent applications. 

Factor in the cost of retaining a Japanese law firm for prosecuting the application, translating and responding to office actions, etc., and the total cost of obtaining a Japanese patent can set you back $15-20K or more.

JPO does have a green technology fast track program should you wish to expedite examination of your patent application.  However, the program is fairly burdensome.

To be admitted to the program the applicant must (1) submit a brief description of the invention explaining that the claimed invention reduces energy consumption or carbon dioxide emissions, and (2) conduct a prior art search, disclose the prior art, and submit an explanation comparing the invention to the prior art.

The search and explanation requirement shifts what would typically be the JPO patent examiner’s burden to the applicant.  Thus, the applicant has to pay its patent attorney to do substantial additional work, increasing the cost of the patent application.

Moreover, the comparative prior art explanation submission is analogous to the Examination Support Document (ESD) required for the USPTO’s Petition to Make Special for ordinary expedited examination.

In addition to the added expense, the ESD has been dubbed the “Express Suicide Document” because of the heightened risk of inequitable conduct applicants face based on the representations made in the ESD.  The comparative prior art explanation submission for the JPO green patent fast track program could expose the applicant to similar risks.

While Bloom is getting in, it and other green tech patent applicants face a costly and perhaps difficult process to obtain patents in Japan.