Archive for the ‘Batteries and Fuel Cells’ category

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.

 

Electrode Coating IP Supports Electrovaya Battery Innovation

May 10th, 2013

 

A previous post discussed advanced battery maker Electrovaya’s lithium ion polymer technology, which the company says provides faster, more efficient transport of lithium, and therefore greater energy density.

Several years ago, Electrovaya partnered with Tata Motors to work on batteries for electric vehicles in Norway.  Tata, in turn, had invested in a Norwegian lithim ion battery company called Miljøbil Grenland (MG).  In 2012 Electrovaya acquired MG.

In an example of green IP supporting further innovation, Electrovaya recently announced its new generation lithium ion battery technology, which it calls SuperPolymer 20.0.  According to its press release, the MG IP was key to the development of the new battery tech:

The module-level and system-level improvements are a result of intensive development at Electrovaya as well as the addition of intellectual property acquired from Tata Motors through the August 2012 acquisition of Miljobil.

MG is listed as the applicant on at least one international patent application, PCT/IB2011/054738, entitled “Method for manufacturing of slurry for production of battery film” (’738 Application).

The ’738 Application is directed to methods for manufacturing a slurry for coating cathode and anode materials in batteries.  More particularly, the invention offers an alternative to the use of solvents for coating the electrode foils.

Some of the solvents used to coat battery electrodes are toxic, flammable, or damaging to the chemical structure of the finished battery.  Thus, it is important to fully remove the solvent from the battery film during production, but removing the last remnants of the solvent down to ppm level is difficult and energy intensive.

The ’738 Application describes and claims a 7-step method including mixing active materials with a binder into a binder solution, adding an organic carbonate to the binder solution to form a slurry, coating an electrode material with the slurry, evaporating the coating by drying the carbonate, and surface treatment (rolling, baking and finishing) of the electrode material.

According to the ’738 Application, use of the slurry instead of a solvent to coat the electrode is a better solution because the liquid slurry becomes a component of the battery electrode so it does not need to be completely removed:

By using a liquid which is entered as a component in the finished battery it is not necessary that the liquid is removed completely.  This component will still be added at a later stage in the process.  According to the execution of the available invention, a method for manufacturing of the slurry for coating of battery electrodes is provided, where the slurry, meaning active components and a binder will be diluted with a diluting agent, where the diluting agent is a component of the electrolyte which shall be used in the same lithium battery.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

March 28th, 2013

In the last month several green patent complaints were filed in the fields of LEDs, advanced batteries and smart grid.

 

LEDs

Bayco Products, Inc. v. Philips Intellectual Property & Standards

Bayco Products (Bayco), a Texas company that makes lighting products including LED flashlights, brought a declaratory judgment action against Philips requesting a judgment that three Philips patents are invalid and/or not infringed.

Filed February 26, 2013 in federal court in Dallas, Texas, the complaint alleges that Philips is “seeking to exact ill-deserved royalty payments” from Bayco in connection with its XPP-5450 Series Dual Function Headlamps.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent No. 6,234,648, entitled “Lighting system,” U.S. Patent No. 6,250,774, entitled “Luminaire” and U.S. Patent No. 6,692,136, entitled “LED/phosphor-LED hybrid lighting systems.”

 

Trustees of Boston University v. Seoul Semiconductor, Ltd.

Trustees of Boston University v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

In October of 2012, Boston University (BU) sued Korean LED maker Seoul Semiconductor (Seoul) in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  The original complaint was covered here and asserted 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.

BU’s second amended complaint, filed March 6, 2013, adds U.S. Patent No. 6,953,703, entitled “Method of making a semiconductor device with exposure of sapphire substrate to activated nitrogen.”

The accused devices include gallium nitride thin film LEDs and LEDs made by exposing a sapphire substrate to activated nitrogen and depositing Group III nitride semiconductor material.

BU also asserted the ’738 Patent against Samsung in a complaint filed in the District of Massachusetts on March 21, 2013.

 

Advanced Batteries

Celgard, LLC v. Sumitomo Chemical Company, Ltd.

Celgard is a North Carolina company that manufactures specialty membranes and separators for lithium ion batteries.  On February 22, 2013, Celgard filed a patent infringement complaint against Sumitomo Chemical Company (Sumitomo) in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The complaint alleges that Sumitomo is inducing infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,432,586 (’586 Patent) by selling lithium ion battery separators to its customers knowing that the separators will be incorporated into finished lithium ion batteries.

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.

 

Smart Grid

Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom, S.A.

In July of 2012 Electric Power Group (EPG), a Pasadena, California, developer and distributor of electric grid monitoring solutions sued the French conglomerate Alstom and its U.S. division Alstom Grid in the Central District of California for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,060,259 (’259 Patent).

The ’259 Patent is entitled “Wide-area, real-time monitoring and visualization system” and directed to a wide-area real-time performance monitoring system for monitoring and assessing dynamic stability of an electric power grid.

EPG filed a first amended complaint against Alstom on February 19, 2013 in which it added a claim for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,233,843, entitled “Real-time performance monitoring and management system.”  The accused products are Alstom’s “PhasorPoint” and “e-terravision” solutions alone or in combination with other wide area measurement systems-based smart grid offerings.

Leyden Energy Batteries Live Longer with Lithium-imide Electrolytes

January 31st, 2013

Leyden Energy (Leyden) is a Silicon Valley company that has developed a lithium ion battery that uses imide salts as electrolytes instead of the more commonly used PF6-based electrolytes.  Formerly known as Mobius Power, Leyden built it Li-imide battery platform on seed technology from a patent acquired by DuPont.

In addition to the DuPont patent, Leyden owns at least one U.S. patent and at least six pending applications.  U.S. Patent No. 8,221,915 is entitled “High performance lithium or lithium ion cell” (’915 Patent) and directed to lithium ion electrochemical cells comprising a case (100), a cover (200), which is the positive terminal, and an insulating ring (300) between the case and the cover.

A negative tab (400) connects the anode current collector to the cover, and a positive tab (500) connects the cathode current collector to the cover.  The cell also includes a positive terminal (550), a cathode (600), an anode (700), a separator (800), and an electrolyte solution inside the pores of the electrodes and separator.

The cathode (600) comprises an active material and a current collector made of aluminum foil with a protective, conductive coating, and the anode (700) comprises an active material and a copper foil current collector.

The crux of the ’915 Patent is the invention of a way to reduce the corrosion typically caused by lithium imide salts so their properties of superior thermal and hydrolytic stability can be harnessed to extend the life of the battery.  According to the ’915 Patent, Leyden’s unique combination of conductive protective coating and anti-corrosion additives achieves this goal:

The following examples describe and explain how synergy of conductive protective coating and corrosion inhibiting additives results in [the] possibility of using thermally stable salts described herein to achieve long battery cycle life with little degradation.

In particular, an electrolyte solution of Lithium bis(Trifluoromethanesulfonyl)Imide (LiTFSI) with the additive lithium bis(oxalato)borate significantly reduced corrosion over a one week testing period:

The corrosion of the protected samples did not occur with the whole duration of the test (one week).  This surprising finding shows the synergetic effect of using the protective coating and the corrosion inhibiting additive allows reduction or prevention of corrosion of the current collector corrosion.

This Greentech Media article notes Leyden’s claims that the lithim-imide electrolyte allows temperatures greater than convention lithium-ion batterys, longer cycle life, and higher charge density, and the follow-up piece reports on the company’s latest funding round.

BNSF Patents and Demos Hybrid Fuel Cell Locomotive

October 15th, 2012

BNSF Railway, a Fort Worth, Texas company, is one of North America’s leading freight transportation companies.  The company has a rail network of 32,000 route miles in 28 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.

Traditional rail transportation is highly efficient and uses significantly less fuel than highway alternatives.  BNSF intends to improve upon that efficiency and has been experimenting with a hydrogen fueled fuel cell locomotive for the past several years. 

Recently the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted BNSF’s patent covering fuel cell locomotives.

U.S. Patent Number 8,117,969, entitled “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrid Locomotives” describes a locomotive including a set of batteries for driving a plurality of electric traction motors for moving the locomotive and a fuel cell power plant for charging the batteries and driving the electric traction motors.

 

The hydrogen hybrid locomotive is based on a commercially available diesel-hybrid donor platform.  The locomotive design uses a cab section (101), which houses the control systems used by the controller, a center section (102), which contains the batteries and hydrogen storage tanks, a rear section (103) containing the hydrogen fuel cell power plant, and an adjustable ballast section (104) located under the chassis. 

Ballast is needed because the locomotive does not carry heavy diesel fuel, which means the weight is significantly under the weight needed to maximize the traction of the wheels on the rails.

 

In the embodiment disclosed in the patent and shown in Figure 2 above, hydrogen is provided to two fuel cell power plants based on two power stack modules (201a – 201b).  The fuel cells are proton exchange membrane cells and (in the preferred embodiment) are Ballard Power Systems, Inc Mk903 PEM fuel cell stacks. 

Hydrogen is provided to the power modules from 14 carbon-fiber composite tanks (204).  Power from the fuel cell is delivered to a DC converter (203) and to the locomotive systems including the traction motors (209a – 209d).  The power output of the fuel cell stacks can be varied depending on demand by adjusting the flow of air through the system.

BNSF has an operational fuel cell locomotive prototype serving in a demonstration project in Los Angeles.  Funding for the locomotive came from BNSF and the Department of Defense.  The prototype is a switch locomotive, which moves freight cars within rail yards and rail stations during train assembly and disassembly. 

The prototype was unveiled in Topeka, Kansas in January 2009.  It then traveled to Colorado for additional testing and was sent to California in 2010.  It was tested in the Los Angeles rail yards in Commerce and Hobart through 2010 and 2011.

Use of hydrogen fuel cells in locomotives can reduce the amount of particulate pollution around rail lines and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases expelled into the atmosphere.  Hydrogen fuel cell locomotives can also reduce railroad dependency on fossil fuels.  Additionally, fuel cell locomotives can also act as mobile electricity sources, for example in disaster recovery scenarios.

You can read more about BNSF’s demonstration locomotive here, here, and here.

*David Gibbs is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  David is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.  He received his undergraduate degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley.

 

Green Off-Patent Report (Powered by CleanTech PatentEdge)

September 14th, 2012

 

Our Green Off-Patent Report provides selected highlights of green patents which have completed their 20-year terms and recently expired or will complete their terms and expire within the next week or so (assuming the patentee paid all requisite maintenance fees; U.S. patents require payment of fees 3 1/2, 7 1/2, and 11 1/2 years after issuance to stay in force).

Many of the green technologies in use today are off-patent, i.e., the patents covering the technologies have run their 20-year term and expired. 

Knowing which technologies are off-patent is important because those technologies are in the public domain and can be exploited by anyone.  It’s also interesting because it provides a window into what was cutting edge technology twenty years ago.

The green off-patent searching is performed by Cleantech PatentEdge™.

U.S. Patent No. 5,411,767, entitled “Method for producing interconnector for solid electrolyte type fuel cell” and directed to a method for producing interconnectors for electrically connecting unit cells of a solid electrolyte type fuel cell wherein an interconnector material such as a perovskite complexed oxide is thermally sprayed onto the surface of an electrode of a solid electrolyte type fuel cell by a plasma thermal spraying process.  Filed September 8, 1992; issued May 2, 1995; expired September 8, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,406,154, entitled “Power unit for motor vehicles” and directed to a power unit for a motor vehicle having an electric motor including a heat sink detachably connected to a motor case, switching elements for switching an electric current to be supplied to the electric motor, a cover member for the switching elements, and resin to fix the heat sink to motor case.  Filed September 2, 1992; issued April 11, 1995; expired September 2, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,388,025, entitled “Rechargeable electrical energy storage device having organometallic electrodes” and directed to a rechargeable electrical energy storage device comprising an electrochemical cell having two electrodes constructed of a similar organometallic compound whereby the electrodes are electrically connected by an ion carrying electrolyte and physically separated by a barrier that will pass the ions but not electrons.  Filed September 1, 1992; issued February 7, 1995; expired September 1, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,355,747, entitled “Flywheel assembly” and directed to a flywheel assembly comprising a first flywheel connectable to an engine, a second flywheel, and an inter-flywheel viscous damping mechanism providing viscous damping of flywheel torsional vibrations.  Filed September 1, 1992; issued October 18, 1994; expired September 1, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,340,665, entitled “Creep resistant, metal-coated LiFeO2 anodes for molten carbonated fuel cells” and directed to a porous, creep-resistant, metal-coated, LiFeO2 ceramic electrode for fuel cells useful for molten carbonate fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells.  Filed September 3, 1992; issued August 23, 1994; expired September 3, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,334,259, entitled “Amorphous silicon solar cell and method of manufacture” and directed to a method of amorphous silicon solar cell manufacturing comprising forming thin films of a transparent electrode material, amorphous silicon, and a backside electrode on a transparent substrate, using an alkali resistant metal for the backside electrode, and employing wet-etching to open holes that penetrate through the backside electrode and amorphous silicon layers.  Filed September 10, 1992; issued August 2, 1994; expired September 10, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,327,991, entitled “Exhaust gas purifying method and apparatus for a hybrid car” and directed to an exhaust gas purifying apparatus for a hybrid car wherein the internal-combustion engine is equipped with a catalyst installed in an exhaust pipe for purifying exhaust gas and a heater for heating the catalyst under the control of the controller to enhance its catalytic action.  Filed September 2, 1992; issued July 12, 1994; expired September 2, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,316,592, entitled ”Solar cell roofing assembly” and directed to a solar roofing assembly comprising a roofing membrane, a plurality of insulation blocks disposed as a continuous layer on top of the roofing membrane, and a plurality of photovoltaic modules directly on top of the insulation blocks, whereby the photovoltaic modules serve as ballast for the insulation and membrane layers.  Filed August 31, 1992; issued May 31, 1994; expired August 31, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,314,072, entitled “Sorting plastic bottles for recycling” and directed to an apparatus and method for sorting plastic bottles for recycling by parameters such as whether the bottle is clear, colored, contains chlorine, and has a small or large diameter.  Filed September 2, 1992; issued May 24, 1994; expired September 2, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,300,373, entitled “Electrochemical cell stack and method of making an electrochemical cell stack” and directed to an electrochemical cell stack made from a continuous laminate web fan-folded into a stack and including an electrode layer, an electrolyte layer, and a plurality of discrete opposite polarity electrode segments connected by current collector strips.  Filed September 11, 1992; issued April 5, 1994; expired September 11, 2012. 

U.S. Patent No. 5,296,045, entitled “Composite back reflector for photovoltaic device” and directed to a photovoltaice device having a composite back reflector on a substrate, the reflector including an electrically conducting, texturizing layer disposed on the substrate, a light reflecting layer conformally disposed on the texturizing layer, and photovoltaic material disposed on the composite back reflector.  Filed September 4, 1992; issued March 22, 1994; expired September 4, 2012.

New Energy Symposium’s Big Winners Are Small and Ultra-thin

August 7th, 2012

In a previous post, I wrote about the New Energy Symposium held last month in New York City.  The first day of the event featured a startup quick pitch competition, and the three winners of the competition were recently announced. 

They are, in alphabetical order, Dynamo Micropower , ENrG, and Paper Battery Company (as discussed below, the latter two share an “ultra-thin” theme).  I listened to all of the winning companies’ presentations, and each mentioned, to a different extent, its IP situation.

Dynamo Micropower (Dynamo) is developing small turbines for various applications, including combined heat and power and pumping oil at wells.   The company is applying recent advances in turbine technology to commercialize small, ultra portable generators.

Dynamo was founded by three recent college grads from Duke University–Jason Ethier, Ivan Wang, & Hardy Shen.   The CEO, Mr. Ethier, who gave the presentation on behalf of Dynamo, said the company filed a U.S. patent application on its technology earlier this year, so the application is not published yet.

ENrG Inc. (ENrG) is a Buffalo, New York-area company that develops ultra-thin ceramic membranes and coating technologies for various applications such as fuel cells, gas separation, and possibly flexible solar photovoltaics.

ENrG’s President, John Olenick, presented at the symposium.  He said that, through IP licensed in from Corning, the company has staked out the range of 45 microns or lower for ceramic membrane technology, and a pending license includes more supporting patents.

ENrG also owns U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2009/0325014 (’014 Application), and Mr. Olenick is a named inventor on U.S. Patent No. 7,281,412 (’412 Patent).

The ’412 Patent is entitled “In-situ seal integrity monitoring” and directed to a high temperature seal having in-situ integrity monitoring capability.  One important application for the technology, described in the ’412 Patent, is in solid oxide fuel cells. 

A fuel cell (2) has a first ceramic plate (4) with a fuel flow port (6) leading to a fuel plenum (8) and a second ceramic plate (10) having an oxygen flow port (12) leading to an oxygen plenum (14).

Cell stack (16) is disposed between the plates (4, 10) and includes a first current collector (18A), an anode (18), a solid ceramic electrolyte (20), a cathode (22), and a second current collector (22A).

A pair of seals (24, 26) are respectively disposed between the plates (4, 10) and the cell stack (16) to bond the components of the fuel cell together and prevent outgassing from the fuel and oxygen plenums (8, 14).  The seals (24, 26) can can be constructed with an embedded transmission line (30A) that includes a central signal conductor (32A) and a pair of ground reference conductors (34A).

The transmission line (30A) can be connected in a closed loop circuit for signal injection and monitoring of the integrity of the seals (24, 26) during device fabrication and subsequent field operations.

The ’014 Application is entitled “Operation of an electrolysis cell” and directed to systems and methods for operating electrolysis cells and maintaining desired thermal neutral voltage level under varying electrical power supply conditions.  The invention accomplishes this by adjusting the feedstock moisture content in response to fluctuations in available electric power.

The third winner, Papery Battery Company (PBC), is also in the ultra-thin business:  PBC makes patterned batteries out of high pulse superconductor sheets about 300 microns thick.  According to its web site, PBC’s central innovation is “a novel architecture and production process for supercapacitor technology, extensible to battery technology as well.” 

The company says its PowerPatch product is small and scalable:

The first product line, called PowerPatch™, is an ultrathin, integrated supercapacitor that can scale voltage, energy and power in a single unit, addressing the growing needs for high power in smaller size and lower weight devices.

PBC’s CEO, Shreefal Mehta, presented at the symposium and said the company has filed some patent applications and is employing a licensing business model.  During, his presentation, Mehta alluded to a pending deal with a licensee in the energy storage space.

 

 

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

May 4th, 2012

There have been several green patent complaints filed in the past several weeks in the fields of biofuels, LEDs, lithium ion batteries, and industrial water purification.

 

Biofuels

Gevo, Inc. v. Butamax Advanced Biofuels, LLC and E.I. DuPont De Nemours and Co.

On April 10, 2012, Gevo filed suit against Butamax and DuPont in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware alleging Butamax and DuPont are infringing one of its patents related to the production of isobutanol.  This suit is the latest salvo in litigation between Gevo and Butamax.  (see previous posts here, here, here, and most recently here.)

The asserted patent is U.S. Patent No. 8,153,415, entitled “Reduced By-Product Accumulation for Improved Production of Isobutanol” (the ‘415 Patent).  The ’415 Patent issued on April 10, 2012, the same day Gevo filed this latest suit against Butamax. 

According to the complaint (Gevo-Butamax_Complaint-4-10-12), the ‘415 Patent describes “recombinant isobutanol-producing microorganisms containing a disruption in the expression or activity of an endogenous 3-keto acid reductase activity and methods for producing isobutanol using such organisms.”

Gevo’s complaint alleges Butamax makes infringing microorganisms to produce isobutanol through deletion or inactivation of the YMR226c gene.  Gevo claims Butamax describes its infringing process in PCT Publication No. WO/2011/159853, entitled “Recombinant Host Cells Comprising Phosphoketolases”, and PCT Publication No. WO/2011/159998 entitled “Production of Alcohol Esters and In Situ Product Removal During Alcohol Fermentation”.

Gevo is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions and damages.

 

LEDs

Whelen Engineering Company, Inc. v. CPS Emergency LED Lighting & Equipment

Filed March 29, 2012 in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Whelen’s complaint (Whelen Complaint) alleges CPS infringed U.S. Patent Nos. 6,641,284, entitled “LED Light Assembly”, and D500,384, entitled “Reflector for Light Assembly”.

Whelen also alleges CPS has infringed several of its trademarks.  The marks at issue are Whelen’s LINEAR-LED, FREEDOM and VERTEX marks.  Whelen claims CPS has either used identical marks or confusingly similar marks.

Whelen is seeking treble and punitive damages and injunctive relief.  They are also seeking CPS’s alleged infringing products be destroyed.

Lektron, Inc. v. iLight Technologies, Inc.

Lektron, Inc. v. Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions, Inc.

Lektron, Inc. v. The Sloan Company, Inc. dba SloanLED, Inc.

On April 6, 2012, Lektron filed three separate suits in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma alleging that iLight, Philips and SloanLED have each infringed U.S. Patent No. 6,361,186 entitled “Simulated Neon Light Using LED’s” (’186 Patent).  (Each complaint can be viewed here: (Lektron-iLight Complaint) (Lektron-Philips Complaint) (Lektron-Sloan Complaint)).

The ’186 Patent describes a product designed to replace traditional neon lights with a more durable product that consumed less energy by replacing fragile glass tubes with energy efficient LED lights.  The Lektron product is sold under the LEON trademark.

Lektron is alleging direct infringement and is seeking injunctive relief and damages from each defendant.

Everlight Electronics Co. Ltd., and Emcore Corporation v. Nichia Corporation, and Nichia America Corporation

On April 19, 2012, Everlight filed suit against Nichia (Everlight-Nichia Complaint) in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, seeking declaratory judgment for patent non-infringement, invalidity, and unenforceability of two of Nichia’s patents, and alleging Nichia is infringing one of its patents.

Everlight is seeking declaratory judgment for patent non-infringement, invalidity, and unenforceability of two patents owned by Nichia:  U.S. Patent Nos. 5,998,925 entitled “Light Emitting Device Having a Nitride Compound Semiconductor and Phosphor Containing Garnet Fluorescent Material” (’925 Patent), and 7,531,960 entitled “Light Emitting Device with Blue Light LED and Phosphor Components” (’960 Patent).

Nichia recently filed suit against an Everlight customer in a Tokyo District Court asserting the Japanese counterpart to the ’970 Patent (Japanese Patent No. 4350094).  Nichia also filed suit against Everlight in Germany asserting the European counterpart to the ’925 Patent (European Patent No. EP 0 936 682). 

According to the Everlight complaint, Nichia has threatened litigation over several other patents in Japan, and Everlight prevailed in a patent infringement action initiated by Nichia in Taiwan.  This suit, filed by Everlight, is in response to the suits Nichia has filed and the threats Nichia has made to Everlight’s potential clients.

In addition to seeking declaratory judgment for non-infringement and invalidity, Everlight is seeking declaratory judgment that the ’960 and ’925 patents are unenforceable due to fraud and inequitable conduct during prosecution by Nichia.

Everlight is also asserting that Nichia infringes U.S. Patent No. 6,653,215 entitled “Contact to N-GaN with Au Termination” (’215 Patent).  Everlight is seeking damages, attorney fees and costs.

 

Lithium Ion Batteries

Energizer Holdings, Inc., Eveready Battery Company, Inc., v. Wahl Clipper Corp., and Wahl Clipper Ningbo Ltd.

Filed April 11, 2012 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Energizer’s complaint (Energizer_Complaint) alleges that Wahl infringes several of its patents.  The patents in dispute are U.S. Patent Nos.:

5,290,414 entitled “Separator/Electrolyte Combination For a Nonaqueous Cell”;

7,923,138 entitled “Housing for a Sealed Electrochemical Battery Cell”;

7,968,230 entitled “High Discharge Capacity Lithium Battery”;

8,007,940 entitled “Separator/Electrolyte Combination For a Nonaqueous Cell”; and

RE41,866 entitled “Nonaqueous Electrochemical Cell with Improved Energy Density”.

Energizer claims Wahl makes, offers for sale, imports and is selling products containing the asserted patents in its Lithium Pen Trimmer.  They are seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions, treble damages and attorney fees.

 

Water Purification

Aquatech International Corp., and Debasish Mukhopadhyay v. N.A. Water Systems, LLC, and Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies Support

On April 4, 2012, Aquatech filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against Water Systems and Veolia Water seeking a declaratory judgment that U.S. Patent No. 7,815,804, entitled “Method for Treating Wastewater or Produced Water” (’804 Patent), owned by N.A. Water and Veolia ( a subsidiary of N.A. Water), is invalid and unenforceable and that its products do not infringe the ’804 Patent. (Aquatech Complaint)

Aquatech is a licensee of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,925,255 entitled “Method and Apparatus for High Efficiency Reverse Osmosis Operation” and 6,537,456 entitled “Method and Apparatus for High Efficiency Reverse Osmosis Operation” (though these patents are not asserted in this complaint). 

Aquatech’s patents related to its HERO water purification process.  The HERO process uses the patents in a high efficiency reverse osmosis water purification process which is used in many industries including power generation, petrochemical, and microelectronics.  The HERO technologies have been licensed to companies such as General Electric and Intel.

Aquatech claims N.A. and Veolia have coerced and intimidated potential customers into using Veolia’s OPUS water purification process (described in the ’804 Patent) under threat of patent litigation – claiming the HERO process infringes upon the OPUS process.  Aquatech claims Veolia knew, or should have known, that the HERO process does not infringe the OPUS process and that such claims of infringement were false.

Aquatech is seeking a declaration that the HERO process does not infringe the OPUS process, that each claim of the ’804 patent is invalid, and that the ’804 Patent is unenforcable due to inequitable conduct.