Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

Federal Circuit Shows Deference to USPTO in Ruling Against Cree LED Patent

April 19th, 2016

A Green Patent Complaint Update from fall 2014 discussed one of the patent lawsuits between Cree and Harvatek in which Cree asserted several patents relating to white light LED technology.

One of those patents – U.S. Patent No. 6,600,175, entitled “Solid state white light emitter and display using same” (‘175 Patent) – was the subject of an ex parte reexamination proceeding in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

During the reexam, Cree added six claims to the patent.  The new claims  at issue are directed to the production of white light through “down-conversion” of blue light from LEDs.  Down conversion means absorbing high energy (shorter wavelength) light and re-emitting it as lower energy (longer wavelength) light to produce light of a desired wavelength, i.e., color.

The patent examiner rejected those claims as obvious over multiple combinations of prior art references including three particular patent references, and the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) affirmed the examiner’s reasoning and conclusion.

In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, showing much deference to both the examiner and the PTAB, rejected all of Cree’s arguments on appeal and affirmed the PTAB’s obviousness holding.

The claims of the ‘175 Patent at issue recited an LED having a “down-converting luminophoric medium for down-converting the radiation emitted by the light-emitting diode to a polychromatic white light…”  In lighting applications, luminophoric materials are commonly called phosphors.

The primary prior art references were the Pinnow patent, which discloses a display system that creates black and white images using a blue laser and appropriate phosphors and explains how to make white light by down conversion; the Stevenson patent, which discloses LED light that may be converted to lower frequencies with good conversion efficiency using organic and inorganic phosphors; and the Nakamura patent, which discloses a gallium nitride (GaN) LED that emits a blue light that was brighter than similar, previously developed LEDs.

In the reexam, the examiner found it would have been obvious to substitute the LED of Stevenson with either the known UV light emitting or blue light emitting GaN-based LED in Nakamura, and this would be a simple substitution of one known element for another to gain the predictable result of brighter emission by the phosphors.

The PTAB agreed with the examiner’s reasoning and conclusion that the combination of Stevenson, Pinnow, and Nakamura rendered the ‘175 Patent claims obvious:

[T]he combined teachings of Stevenson, Pinnow, and Nakamura would have suggested to an artisan of ordinary skill to use a blue LED on a single die to create white light via “down-conversion” because Nakamura’s blue LED is more powerful than Stevenson’s older, less-efficient LED in terms of power and brightness and, as such, is more suitable with a “down-conversion” process to product white light…

According to the PTAB, the invention of the ‘175 Patent is “nothing more than a new application of a high-power, high-brightness blue LED developed by Dr. Nakamura in late 1993.”

The Federal Circuit opinion does not add much analysis to that of the patent examiner and the PTAB.  Rather, it is essentially a series of refutations of Cree’s arguments on appeal.  Throughout, the appeals court consistently defers to the PTAB’s conclusions.

In response to Cree’s contention that the Board erred by by assuming that it was disclosed in a single prior art reference (Pinnow) to make white light from a monochromatic LED through down conversion, the court said Pinnow provided, according to the Board, a general disclosure of down conversion for creating white light, which was “a perfectly reasonable conclusion.”

Cree also argued that the Board misread the declarations of Cree’s experts.  Again, the Federal Circuit found the conclusion the Board drew from the expert testimony that down conversion was a known solution for generating white light from a blue LED was “reasonable” and “supported by substantial evidence.”

Cree further argued that neither the examiner nor the Board articulated a rational motivation to combine the teachings of Pinnow, Stevenson, and Nakamura.  The court again disagreed, finding the Board “provided a sufficient, non-hindsight reason to combine the references.”

Perhaps one lesson here, though not really news, is to make sure to present all of your best arguments and evidence in the lower tribunals and not count on the appellate process to bail you out.

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.

What’s New on the EPA’s Reading List? Pesticide Patents

February 23rd, 2016

In what seems to be a novel way of exploiting the public disclosure function of patent applications, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently began reviewing applications for pesticides in connection with the agency’s disclosure requirements and enforcement actions.

As discussed in this article by Lawrence Culleen, an environmental lawyer at the Arnold & Porter law firm, makers of pesticides are required to inform the EPA of potential adverse effects of certain chemicals and products.

In a recent lawsuit objecting to its decision to register a pesticide, EPA officials found additional details in patent filings showing that the chemical components of the product could have a synergistic effect such that the product might more effectively control unwanted weeds.

This information about the combination of active ingredients, the article says, may be relevant to the agency’s product registration terms, approval of instructions for use, application rates, and warnings, and suggests that the product might have adverse effects on “non-target organisms.”

The type of information the EPA officials discovered is fairly common in patent applications and related documents submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  In attempting to demonstrate the patentability of an invention, applicants sometimes point to data that they argue show “unexpected results” or levels of effectiveness significantly better than state of the art products.

Pharmaceutical and chemical patent applications, in particular, often provide multiple examples of compositions or solutions and testing data showing their effectiveness.

The interesting question is whether the EPA (or other agencies, for that matter) will use this tactic in fields other than pesticides.  Is there a need for review of patent applications in other technology areas?

Theoretically, the Federal Drug Administration might be interested in patent applications relating to pharmaceuticals, biologics, and medical devices.  But the FDA approval process is rigorous and the reporting requirements strict.

Query whether other technologies relating to the environment would lend themselves to this type of scrutiny by the EPA, or whether green technology patent applications would interest other agencies (e.g., the Department of Energy).

In light of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, it would have been prescient of the EPA to search for patent filings relating to VW’s electronic control module, the software that activated its vehicles’ emissions controls during testing.  If they had found such documents a while ago, they might have provided an important early clue about the scandal to come.

Keeping the Aisles Clear: Envision’s Parking Lot Solar Chargers Got Tracking!

February 9th, 2016

Envision logo

Envision Solar (Envision) is a San Diego-based company that makes solar parking structures that can be used to charge electric vehicles, support outdoor digital advertising, and enhance energy security.  What makes Envision’s products unique is that unlike most parking lot solar-powered vehicle charging stations, most of the company’s systems have the ability to track the movement of the sun.

According to Envision’s President and CEO Desmond Wheatley, 90% of Envision’s deployments have tracking capability.  Why tracking?  He echoed my thoughts exactly:  because it’s “cool.”

Also, parking lots are “hyper-restrained” in geography so a solar charger needs to maximize energy density in a very small space.  Incorporating tracking helps in that regard.

Envision’s two major product offerings are the Solar Tree® and the EV ARC™.  The company owns at least seven U.S. patents and pending applications covering various aspects of the technology in these products.

U.S. Patent No. 7,705,277 (‘277 Patent), issued in 2010, covers Envision’s original design.  Entitled “Sun tracking solar panels,” the ‘277 Patent is directed to a system for maximizing solar energy utilization by moving a solar panel to track movement of the sun from sunrise to sunset.  Movements of the solar panel are accomplished daily in accordance with a programmed schedule of consecutive cycles.

A subsequent patent issued in early 2014 is directed to a refined design better suited for solar tracking in a parking lot.  The system covered by U.S. Patent No. 8,648,551 (‘551 Patent) is significant, Wheatley said, because instead of the tracker causing the solar panel to swing in to the drive aisle, it instead bows.

According to the ‘551 Patent, the rotation of a cylindrical knuckle in the tracking system “allow[s] the solar panel to continuously reorient while maintaining a substantially stationary footprint.”

Wheatley told me the company’s most important intellectual property is that around the features of the EV ARC™.

Wheatley mentioned several advantageous features of the EV Arc.  First and foremost is its autonomy, i.e., it is not connected to the utility grid.  Some of the structural features are also important, including the ability for the thin base plate to support heavy vehicles and the high-traction material of the base plate, which allows it to remain stationary.

U.S. Patent No. 9,209,648, issued in November 2015, is entitled “Self-contained renewable battery charger” and is directed to a charging system (10) comprising a portable unit (12) that includes a moveable docking pad (16) having a base (18) and compartment (20) for holding a storage battery (18).

 

648 FIG 1

The portable unit (12) includes a column (24) having a first end (26) mounted onto the docking pad (16) and a second end (28).  A solar array (30) is affixed to the second end (28) of the column (24).  The unit has a structural canopy with a beam (32) and cross members (34) attached to the column (24) to support the photovoltaic modules of the solar array (30).

The company also has IP around the mobility and installation of its systems, including a specialized trailer and hydraulic ram, ARC™ Mobility, for transportation and deployment purposes.

Wheatley and Envision are very aware of the importance of patent protection in the U.S. and beyond.  The company’s patents, he said, “prevent smaller competitors from copying” their technology.  They also might stop larger customers from buying pirated products.  In general, a strong IP portfolio increases the company’s value in the investor community.

With investments of about $200 billion on EV charging, the company sees China as an important market and has filed patent applications there.  Wheatley told me that Chinese patents allow Envision to bring powerful partners aboard in China to protect the company’s business ventures there.

Envision Solar continues to innovate and isn’t stopping at car charging; they’re working on EV ARC™ eBike and eMotorcycle charging as well.  Many more patent applications will certainly follow.

Paice Licenses Hybrid Vehicle Patents to More Big Automakers

February 2nd, 2016

l_paice

In another big success for Paice, the hybrid vehicle technology company recently reached an agreement to license all of its tech to Hyundai and Kia.

This comes after a Baltimore jury found that the Korean automakers owed Paice $28.9 million in damages for infringing three patents relating to hybrid electric vehicles: U.S. Patent Nos. 7,237,634, 7,104,347, and 7,559,388.  All three patents are entitled “Hybrid vehicles” .

Paice has been an extremely successful non-practicing entity, using patent litigation in the federal courts and the U.S. International Trade Commission to bring major automakers to the negotiating table.

In 2010 the company settled major patent litigation with Toyota over the Prius and other hybrid models when the Japanese automaker licensed all of Paice’s patents.  Also that year, Paice and Ford became embroiled in patent litigation over hybrid vehicles.

According to the company’s press release about the Kia/Hyundai deal:

Paice has now licensed all or part of its hybrid vehicle technology portfolio to Toyota, Hyundai/Kia, and Ford – three of the world’s six largest automakers.  These three companies currently account for 90% of all hybrid vehicle sales in the United States.

Does all this litigation and licensing make Paice one of the oft-maligned “patent trolls?”  I think not.

The company should not be put in that category for a couple of reasons.  First, the founder of the company and inventor of the technology, Alex Severinsky, is a true innovator and pioneer, having invented much of Paice’s technology at least as early if not earlier than the large automakers.

Most of the patent assertion entities we think of as trolls are not innovators, but instead buy patents to assert in litigation and offer to license.

Second, Paice made genuine efforts at ex ante licensing.  That is, the company approached Toyota with offers to license its technology before any hybrid vehicles were ever sold.

This is in contrast to the business model of acquiring and asserting patents, with licensing offers, after the allegedly infringing products have been manufactured and racked up lots of sales (ex post licensing).

Paice’s success is not a surprise when one understands the power of its patents.  A 2010 report by a patent analytics firm called Ambercite analyzed 58,000 hybrid car patents and their interrelationships using network patent analysis methodology and found Paice’s portfolio to be the strongest, better than all major car manufacturers’ hybrid car patents.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

January 26th, 2016

A number of green patent complaints were filed in November and December of 2015 in the areas of LEDs, smart grid, and water treatment.

 

LEDs

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Ace Hardware Corporation

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Bulbrite Industries, Inc.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. FEIT Electronic Co.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. G7 Corporation

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Ikea North America Services LLC

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Philips Electronics North America Corp.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Technical Consumer Products, Inc.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. TigerDirect, Inc.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Torchstar Corp.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Ushio America, Inc.

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Wayfair LLC

Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Westinghouse Lighting Corp.

Bluestone Innovations fired off thirteen complaints against a host of LED manufacturers and retailers on November 30, 2015.  All were filed in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California (most, if not all, in San Francisco).

Some representative complaints can be viewed here:  Bluestone Innovations LLC v. Ace Hardware CorporationBluestone Innovations LLC v. Bulbrite Industries, Inc.Bluestone Innovations LLC v. FEIT Electronic Company, Inc.Bluestone Innovations LLC v. G7 Corporation

Bluestone asserted infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,163,557 (‘557 Patent).  The ‘557 Patent is entitled “Fabrication of group III-V nitrides on mesas” and directed to group III-V nitride films fabricated on mesas patterned either on substrates such as sapphire substrates or on group III-V nitride layers grown on substrates. The mesas provide reduced area surfaces for epitaxially growing group III-V nitride films to reduce thermal film stresses in the films to minimize cracking.

The accused products are various brands and models of LED lightbulbs with group III-V nitride epitaxial films.

 

Smart Grid

Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. Firetide, Inc.

Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. Strix Systems, Inc.

Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. S&C Electric Company

Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. 3E Technologies Int’l, Inc.

Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. FluidMesh Networks LLC

Endeavor MeshTech (a wholly-owned subsidiary of patent monetization firm Endeavor IP) made a strong finish to a busy year of patent enforcement, filing five new lawsuits in November and December of 2015.

The suits against Firetide and Strix Systems were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on November 23, 2015 (Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. Firetide, Inc.Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. Strix Systems, Inc.); the S&C Electric and FluidMesh Technologies complaints were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on December 1 and December 28, 2015, respectively (Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. S&C Electric CompanyEndeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. Fluidmesh Networks, LLC); the lawsuit against 3E Technologies was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on December 23, 2015 (Endeavor Meshtech, Inc. v. 3E Technologies International, Inc.).

All of the complaints accuse the defendants 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.

 

Clean Energy Management Solutions, LLC v. Eaton Corp.

Clean Energy Management Solutions sued Eaton for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 6,636,893 (‘893 Patent) and 6,577,962 (‘962 Patent).

The ‘893 Patent is entitled “Web bridged energy management system and method” and directed to systems and methods enabling individual energy management sites to be connected using a web bridge such that data from the individual sites can be accumulated to a single site, data from one site can be distributed to many sites, and a pyramid arrangement can be used.

The ‘962 Patent is entitled “System and method for forecasting energy usage load” and directed to systems and methods dynamic, real-time energy load forecasting for a site.

Filed December 16, 2015 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, the complaint alleges that Easton’s smart grid solutions such as the Yukon IED Manager Suite infringe the patents-in-suit.

 

Atlas IP, LLC v. City of Naperville

Atlas filed suit against the City of Naperville, Illinois, alleging that the municipality’s installation of REX2 residential smart meters supplied by Elster Metering infringes an Atlas smart meter patent.

The asserted patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,371,734, is entitled “Medium access control protocol for wireless network” and directed to a reliable medium access control protocol for wireless LAN-type network communications among a plurality of resources, such as portable computers.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on November 30, 2015.

 

Water Treatment

America Greener Technologies, Inc. et al. v. Enhanced Life Water Solutions, LLC et al.

In a complaint filed December 8, 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, America Greener Technologies (AGT) sued a number of companies and individuals for alleged infringement of a patent relating to a water treatment device and process.

The asserted patent is U.S. Patent No. 8,477,003, entitled “Apparatus for generating a multi-vibrational field” (‘003 Patent).  The ‘003 Patent is directed to an apparatus and method for generating multi-vibrational electromagnetic (MVEM) fields for use in many water treatment applications, including eliminating calcium build-up, reducing salt usage, increasing water clarity, restructuring or inhibiting nitrates, and restructuring or inhibiting calcium salts and other minerals.

AGT alleges that, after selling the patent to AGT, one of the inventors/co-defendants manufactured a patented device and has been leasing, selling or renting the device.

 

Veolia Water Solutions & Technology Support v. WesTech Engineering, Inc.

Veolia sued WesTech in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, asserting U.S. Patent No. 8,961,785 (‘785 Patent).

The ‘785 Patent is entitled “Rotary disc filter and module for constructing same” and directed to a rotary disc filter device including a rotary drum and disc-shaped filter members secured about the drum.

Filed November 13, 2015, Veolia’s complaint alleges that WesTech’s SuperDisc disc filter infringes the ‘785 Patent.

Oscilla’s Power Bars Generate Energy from Waves

December 1st, 2015

Oscilla logo

I recently read an interesting article about Oscilla Power, a Seattle-based company that makes wave power generators.

Oscilla’s wave energy harvesters are based on a phenomenon called magnetostriction, a property of some ferromagnetic materials to change their shape slightly in the presence of a magnetic field.

However, Oscilla applies this process in reverse – called reverse magnetostriction – by applying stresses or strains to the materials so their magnetic characteristics change.  When coupled with a generator that has permanent magnets and wire coils, the process generates electricity.

Oscilla owns a number of patents and pending applications covering its technology, including two related U.S. Patent Nos. 7,816,797, and 7,964,977, entitled “Method and device for harvesting energy from ocean waves.”

These patents are directed to a device (100) for harvesting energy from the oscillations of ocean waves (102).  The core modules of the device (100) include at least one buoy (104) attached to magnetorestrictive elements (106) via tethers (110).

797 FIG. 1

The magnetorestrictive elements (106) are anchored to the seafloor or to another rigid body using anchors or weights (108).

According to the Economist piece, the magnetorestrictive elements are bars made from a strongly magnetic alloy of iron and aluminum.  These bars need be compressed only very slightly (one part in 10,000) to generate electricity.

Even such a tiny compression takes a large force when the bar is made of solid metal, but ocean waves have sufficient power to generate the required force and do so by oscillation.  Oscilla’s generators have two large objects connected by cables:

Oscilla Pic

A buoy floating on the surface of the ocean contains the generating apparatus of alloy bars, magnets and coils, as well as sets of hydraulic rams which can squeeze the bars.  The cables connect the buoy to a heave plate maintained in a stationary position.

As the buoy rises and falls with the waves at the surface and the heave plate stays still, the tension on the cables increases and decreases.  The changing tension drives the rams and produces electricity.

Because the generators operate on changing tension, they don’t need to employ lot of moving parts and should therefore be more reliable than conventional wave power generators.

After a successful trial of a four-meter prototype last year, Oscilla hopes to build a full-scale device by 2018.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

November 19th, 2015

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

 

Smart Grid

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

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

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

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

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

 

Smart Meters

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

Transdata, Inc. v. Itron, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LEDs

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wastewater Handling

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Supremes’ Alice Ruling Drowns Water Treatment Patent

November 10th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Innovator Stanley Klein

November 4th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIG. 4

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

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

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

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

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