Archive for the ‘Hybrid and Electric Vehicles’ category

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.

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

June 26th, 2014

A number of green patent complaints have been filed in the last several months in the areas of hybrid electric vehicles, ethanol production, LEDs, water treatment, and exhaust treatment catalysts.  This post covers new lawsuits filed from late 2013 to the end of March 2014.

 

Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Paice LLC v. Ford Motor Company

After major success asserting its patents against Toyota, the HEV development and licensing company Paice is at it again.  On February 19, 2014, Paice sued Ford Motor Company for patent infringement in federal court in Baltimore.

The rather lengthy complaint accuses Ford of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 7,237,634, 7,104,347, 7,559,388, 8,214,097, and 7,455,134.  These patents are part of a large family tracing priority all the way back to 1999.  Each patent is entitled “Hybrid vehicles” and relates to hybrid vehicles and associated control systems.

In its complaint, Paice lays out the details of, among other things, its collaborative relationship with Ford and how it soured.  The accused products are Ford’s Fusion hybrid and plug-in hybrid, C-Max hybrid and plug-in hybrid, and Lincoln MKZ.

 

Biofuels (Ethanol Production)

GS Cleantech Corporation v. Pacific Ethanol Stockton LLC

GS Cleantech Corporation v. Pacific Ethanol Magic Valley, LLC et al.

GS recently initiated two new lawsuits involving its patented ethanol production processes.  A complaint filed March 17, 2014 in federal court in Sacramento, California accused Pacific Ethanol Stockton of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,601,858, entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems” (’858 Patent).

The next day, GS sued Pacific Ethanol Magic Valley in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.  The Idaho complaint asserted the ’858 Patent as well as U.S. Patent Nos. 8,008,516 and8,283,484, each entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems,” and as U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517, entitled “Method of recovering oil from thin stillage.”

The patents relate to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.

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

 

LEDs

Luminus Devices, Inc. v. LED Engin, Inc.

Making its first green patent litigation appearance (to my knowledge), Massachusetts based Luminus Devices sued LED Engin in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Filed back in November 2013, the complaint accuses LED Engin of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,170,100 (’100 Patent).  Entitled “Packaging designs for LEDs,” the ’100 Patent is directed to an array of LEDs and an LED package.

The package includes a layer configured so that at least about 75% of the light that that emerges from the LED and impinges on the layer passes through the layer. The layer is disposed such that a distance between the surface of the LED and a surface of the layer nearest to the surface of the LED is from about five microns to about 400 microns.

The accused products are several LED emitters allegedly made and sold by LED Engin.

 

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Cooper Lighting, LLC

On February 6, 2014 Florida LED lighting company Lighting Science Group (LSG) sued rival Cooper Lighting for patent infringement in federal court in Orlando.

The complaint alleges that Cooper infringes U.S. Patent No. 8,201,968 (’968 Patent) by its manufacture and sale of the Halo LED Recessed White Surface Disk Light products.

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.

 

Water Treatment

Envirogen Technologies, Inc. v. Maxim Construction Corporation

Envirogen Technologies, a Texas company that makes water purification systems, recently filed a lawsuit for breach of contract and patent infringement against Maxim Construction.

Filed March 25, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the complaint lists three patents – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,309,436 (’436 Patent), 6,878,286 (’286 Patent) and 7,041,223 (’223 Patent).

Entitled “High efficiency ion exchange system for removing contaminants from water,” the ’286 and ’223 Patents are related and are directed to a fixed bed ion exchange water purification system that combines features of single fixed bed ion exchange systems with those of a moving bed system.

The ’436 Patent is entitled “Process for removing perchlorate ions from water streams” and directed to methods and systems for removing perchiorate from water.

According to the complaint, Maxim failed to make all payments under a contract to purchase an Envirogen water purification system, and therefore its use of the system is unlicensed and infringing.

 

Exhaust Treatment Catalysts

EmeraChem Holdings, LLC v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.

EmeraChem Holdings, a Tennessee-based company that creates catalysts for gas and liquid fuels, sued Volkswagen in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee on March 31, 2014.

The complaint asserts infringement of U.S. Patent Nos.:

 5,451,558, entitled “Process for the reaction and absorption of gaseous air pollutants, apparatus therefor and method of making the same”;

5,599,758, entitled “Reduction of absorbed nitrogen oxides by reaction with gas flow containing hydrogen and/or carbon monoxide”;

5,953,911, entitled “Regeneration of catalyst/absorber”;

6,037,307 , entitled “Catalyst/sorber for treating sulfur compound containing effluent”: and

7,951,346, entitled “Methods and systems for reducing particulate matter in a gaseous stream”.

According to the complaint, Volkswagen’s diesel powered vehicles equipped with exhaust treatment systems, NOx storage catalyst, and other exhaust treatment catalysts infringe one or more of the patents.

In Defense of IPR: The Timing of the Tesla Move will Diminish The Company’s Value

June 19th, 2014

Guest post by Philip Totaro, Founder & CEO of Totaro & Associates

 

In the early stage of an industry, the long term may seem like it’s too far away.  Penetration of electric vehicles (EVs) has not yet reached levels where it is displacing significant market share from conventional gas-powered automobiles, in spite of the popularity of EVs in some regional markets around the world.

A recent move intended to inspire further EV adoption, announced in a blog post by Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, to “not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” seems to be quite popular so far.

While this is a noble and well-intentioned move, unfortunately, this thought process represents a widely held misconception about intellectual property: that it is only a legal matter, rather than a commercial one.

Patents are not just about hitting the ‘litigation lottery’ as Mr. Musk put it.  Patents are the codification of innovation and they represent the investment of time and effort from the innovative and creative people who have their names on them.  Making the investment in intellectual property protection in the first place presumes that you are willing and able to enforce your rights.

In any market there will be those who are driven by greed, and we have seen the exploitation of intellectual property by so-called “patent trolls.”  Mr. Musk appears to be frustrated with this exploitation of intellectual property, stating that:

…too often these days [patents] serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.

I choose not to be so cynical about the process of protecting innovation and intellectual property rights (IPR).  While many things are inefficient about the patent and trademark protection process, we live in a time when IPR are more respected around the world than they have ever been, notwithstanding the specific cases of misuse which we have become aware of in recent years.

Simply put, IPR create jobs and shareholder value for the companies that invest in innovation.  The legal profession around protecting and litigating IPR has arisen because of the increase in innovation, not because of a desire or need to line their pockets at the expense of companies who misappropriate the IPR of a competitor.

“Open sourcing” one’s patent portfolio reduces the ability to obtain value in return for that investment in innovation.  There is also value in holding a portfolio of IP assets on a diverse set of technologies because IPR creates a mechanism by which you can cross-license your technology and that IPR in case litigation comes your way, even if you don’t intend to initiate it.

Perhaps the big carmakers aren’t fully embracing EVs yet, but they certainly have the resources at their disposal to overwhelm Tesla if they wanted to.  Interestingly, Tesla doesn’t seem to understand another important aspect of IPR, which is that IP litigation between practicing entities only typically arises when their market share is encroached upon.  I suppose that if Tesla were making more of a dent in the car market, they wouldn’t be forced into this type of public relations stunt.

The timing of this also affords us the opportunity to discuss another widely held misconception about intellectual property, which is that there is more to IPR than just patents.  Typically, being first to market with a product in a new niche market matters more than having the most patents on that technology.

The inevitable action of competition that has the resources to invest in competing with an early market leader will be to duplicate their technology with improvements of their own in an effort to replicate the market leader’s commercial success.

A comment on the Tesla blog which first announced the intention not to litigate on their patents highlights some of the main concerns with this plan:

TeslaFan2014

4:42AM | JUN 14, 2014

Mr. Musk:

Great News for those interested in your company’s technology!  Can you please back up this press release with actual details/procedures?

Can you please direct those that are interested in practicing your company’s patented technology a contact where they can receive a royalty-free, perpetual license to practice your company’s technology, as the release suggests? No company will start [to] willfully practice another company’s technology without assurances they will not be sued (a press release does not cut it).

Can you have your IT folks upload a perpetual, royalty free license like the one above, signed by you, so that it can be easily downloaded and signed by companies that want to practice your patented technology?

Can you specify which patents you are actually talking about? Does this mean all of Tesla’s patents? In any country?

The spirit behind this press release is great. Now, we need details.  

Thank you again for such a generous thing that you are doing.

 I, and others, look forward to seeing how you are actually going to get this done.

In Tesla’s case, this move will hurt them in two ways longer-term:

 

Undercutting the future commercial value of the company

IPR precludes duplication of one’s technology by competitors.  Even if I don’t have Tesla’s drawings, if I have engineering and financial resources, I can still reverse engineer what they’ve done and improve upon it at a potentially faster rate than Tesla can innovate.

If Tesla is informing their competitors they will not enforce their IPR, how do they expect to effectively deter competition from penetrating the market with potentially better technology than theirs in the future?

Savvy companies tend to study the IPR of their competitors and spend time and resources designing around or improving upon the current state of the art.  Tesla’s move does address one of Mr. Musk’s pain points in that it will lower the commercial barriers to competition in the EV market, rather than using proprietary rights to “stifle progress” in the industry.

However, giving away key aspects of your technology without a license fee inherently diminishes your investment and makes it easier for your competition to leapfrog you.  So, when the EV market does take off, Tesla’s competitors will be in a better position to gain commercial advantage and more market share than Tesla.

Tesla will still be a takeover target, given their entrenched position commercially and technologically, but with a significantly lowered valuation resulting from this move.

 

Spares Sourcing

Tesla has been involved in several lawsuits and state legislative efforts to enable the company to have direct sales of their cars to consumers.  The car dealers in many states are of course unhappy because it undercuts their ability to generate sales revenue since they are bypassed by Tesla.

Providing a royalty-free license in their patents will exclude Tesla from preventing their sub-component suppliers to directly sell spare parts to consumers or independent repair shops.  This will bypass Tesla and curtail its ability to generate aftermarket and services revenue.

Since the EV market is immature and Tesla’s fleet of cars is relatively new, one can presume that this consequence was simply a strategic oversight on behalf of the company.

The move may garner some good PR value and potentially achieve greater market penetration of EVs and Tesla EVs, but it lacks foresight.  Tesla is a company beyond Elon Musk, and the passion and dedication of hundreds of employees and investors who made the commitment to work with the company in the early days deserves recognition and reward resulting from the commercial success of the company.

This noble attempt at changing the paradigm of technology development in a key industry of the future is ultimately short-sighted for Tesla, unless it has commitment from its competitors that they will follow suit and open their portfolio of IPR to the industry as well.

The open source software industry has been successful over the past 25 years because there was a community of companies who all agreed to play by the same rules.  So far, only Tesla is playing by these open source rules, and it appears unlikely that other major automakers would be willing to follow their lead.

Unfortunately, we don’t all live in the world of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek where money has been abolished and people want for nothing because nobody wants more than what they really need.  But until we achieve that utopian paradise, if I were a Tesla employee, I’d be furious right now that my company will be less valuable in the future than it could have been.

If Mr. Musk would be willing to redistribute his wealth to the employees and investors who made the commitment to create value for the company in the first place, then this move to open source their patents during the formative stages of the EV industry might make more sense.

 

*Philip Totaro is the Founder & CEO of Totaro & Associates, a consulting firm focused on innovation strategy, competitive intelligence, product development and patent search.  To find out more, or get in touch please visit www.totaro-associates.com.

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.

Chinese Eco-mark Lawsuit Ends Well for Tesla

March 4th, 2014

A previous post reported on Tesla’s Chinese trademark problem.  Apparently, a businessman named Zhan Baosheng had registered the TESLA (or “Te Si La” transliterated) trademark in China, blocking  the American automaker from using the mark there.

Mr. Zhan was also operating a web site using the Tesla China domain (www.teslamotors.com.cn), and operating a Tesla-branded account on the Chinese microblog site Sina Weibo.

As part of a recent press release announcing its plan for growth in China the company said it resolved the trademark issue.  More particularly, Tesla obtained a court decision granting it the right to use the TESLA mark in China (see the story here on Green Car Reports and covered by Clean Technica here).

Veronica Wu, Tesla’s vice president for China operations, said the company had won this right without the need to pay Mr. Zhan (who had apparently hinted that he would sell the trademark for millions of dollars).  According to Wu, “we went to court and won.”

Though technically Zhan may have been the first user of the TESLA mark in China, the court decision seems right because his apparent high asking price for the mark signals bad faith on his part and that his use may not have been bona fide.

This decision bodes well for American and other non-Chinese companies who may need to protect and enforce their intellectual property rights against local competitors in China.

The highest profile clean tech IP dispute in China is the trade secrets and copyright case between American Superconductor and Chinese turbine manufacturer Sinovel, which made it all the way to, and is (as far as I know) still pending in, the Chinese Supreme Court.

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.”

Chinese Eco-mark Madness and Related News

September 26th, 2013

There have been a few recent developments in Chinese eco-marks (my term for marks used in connection with green goods or services), both in China and in the United States.

Starting with by far the weirdest news item, a small Chinese electric car technology company called Hong Yuan Lan Xiang (HYLX) has filed a trademark application in China to register the name SNOWDEN for for its “top secret technologies and products” (see the Green Car Reports article here).

These include new removable batteries, technologies for increased charging speeds, and technologies for remodeling conventional cars into electric-capable models.  Apparently, the company thinks the top secret nature of its technologies makes Snowden the perfect brand name for them.

Also in China, U.S. electric carmaker Tesla Motors has encountered what appears to be a cybersquatter and prior registrant of the TESLA mark.  According to this Reuters story, Zhan Baosheng owns a Chinese trademark registration for TESLA, runs a web site using the Tesla China domain (www.teslamotors.com.cn), and operates a Tesla-branded account on the Chinese microblog site Sina Weibo.

Zhan’s web site includes a Tesla brand logo that is almost identical to that of Tesla Motors and shows a car quite unlike any of Tesla Motors’ vehicles.  It seems likely that Tesla Motors will have to buy out Zhan to clear the way for its trademark rights and branding efforts in China.

Finally, an eco-mark infringement suit covered in a previous post has come to a close (at least in the trial court).  This case pitted  SunEarth (owned and operated by the Solaray Corporation since 1992), which manufactures and sells solar thermal collectors and related components, against Ningbo Solar Electric Power (Ningbo) and its U.S. subsidiary, which was selling solar photovoltaics under the SUN-EARTH (and Design) mark:

Ningbo owns U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,886,941 (’941 Registration), registered in 2010, and the company changed its name to Sun-Earth Solar Power (SESP) the same year.

After filing a proceeding in the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel the ’941 Registration and trying to negotiate a settlement with Ningbo, SunEarth sued for trademark infringement, cancellation of the registration, and other claims in the Northern District of California in October 2011.

In a recent decision, the court held that Ningbo was liable for trademark infringement and ordered the USPTO to cancel the ’941 Registration.  Although Ningbo’s trademark registration was entitled to a presumption of validity, SunEarth successfully rebutted the presumption by demonstrating prior use of the mark, a fact conceded by Ningbo:

Plaintiffs have introduced evidence that they have used the term SunEarth as a trademark, trade name and service mark in the United States since 1978.  Defendants have conceded that Plaintiffs have “common law prior user rights in several states of the United States to its SunEarth mark for solar thermal systems.”

Although Ningbo disputed the geographic extent of SunEarth’s common law prior user rights, the court found that SunEarth had established “legally sufficient national market penetration over their trade name and mark” prior to Ningbo’s first use of the mark.

From there, it was simply a matter of conducting a routine likelihood of confusion analysis, which favored SunEarth due to the similarity of the marks, the proximity of the goods (solar photovoltaics and solar collectors), and the similar trade channels such as solar product shows, specialty retailers, and trade magazines.

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

August 8th, 2013

The second part of this green patent complaint update covers the period mid-June through most of July, during which several new complaints were filed in the areas of biofuels, components for hybrid and electric vehicles, LEDs, energy efficiency, solar air conditioners, water technology, and waste treatment.

 

Biofuels

GS Cleantech Corp. v. Western New York Energy, LLC

GS Cleantech recently filed another lawsuit, this one against Western New York Energy in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on July 12, 2013. 

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

According to the complaint, Western New York uses infringing processes performed by ethanol production plants purchased from a plant designer called ICM.  ICM was involved in prior litigation with GS.

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

 

Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Northern Cable and Automation, LLC v. General Motors Co.

This is a dispute over ownership and inventorship of U.S. Patent No. 7,976,333, entitled “Laminar electrical connector” (’333 Patent) and directed to an electrical connector specifically designed for use in hybrid and electric vehicles.

According to the complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan on July 11, 2013, GM claims that one of its employees should be named as a co-inventor on the ’333 Patent and that Northern Cable, d/b/a, Flex Cable is obligated to assign certain rights in the patent to GM.

Flex Cable alleges that the inventor, Erwin Kroulik, conceived of the invention of the ’333 Patent before the date of an agreement with GM, and therefore Flex Cable is not obligated to assign any rights in the ’333 Patent to GM. 

 

LEDs

Trustees of Boston University v. Apple, Inc.

On July 2, 2013 BU filed another lawsuit in federal court in Boston, continuing its patent enforcement campaign against various LED makers and electronics manufacturers.  The complaint again asserts U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (’738 Patent). 

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

The accused products are the iPhone 5, iPad, and MacBook Air that include allegedly infringing LED devices.

 

Energy Efficiency

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Dell Inc.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. IBM Corp.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Oracle Corp. et al.

On June 28 and 29, 2013, Efficiency Systems fired off four patent infringement suits in federal court in Delaware against Cisco (Cisco complaint), Dell (Dell complaint), IBM (IBM complaint), and Oracle (Oracle complaint).

Each complaint asserts U.S. Patent No. 6,986,069, entitled “Methods and apparatus for static and dynamic power management of computer systems” (’069 Patent).  The ’069 Patent is directed to a power authority system for manipulating the aggregate power consumption levels of multiple computer systems by managing the power consumption levels of the computer systems.

The accused systems include various server systems, computer systems and components containing power management features.

 

Solar Air Conditioners

Sedna Aire USA Inc. v. Eco Solar Technologies, Inc.

Sedna Aire recently sued Eco Solar for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,448,458, alleged cybersquatting, and alleged passing off in connection with use of the mark SOLAR COOL (and Design).

The ’458 Patent is entitled “Solar collector and solar air conditioning system having the same” and directed to a solar air conditioning system including a solar collector.  The system superheats working fluid using radiant energy from the sun and delivers the working fluid as a superheated and higher-pressure gas to a condenser within the solar air conditioning system.

Filed June 24, 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the complaint alleges that Eco Solar is selling a solar air conditioner based on Sedna’s patented design and engaging in unauthorized use of the SOLAR COOL trademark.

 

Water Purification

Aquatech International Corp. v. Veolia Water West Operating Services, Inc. et al.

On June 27, 2013, Aquatech filed a complaint against Veolia in the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging infringement of two patents relating to water purification technology.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 5,925,255 and 6,537,456, each entitled “Method and apparatus for high efficiency reverse osmosis operation.”  The patents relate to Aquatech’s HERO water purification process, a high efficiency reverse osmosis water purification process which is used in many industries including power generation, petrochemical, and microelectronics. 

The accused process is Veolia’s OPUS technology, which the complaint alleges Veolia is using in various locations including a Chevron oil production field in San Ardo, California and the Arroyo Grande Oilfield in San Luis Obispo County, California.

 

Waste Treatment

Trunzo v. Grobstein

In this suit filed June 25, 2013 in federal court in Los Angeles, Michael Trunzo sued the trustee for the bankruptcy estate of debtor International Environmental Solutions Corporation (IES) and purchasers of IES’s assets for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,868,085 (’085 Patent).

Entitled “Pyrolytic waste treatment system,” the ’085 Patent is directed to a system for pyrolysis of hydrocarbon constituents of waste material including a heating chamber in communication with the atmosphere via a first valve and in communication with a pyrolysis chamber via a second internal valve.

The complaint alleges that the defendants have infringed the ’085 Patent by reverse engineering a waste-to-energy unit, and the defendants have issued a distributorship/developers license to defendant Wayne Herling for the purpose of marketing, distributing and selling the the allegedly infringing units.

Con-Fusion: Class Actions Accuse Ford of Greenwashing Hybrid Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

February 22nd, 2013

In the latest fuel efficiency greenwashing litigation (see, e.g., here), Ford has been hit with two class actions alleging the automaker misrepresented the miles per gallon achieved by its Fusion and C-Max SE hybrid vehicles.

The complaints (Pitkin – Ford Complaint; Strand – Ford Complaint), filed recently in federal court in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, accuse Ford of a “systematic advertising scheme” deceptively touting the cars’ combined (city and highway) 47 mpg EPA gas mileage estimate. 

According to plaintiffs, the EPA estimates do not provide actual mileage for a vehicle under normal, real life driving conditions because the test conditions are designed to maximize fuel mileage.  The EPA tests are conducted using lab machines called dynamometers instead of roads, one of the complaints says.  In addition, the highway portion of the test uses a speed range of only about 48-60 miles per hour and is performed by a professional driver.

According to the complaints, Consumer Reports found that the C-Max hybrid achieved a combined 37 mpg, and the Fusion hybrid a combined 39 mpg, well under the advertised 47 mpg figure. 

The class plaintiffs accuse Ford of misleading consumers by advertising the EPA mpg estimates as actual, expected mileage under normal, real world driving conditions while failing to disclose that the ratings are mere estimates based on particular testing conditions.

There seems to be an increasing outcry about autombile mileage testing criteria and automakers’ use of EPA data in advertising.  One of the major allegations in the Hyundai and Kia greenwashing cases is that the automakers employed flawed fuel economy testing procedures.  Perhaps it’s time for better testing procedures to reflect real world driving conditions and/or for car companies to better communicate exactly what the fuel estimates mean.

Falsely Over 40?: Hyundai and Kia Collide with Consumer Class Actions Alleging Greenwash

December 13th, 2012

A host of proposed class action lawsuits (e.g., Krauth-Hyundai Complaint; Quiroz-Kia Complaint; Graewingholt-Hyundai Kia Complaint; Olson-Hyundai Kia Complaint) have been filed in the last several weeks against one or both of Kia and Hyundai accusing the Korean automakers of making false or misleading fuel efficiency claims in their advertising and marketing materials.

At the heart of these “garden variety” greenwashing cases (see, e.g., here and here for examples of the other kinds) are allegations that the automakers built advertising campaigns around representations that a number of their vehicles achieved gas mileage in the 40 mile per gallon range when the companies knew or should have known the actual mileage was signficantly lower.  The mpg was also alleged to be misrepresented on many of the vehicles’ window stickers.

Some of the advertising statements cited in the cases include:

“With its 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway standard fuel economy rating, Elantra is a perfect vehicle for consumers looking for an affordable solution to rising gas prices….”

“In the first quarter of 2012, 39 percent of all Hyundai vehicles sold achieved 40 mpg on the highway thanks in large part to Elantra’s continued success.”

The Hyundai Accent manages “a best-in-class standard 40 mpg fuel economy rating on the highway” and “achieves a category-leading 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway rating, making it one of four Hyundai nameplates to eclipse teh 40 mpg mark.”

Kia’s web site states that the Optima Hybrid, Rio, Soul, and Sportage have all received the EPA SmartWay Certification Mark – a designation given by the EPA “to the cleanest most fuel efficient vehicles.”

According to the complaints, an EPA investigation prompted by consumer inquiries found the gas mileage was overstated in seven Hyundai models and six Kia models, with as much as a 6 mpg discrepancy in some models.  The complaints further state that Kia and Hyundai admitted they had misrepresented mile per gallon and fuel efficiency data.

One complaint notes the historic significance of the EPA audit:

The EPA’s Hyundai/Kia investigation is the first instance where the EPA has found a large number of vehicles from the same manufacturers deviated significantly from the manufacturer represented mileage figures.

The problem, according to another complaint, was flawed fuel economy testing.  More particularly, Hyundai and Kia allegedly made procedural errors in their “coastdown” testing, implementing methods that were not compliant with EPA requirements and “insufficient in design, procedure, content, execution, and/or completeness.”  As a result, the fuel economy ratings were “affected, inaccurate, and overstated.”

One of the complaints notes that Kia and Hyundai said they would implement a “refund” program, but calls the program “fraught with problems.”  Instead, most of the actions seek injunctive relief relating to the companies’ advertising, restitution, and monetary damages.

“Defendants apparently placed profit before integrity in the marketing and sale” of their vehicles, one of the complaints summarizes.   That plaintiff also quoted an Edmonds analyst’s seemingly apt prediction:

“In an industry where reputation is so important, this will undoubtedly give both carmakers ugly black eyes.”