Archive for the ‘Smart Grid’ category

TransData Doubles Smart Meter Suits as Patent Enforcement Heads East

September 1st, 2011

 

In a previous post, I wrote about Texas smart meter company TransData‘s patent infringement suit against CoServ, a Texas utility.

TransData recently extended its patent enforcement activity from Texas in an easterly direction through the southeastern United States, filing complaints against utilities in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

The targets are the Alabama Power Company (TransData-AlabamaPower_Complaint), the Georgia Power Company (TransData-GeorgiaPower_Complaint), and the Mississippi Power Company (TransData-MissPower_Complaint).

Each complaint asserts U.S. Patents Nos. 6,181,294 (’294 Patent), 6,462,713 (’713 Patent) and 6,903,699 (’699 Patent), which relate to antenna and wireless communication devices for use with electric meters.

The ’294, ’713 and ’699 Patents are related patents which trace back to an original 1998 filing date.  They describe early solutions for wireless transmission of electrical consumption data. 

In particular, the patents are directed to electric meters (100) and an antenna (170, 270) for use with the electric meters.  The antenna includes antenna elements (172, 174, 272, 274) located within a dielectric housing (120, 220) and a balance circuit (176, 276).

The balance circuit (176, 276) mechanically supports the antenna elements (172, 174, 272, 274) so the antenna elements can cooperate and act as a dipole. 

According to the patents’ specification:

The present invention . . . introduces the broad concept of outfitting an electric meter with an internal, wireless communications antenna, allowing the electric meter circuitry within the meter to communicate via a data network wirelessly couplable thereto.

According to the complaints, the devices that infringe or may infringe the asserted patents are Sensus iCon electric meters, Elster Alpha A3 and REX electric meters, and meters with SmartSynch wireless modules.

With these three new complaints, there are now at least six pending TransData infringement suits involving the same patents.  In addition to the CoServ case, the new complaints list two other cases in the Eastern District of Texas against CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric and Tri-County Electric Cooperative.

Green Patent Acquisitions: ABB Buys EV Charging Tech Company Epyon

July 20th, 2011

 

ABB, a large power and automation equipment conglomerate, recently announced that it has acquired Dutch EV charging company Epyon Power (Epyon).

Epyon, a a spin-off of Delft University of Technology, provides DC charging stations and supporting network software.

One of Epyon’s electric charging patent applications is International Publication No. WO 2009/108048 (’048 Application).  The ’048 Application is entitled “Electric charger for an accumulator or battery” and is directed to an electric charger for rapid charging.

The electric charger has a circuit placed on a printed circuit board (1) along with a semiconductor (2).  The semiconductor (2) is located on a first part of the circuit and is thermally coupled to a heat-absorbing member or heat sink (3) via a copper track (4) such that heat from the semiconductor is transferred to the heat sink.

 

The heat sink (3), in turn, is in heat-conducting contact with a second part of the circuit.

According to the ’048 Application, one key to the fast-charging capability of the invention is that different thermal coupling arrangements of the heat sink to other components allow slower relinquishing of the absorbed heat:

The heat-absorbing member is therefore preferably accommodated in the electric charger such that it can absorb the heat created during charging and can then relinquish it to the surroundings in delayed manner, for which purpose a comparatively good thermal coupling of the heat-absorbing member to the heat-producing part of the circuit is preferably desirable, in addition to a relatively poor thermal coupling of the heat-absorbing member to the other parts of the circuit and the housing of the electric charger.

A related feaure of the technology is that the electric charger rapidly charges during an “on-period” but cannot be restarted during the “off-period” that follows the on-period. 

According to the ’048 Application, both the off-period shutdown and the slow relinquishing of heat are “based on the insight that the development of heat occurs only during the limited on-period and that the electric charger is generally out of operation for an extended period after charging because the control means prevent a restart of the on-period.”

The ’048 Application states that, as a result of these features, the electric charger is capable of rapid charging without a significant increase in size or cost of the charger:

The invention has for its object to enable very rapid charging of an accumulator or battery, i.e. to make possible an effective charging period of several minutes without the charger having to take an appreciably larger and more expensive form than the known electric charger and without this resulting in appreciably higher costs for the charger.

In a recent guest post for Greentech Media, Mike Sherman of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital called the acquisition of Epyon a “major milestone” in the EV charging industry and suggested it might be a tipping point because of the scale, distributions channels, and manufacturing capability of ABB.

In Smart Meter Patent Suit TransData Focuses Antennae on Texas Utility

April 14th, 2011

 

TransData is a Texas company that designs and manufactures smart meters and related products.

TransData owns U.S. Patents Nos. 6,181,294 (’294 Patent), 6,462,713 (’713 Patent) and 6,903,699 (’699 Patent), which relate to antenna and wireless communication devices for use with electric meters.

Last month TransData sued CoServ, a Texas utility, for infringement of the ’294, ’713 and ’699 Patents.  According to the complaint (TransData-Complaint), filed in federal court in Tyler, Texas, CoServ is infringing these patents by using and selling the Landis+Gyr Focus AX electric meter.

The ’294, ’713 and ’699 Patents are related patents which trace back to an original 1998 filing date.  They describe early solutions for wireless transmission of electrical consumption data. 

In particular, the patents are directed to electric meters (100) and an antenna (170, 270) for use with the electric meters.  The antenna includes antenna elements (172, 174, 272, 274) located within a dielectric housing (120, 220) and a balance circuit (176, 276).

The balance circuit (176, 276) mechanically supports the antenna elements (172, 174, 272, 274) so the antenna elements can cooperate and act as a dipole. 

According to the patents’ specification:

The present invention . . . introduces the broad concept of outfitting an electric meter with an internal, wireless communications antenna, allowing the electric meter circuitry within the meter to communicate via a data network wirelessly couplable thereto.

Like the seminal variable speed wind turbine patent involved in the recent GE-Mitsubishi litigation, the patents in this suit are an example of mature clean technologies in the courtroom.

Coulomb and ECOtality Targeted as Sipco Enforcement Expands into EV Charging Systems

February 23rd, 2011

 

In previous posts here and here, I discussed Atlanta, Georgia, wireless mesh technology company Sipco’s patent infringement suits against utilities and various smart meter and energy management companies.

Last month Sipco expanded the scope of its patent enforcement activity to include players in the electric vehicle charging station space.

Sipco’s latest complaint (Sipco-ABB_Complaint), filed in federal court in Tyler, Texas, names Coulomb Technologies and ECOtality as defendants, as well as additional energy management, control system, and wireless companies such as EnergyHub, Jetlun, SmartLabs, ABB, and Ingersoll-Rand.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patents Nos. 7,103,5116,437,692, and 7,697,492, which relate to remote monitoring and control systems.

According to the complaint, ECOtality’s EV Project, Blink Network, and EV Charging Stations and Coulomb’s Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and ChargePoint Network contain wireless networks that infringe the asserted patents. 

The asserted patents are directed to cost effective methods and systems for collecting, formatting and monitoring data from remote devices.  A control system (200) consists of one or more sensor/actuators (212, 214, 216, 222, 224) each integrated with a (preferably RF, or radio frequency) transceiver.  The control system also includes stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221). 

 

The integrated and stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221) are configured to receive an incoming RF transmission (from remote devices) and to transmit an outgoing signal.  Local gateways (210, 220) receive remote data transmissions from the integrated or stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221), analyze the transmissions, convert them into TCP/IP format for internet transmission and communicate the transmissions via wide area network, or WAN (230).

According to the asserted patents, having the local gateways (210, 220) permanently integrated with the WAN (230) allows the server (260) to host application specific software that previously had to be hosted in application specific local controllers.  The patents explain:

…the data monitoring and control devices of the present invention need not be disposed in a permanent location as long as they remain within signal range of a system compatible transceiver that subsequently is within signal range of a local gateway interconnected through one or more networks to server 260.

With this latest suit by Sipco adding the likes of Coulomb and ECOtality to its infringement targets, this CleanTechLaw piece on the increasing importance of EV patents looks prescient.

Smart Meter Patent Suit Survives Silver Spring’s Indefiniteness Challenge

January 31st, 2011

 

Mesh Comm is an Atlanta, Georgia, company and the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,379,981 (’981 Patent) relating to a system for enabling wireless communication between meters so utilities can remotely monitor and control energy usage. 

Entitled “Wireless communication enabled meter and network,” the ’981 Patent is directed to a wireless network comprising (1) a “network cluster” of at least two networks, with each composed of individual wireless transceivers called “virtual nodes” that measure, collect, and transmit utility usage data, (2) a “virtual gate” or “VGATE” that links the virtual nodes to an external network, and (3) a “virtual network operations entity” or “VNOC,” that transmits, receives, and translates data from one format to another.

The patented technology operates on Bluetooth wireless protocol but is designed to overcome the limitation that  Bluetooth networks can support a maximum of only eight devices.  The system solves this problem by linking two or more Bluetooth devices together to form network clusters.

In fall 2009 Mesh Comm sued PEPCO, a utility, and Silver Spring Networks, a California smart grid solutions developer, in federal court in Maryland, alleging that certain wireless communication enabled meters and networks the defendants were making, using, and selling infringed the ’981 Patent (MeshComm_Complaint).

Last month the court construed 24 patent claim terms and denied defendants’ summary judgment motion challenging claim 1 (the only asserted independent claim) as being invalid for indefiniteness under Section 112, paragraph 2 of the Patent Act (MeshComm_Opinion).  This provision provides that patent claims must “particularly point[] out and distinctly claim[]” the subject matter of the invention.

It’s hard to determine which side got the better of the claim constructions because there were so many terms at issue, and most were construed in accordance with the express language of the ’981 Patent.

As to the indefiniteness ruling, defendants challenged the claim term “associated with” in the phrases “self-configuring virtual node associated with the first network” and “a wireless communication connection between at least [one] virtual node associated with the first network and at least one virtual node associated with the second network.”

The court rejected defendants’ contention that ”associated with” was indefinite because it has multiple possible meanings, holding instead that the term can be given a meaning in light of the ’981 Patent’s claims and description.  The court construed the term to mean “wirelessly connected to.”

The court also held the term “module” was not indefinite because references to the term in the ’981 Patent convey the requisite structure for performing the claimed functions.

So this case appears to be moving forward.  This is not the first time Mesh Comm has asserted the ’981 Patent against smart meter makers and utilities.  Mesh Comm has sued E.On, Louisville Gas & Electric, and Trilliant in KentuckyLandis+Gyr and Oncor Electric in Texas, and EKA Systems and Tampa Electric Company in Florida.

Furthermore, Mesh Comm, apparently a non-practicing patentholder (NPP), is not the first NPP to make its presence felt in the smart grid space.  Sipco LLC, another Atlanta-based owner of wireless communication network patents, sued Florida Power & Light as well as a number of smart meter makers for patent infringement.

Columbia’s Patented Smart Grid Technology to Power FedEx’s NYC EV Fleet

December 1st, 2010

Of the 12 smart grid projects to win an award as part of the GE Ecomagination Challenge, one in particular caught my attention. 

That is GE’s collaboration with Columbia University’s School for Engineering and Applied Science, FedEx Express and Con Edison to take Columbia’s patented Adaptive Stochastic Controller technology for a test run in Manhattan. 

Perhaps it’s that Columbia is the only university of the 12 grant winners or a recent conversation I had with a friend about the massive scale of electric vehicle charging infrastructure that is likely to be necessary in the near future, but the blurb about the collaboration in this Sustainable Business article piqued my interest.

The technology, developed by Columbia Engineering’s Roger Anderson and his Smart Grid team, will manage load and power delivery and provide a real time data link between electric vehicle charging stations and Con Edison’s electric distribution management system.

GE will provide $1.1 million in funding as well as expertise and support for the project, which will focus on recharging a fleet of electric delivery vehicles (EDVs) that FedEx will deploy next year.

The stochastic controller technology is described and claimed in Columbia’s U.S. Patent No. 7,395,252 (’252 Patent), which issued in July 2008.  The ’252 Patent’s decidedly non-energy related title is ”Innervated stochastic controller for real time business decision-making support”.

The ’252 Patent is directed to a controller that optimizes decision-making by training itself using power grid simulations then analyzing grid events and generating planned responses to the events.

The ’252 Patent describes a Learning System (1400) that includes a reinforcement-learning controller (1002), optional learning matrices (1004) used within a “critic” function (1003) and a model (1006) of a power grid (1600). 

252_fig.JPG

The Learning System uses simulation models of the subject power grids to link and analyze specific threat events on the power grid (1600) and generate planned and prioritized responses, while automatically and continuously “learning” during simulation runs.

The Learning System may be configured as a computer-based simulation and training tool that learns “best response scenarios” to these specific events on the grid and can train power control system operators to respond to such events or can act on its own and take automatic control actions. 

The Columbia press release explains the technology as follows:

[The] patented Adaptive Stochastic Controller [will] “learn” the energy demands of each truck and coordinate its recharging with Con Edison to make sure the EDVs deliver “on time, every time” at the lowest possible cost while fitting smoothly into Manhattan’s electric-distribution grid.  The controller will send commands, such as when to optimally start and stop the charging of both the EDVs and the recharge stations at the delivery depot.  The stations will also record and transmit updated information to our complementary Columbia Engineering controller at Con Edison’s Manhattan Electric Control Center to ensure proper grid integration.  The Columbia Engineering controller will be able to respond to electric-load-management directives from Con Edison to decrease or increase the current draw from the on-board vehicle inverters and batteries to assure both the stability of the electric grid in the area and the recharge capability of the FedEx Express EDVs.

Some of the other smart grid award winners are OPOWER (energy management systems and software), ClimateWell (efficient appliances), FMC-Tech (intelligent sensor technologies), Soladigm (building efficiency), SustainX (compressed air energy storage), and SynapSense (data center services).

Sipco Patent Suit Targets Smart Grid and Energy Management Solutions Developers

November 6th, 2010

Sipco LLC (Sipco) is an Atlanta, Georgia-based developer of wireless mesh technology.  In a previous post, I wrote about Sipco’s patent infringement suit targeting Florida Power & Light and its smart meter rollout in Miami-Dade County.

Last month Sipco sued various companies that offer smart meters, lighting products, home and building automation systems and energy management solutions for patent infringement in the Eastern District of Texas. 

The named defendants are Energate, EcobeeRainforest AutomationSmartSynchAMX CorporationSimpleHomeNet and CentraLite Systems.

The complaint (sipco-energate-complaint.pdf) mentions only a few products by name, including the AMXhome control system and CentraLite’s Jetstream lighting control system.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,103,511, 6,914,893 and 7,697,492, which relate to remote monitoring and control systems.

The ’511 Patent is directed to a wireless communication system for use in an automated monitoring system. 

Claim 1 of the ’511 Patent is directed to a system comprising a plurality of wireless transceivers, each having an associated unique identifier, that receive sensor data from remote devices and transmit the unique identifier and the sensor data signal to a site controller that passes on the information to a wide area network and ultimately to a host computer.

The ’893 Patent description is representative of the inventions in the asserted patents and discloses a control system (200) that includes several stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221) and integrated transceivers (212, 214, 216, 222, 224). 

The integrated and stand-alone transceivers are configured to receive an incoming RF transmission (from remote devices) and to transmit an outgoing signal.  

 

Local gateways (210, 220) receive remote data transmissions from the integrated or stand-alone transceivers, analyze the transmissions, convert them into TCP/IP format for internet transmission and communicate the transmissions via wide area network, or WAN (230).

According to the ’893 Patent, this system improves upon prior systems that required the development and installation of an application-specific local system controller and were susceptible to a single point of failure if the local controller breaks down. 

I suspect we’ll see more of Sipco and its patents in the near future.  With each new lawsuit, Sipco further establishes itself and its remote monitoring systems patent portfolio as a force to be reckoned with in the burgeoning smart grid and energy management solutions industry.

Grid Net Attracts Big Name Investors, Leaves Policy to Utilities

April 19th, 2010

 logo-grid-net.png

Greentech Media recently reported that Cisco has joined Intel and GE in making equity investments in broadband smart grid startup Grid Net.

According to Grid Net’s web site, the company’s “software platforms provide an online, real-time view and control of the Smart Grid network.” 

The company’s PolicyNet software centralizes management and control of “enterprise policies,” AKA business rules, that can be used in connection with millions of smart grid devices. 

Grid Net owns a couple of U.S. patent applications, including Application Pub. No. 2008/0219239 (’239 Application), which appears to cover the PolicyNet product.

The ’239 Application is entitled “Policy-based utility networking” and is directed to systems and methods for policy-based networking of an electric grid. 

The ’239 Application describes a policy-based residential networked meter such as an energy switch router device.  To make your head spin for just a moment, the application says the device:

serves as an essential internetworked, intelligent, sensor, meter, recorder, controller, policy enforcer, and service delivery platform device that is coupled to a predictive, self-adaptive, self-optimizing, fault-sensing, self-healing, and secure intelligent electric grid infrastructure

Got all that?  Essentially, the disclosed policy networking system allows a utility company to integrate many different smart grid and metering features into a single device. 

The utility can then control and manage it all according to its chosen “policy,” i.e., the rules, conditions and actions the utility implements for, say, optimizing the energy efficiency of its customers.

Partial and full acquisitions of smart grid startups are increasingly commonplace.  Another Greentech Media article reported that EnerNoc also bought a few startups recently, including a Colorado energy management startup called SmallFoot.

Florida Power & Light Accused of Infringing Smart Grid Patents

August 19th, 2009

Sipco LLC (Sipco) is an Atlanta, Georgia-based developer of wireless mesh technology. 

Last month Sipco sued Florida Power & Light Co. and FPL Group Inc. (collectively “FPL”) in federal court in Miami, alleging that the wireless network technology in the utility’s smart grid system infringes three Sipco patents relating to smart grid technology.  According to the complaint (sipco_complaint.pdf), the infringing technology is being used as part of the Energy Smart Miami initiative to implement smart grid technology in Miami-Dade County.

The family of patents-in-suit comprises U.S. Patent Nos. 6,437,692, 7,053,767 and 7,468,661, each entitled “System and method for monitoring and controlling remote devices” (collectively “Sipco Patents”).

The Sipco Patents are directed to cost effective methods and systems for collecting, formatting and monitoring data from remote devices.  A control system (200) consists of one or more sensor/actuators (212, 214, 216, 222, 224) each integrated with a (preferably RF, or radio frequency) transceiver.  The control system also includes stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221). 

 

The integrated and stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221) are configured to receive an incoming RF transmission (from remote devices) and to transmit an outgoing signal.  Local gateways (210, 220) receive remote data transmissions from the integrated or stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221), analyze the transmissions, convert them into TCP/IP format for internet transmission and communicate the transmissions via wide area network, or WAN (230).

According to the Sipco Patents, having the local gateways (210, 220) permanently integrated with the WAN (230) allows the server (260) to host application specific software that previously had to be hosted in application specific local controllers.  The Sipco Patents explain:

…the data monitoring and control devices of the present invention need not be disposed in a permanent location as long as they remain within signal range of a system compatible transceiver that subsequently is within signal range of a local gateway interconnected through one or more networks to server 260. 

The patented system avoids the expense of installing and connecting local networks of sensors, actuators and controllers, as was previously done in control system solutions for distributed systems.

The complaint alleges willful infringement and seeks treble damages and injunctive relief.