Archive for the ‘Solar Power’ category

Class Action Suit Says Sunrun’s Electricity Price Ain’t Right

March 11th, 2013

A Greentech Media piece picked up an interesting item:  a recently filed class action lawsuit accusing residential solar provider Sunrun of making deceptive statements about the rising cost of electricity to make its solar installations more attractive to consumers.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Sunrun’s central marketing message is that increases in electricity prices will result in cost savings for customers who have Sunrun solar systems installed at their homes.  But, according to the complaint, Sunrun “deceptively states with certainty something that is inherently unknowable.”

Class plaintiffs quote the following excerpts from Sunrun’s web site:

You already pay a lot for electricity today.  In the future, you’ll pay even more.  Nationwide, electricity rates have been increasing 6% per year over the last thirty years.  When you go solar, you take control of your electricity costs and opt out of utility rate increases.  You’ll save money with solar by locking in a lower rate for your electricity than you will pay for the next thirty years.  Many Sunrun customers start saving money right away.

How much money will I save with Sunrun?  …your solar electricity rate is fixed and will rise very gradually.  This means as your utility rate increases its rates over time, the amount of money you’ll save with Sunrun will also increase over the life of your agreement.

According to the complaint, the representations that consumers would save money due to increasing electricity prices was misleading because, for example, energy prices at Southern California Edison have leveled off in recent years.  The complaint also cites a number of articles reporting that natural gas prices have fallen considerably recently due to increased shale gas production.

Perhaps most salient is this short piece on, quoted in the complaint, in which Jeff Mayer, the CEO of UK company Soluxe Solar says:

Most leasing contracts are sold on the assumption that the consumer will save money because utility costs are expected to increase over the years.  But, the truth is that utility prices have been flat to down and consumers are being misled.

According to the complaint, customers whose current electricity prices are not as high as estimated by Sunrun are already losing out, and those whose electricity prices do not rise as expected in the future will also experience this cost disadvantage.  Ultimately, however, even if Sunrun’s customers do not end up paying more for solar, the company’s unequivocal marketing message is still false and misleading:

But whether the cost disadvantage is experienced or not, the promise of a system sure to result in cost advantage was false when made and likely to deceive consumers into leasing a system they otherwise would not have.

One difficult question is how to classify this case.  At bottom, it’s really about economics, not environmental benefits, so greenwashing is not a comfortable fit.  But to the extent the cost savings at issue flow from renewable energy equipment, perhaps it’s not unreasonable to label it as some form of greenwashing.

The alleged deception here relates to electricity prices generally, which are mostly driven by fossil fuel production.  So the allegations are probably closest to reverse greenwashing, which I define as allegedly false or misleading statements not about environmental benefits, but about the negative environmental impact of certain products or services (keeping in mind the caveat, of course, that the adverse impact alleged here is economic, not environmental).

For more on reverse greenwashing, see my initial post on the ChicoBag case here.

To Preserve or Recycle: Konarka and the Treatment of IP Rights in Bankruptcy

July 24th, 2012


As the number of green technology bankruptcies continues to rise, an important consideration for these companies, their business partners, and their creditors is the treatment of IP rights in bankruptcy. 

For example, with companies engaged in new research and development, often through collaborations with other companies, how does the bankruptcy process effect the estate’s IP rights?  And how might the bankruptcy effect the rights of its licensees and development partners? 

The topic recently came to mind, with reports regarding the bankruptcy of Konarka Technologies, Inc. (“Konarka”).

I.  The Konarka Bankruptcy

Konarka, which declared bankruptcy in June, was a pioneer in the area of thin-film organic photovoltaic materials, which might be used in any number of ways, including for clothes or bags, textiles for curtains, and even building materials. 

Konarka’s technology web page explains its technology as follows:

[a]t the heart of Konarka’s technology is a photo-reactive polymer material invented by Konarka co-founder and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Alan Heeger.  This proprietary material can be printed or coated inexpensively onto flexible substrates using roll-to-roll manufacturing, similar to the way newspaper is printed on large rolls of paper.

With respect to its bankruptcy, Konarka’s press release noted the company’s assets include a lot of IP in addition to its manufacturing facility:

Among the Company’s assets are over hundreds of owned and licensed patents and patent applications in the field of solar energy and a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Press releases and articles suggest that Konarka made a serious and continued effort to develop and commercialize its innovative materials. 

For example, Konarka had taken exclusive licenses on IP concerning photovoltaic applications and photoactive polymers from (respectively) DuPont Displays (in 2007) and Université Laval (in 2008). 

Further, Konarka’s polymer-based, organic photovoltaic (OPV) technology had been incorporated into a number of products, including solar energy bags (with Neuber’s Energy), curtain walls (with Arch Aluminum & Glass), as well as roofs, skylights, and facades (with ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe).

II.  Protection for IP Licensees

Normally, bankruptcy raises red flags for any company that’s in business with the company seeking bankruptcy protection. 

Generally speaking, a bankruptcy trustee has the right to accept (and thereby assume) or terminate (and thereby reject) the company’s executory contracts.  An executory contract is a contract that has on-going performance obligations, such as a business lease, a service contract,  equipment leases, development contracts, and intellectual property licenses. 

So while the other party has to keep performing, the bankruptcy trustee has the option of terminating an agreement that might be very important to your company’s well-being.  (And if the trustee does terminate, the other party is left with an unsecured bankruptcy claim  for breach of contract, which is likely a poor alternative for a material lease, equipment rental, license, or some other right.)

Fortunately, there is some measure of relief for IP licensees.  In a 1985 decision called Lubrizol Enterprises  v. Richmond Metal Finishers, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that non-exclusive licenses are executory contracts, which a bankruptcy trustee may reject.   

The Fourth Circuit also held that the former licensee didn’t have any right to seek specific performance under the license. 

In response to the Lubrizol decision, Congress adopted Section 365(n) of the Bankruptcy Act, which provides that a licensee may elect:

(A)   to treat such contract as terminated by such rejection if such rejection by the trustee amounts to such a breach as would entitle the licensee to treat such contract as terminated by virtue of its own terms, applicable nonbankruptcy law, or an agreement made by the licensee with another entity; or

(B)   to retain its rights (including a right to enforce any exclusivity provision of such contract, but excluding any other right under applicable nonbankruptcy law to specific performance of such contract) under such contract and under any agreement supplementary to such contract, to such intellectual property (including any embodiment of such intellectual property to the extent protected by applicable nonbankruptcy law), as such rights existed immediately before the case commenced, for—

                                 i.      the duration of such contract; and

                                 ii.      any period for which such contract may be extended by the licensee as of right under applicable nonbankruptcy law.

Section 365(n) is quite remarkable, in that it is a significant exception from the bankruptcy trustee’s typical authority and is an important protection for IP licensees. 

There are some important caveats to consider, however, before relying on the protections of Section 365(n).  First, the Bankruptcy Act’s definition of “intellectual property” does not include trademarks (it does include trade secrets, patents, patent applications, plant variety, copyrights, and mask works). 

Second, Section 365(n) presumably does not prevent the termination of related rights or obligations, such as enforcement agreements, technology transfers, and service agreements. 

Third, Section 365(n) does not automatically apply to licenses by foreign licensors (even if it’s a license of U.S. patents). 

Fourth, and lastly, Section 365(n) does not say IP licenses aren’t terminable.  It instead says that, if the bankruptcy entity seeks to terminate the license, a licensee may elect to retain its rights.  And since this implicates an affirmative action, it’s important that a licensee monitor its licensor’s bankruptcy, to determine whether it becomes necessary to make an appearance to protect its rights.

With respect to Konarka, we’ll continue to monitor the bankruptcy proceeding and report back here, as the bankruptcy plan is published and we learn whether and how Konarka plans to dispose of its substantial patent portfolio (and whether licensees step in to preserve any rights).

Adrian Mollo is a Partner in the Washington office of McKenna Long & Aldridge.  Mr. Mollo’s practice focuses on patent licensing, strategic patent planning, intellectual property due diligence, related corporate counseling, and intellectual property litigation.


More Downstream Solar Patent Lit: SolarDock Sues Former Disciples of the Mount

July 17th, 2012

Blue Sunny Skies and Sun Energy Partners f/k/a McConnell Energy Solutions and d/b/a SolarDock is a Delaware company that makes solar module mounting systems.

SolarDock owns U.S. Patent No. 6,968,654, entitled “Solar panel mounting structure, solar panel system, and methods of making and installing thereof” (‘654 Patent).

In a recent complaint filed in federal court in Delaware, SolarDock accused, inter alia, PV Thermal Solar, MJM Fabrications (MJM) and Dave Lewenz (a former independent contractor for SolarDock) of infringing the ‘654 Patent.

According to SolarDock’s Complaint, Michael Moulder, a co-inventor named on the ‘654 Patent, assigned the patent to McConnell Energy Solutions (which subsequently assigned it to Blue Sunny Skies) and later formed MJM, which is making infringing SolarDock systems.

SolarDock also alleges that PV Thermal Solar, co-founded by Lewenz and Moulder, is selling infringing solar racking systems:

Further upon information and belief, PV, through its division SR2, used SOLARDOCK’S proprietary and confidential information to create racking systems that compete directly with the SolarDock system and fall within the scope of one or more claims of the ‘654 patent.  Such racking systems include SR2’s SolarRac2 system.

The ‘654 Patent is directed to a solar panel unit (100) comprising a mounting structure (10) and a solar panel (P) supported by the mounting structure. 

The frame (12) of the mounting structure (10) includes a front wall (20), a bottom wall (22), and a back wall (24) forming an elongated chamber (26).  First and second panel supports (30, 32) support the panel (P).

The front wall (20) of the mounting structure (10) is arranged to face a direction of the predominant supply of sunlight, and the inclination angle (α) of the mounting structure (10) can be preselected according to the latitude of the installation site.

According to the ‘654 Patent, the panel unit’s simple design confers several advantages.  First, it makes the unit easy and inexpensive to manufacture.  In addition, installation is quick and easy and requires minimal skill.  Finally, the mounting structure is very light in weight and can be transported easily by a single technician.

This case is another recent example of solar patent litigation moving downstream to disputes over mounting systems.  A major patent war between Zep Solar and Westinghouse Solar (formerly Akeena Solar) recently settled.

Zep and Westinghouse Break Mounting Tension with Comprehensive Settlement

June 13th, 2012


Previous posts (here, here and here) discussed the patent litigation between Zep Solar and Westinghouse Solar over solar panel mounting technology.  The contentious dispute involved at least three patents, three forums, two reexaminations, and back and forth cross claims of infringement and invalidity.

Recently, Zep and Westinghouse announced that they have reached a comprehensive settlement to end their patent battles. 

In a joint statement, the companies said the agreement would result in dismissal of all actions, which included proceedings in federal courts, the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The statement also indicated that the settlement extends to all customers, suppliers and licensees of both Zep and Westinghouse that were named parties in any of the legal actions.

The asserted Westinghouse patents were U.S. Patents Nos. 7,406,800 (‘800 Patent) and 7,987,641 (‘641 Patent).  Both cover what Westinghouse refers to as the “Andalay System,” a solar power system which includes solar panels with integrated racking, wiring and grounding (DC solar panels), and integrated microinverters (AC solar panels) for residential and commercial customers.

Zep had asserted U.S. Patent No. 7,592,537, entitled “Method and apparatus for mounting photovoltaic modules” and directed to an interlocking PV module array.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

June 9th, 2012

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



Butamax Advanced Biofuels, LLC v. Gevo, Inc.

On May 15, 2012, Butamax filed suit against Gevo in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware alleging Gevo is infringing one of its patents related to the production of isobutanol using recombinant microorganisms. 

This suit is the latest in the expanding litigation between Gevo and Butamax (see, e.g., previous posts here, here, here, here, and the post on Butamax’s opening shot).

The asserted patent is U.S. Patent No. 8,178,328, entitled “Fermentive Production of Four Carbon Alcohols” (‘328 Patent).  The ‘328 Patent is the latest in a family of patents – including U.S. Patent Nos. 7,993,889 and 7,851,188  – that Butamax has been asserting against Gevo.

According to the Butamax complaint, the ‘328 Patent discloses and claims certain recombinant microbial host cells comprising an engineered isobutanol biosynthetic pathway.

Butamax alleges that Gevo uses recombinant microbial host cells capable of producing isobutanol that embody the invention in the ‘328 Patent, and that Gevo’s U.S. Patent No. 8,097,440 includes examples of such infringing host cells.

Gevo is seeking a judgment that Gevo infringes the ‘328 Patent, preliminary and permanent injunctions, and monetary damages.


Neste Oil Oyj v. Dynamic Fuels, LLC et al.

Neste Oil Oyj filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware on May 29, 2012 against Dynamic Fuels, Syntroleum Corporation and Tyson Foods, alleging Defendants’ synthetic renewable diesel fuels infringe U.S. Patent No. 8,187,344 (‘344 Patent).

The ‘344 Patent is entitled “Fuel Composition for a Diesel Engine” and directed to diesel fuels made from animal, plant, or fish fatty acids.

Dynamic Fuels is a joint venture of Syntroleum and Tyson Foods that operates refineries capable of producing allegedly infringing synthetic renewable diesel fuels using the necessary biological feedstock.

According to the Neste complaint, the Dynamic Fuels plant has produced substantial volumes of the accused product over the past couple of years.

Neste  is seeking a judgement of infringement of the ‘344 Patent, a permanent injunction, and monetary damages.



Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation et al. v. Power Integrations, Inc.

Filed May 1, 2012 in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation and System General Corporation’s (collectively “Fairchild”) complaint alleges that Power Integrations infringes four patents owned by Fairchild:

U.S. Patent No. 7,525,259, entitled “Primary Side Regulated Power Supply System With Constant Current Output” (‘259 Patent);

U.S. Patent No. 7,286,123, entitled “LED Driver Circuit Having Temperature Consideration” (‘123 Patent);

U.S. Patent No. 7,616,461, entitled “Control Method and Circuit with Indirect Input Voltage Detection by Switching Current Slope Detection” (‘461 Patent); and

U.S. Patent No. 7,259,972, entitled “Primary-Side-Control Power Converter Having a Switching Controller Using Frequency Hopping and Voltage and Current Control Loops” (‘972 Patent).

Fairchild alleges that Power Integrations’ LinkSwitch-PH controllers infringe the ‘259, ‘123, and ‘461 Patents.

According to Fairchild’s complaint, Power Integrations’ LinkSwitch-II and Linkswitch-CV devices were previously found to infringe claims 6, 7, 18, and 19 of the ‘972 Patent.  

However, Fairchild alleges that the same day, Power Integrations issued a press release encouraging customers to continue using the infringing products by stating that its customers are unaffected by the verdict. As such, Fairchild claims that Power Integrations is now inducing infringement of claims 6, 7, 18, and 19 of the ‘972 Patent.

Fairchild is seeking a judgment of infringement, an injunction, and monetary damages.


Ruud Lighting, Inc. v. Cooper Lighting, LLC

On May 23, 2012, Ruud Lighting filed suit against Cooper Lighting in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin seeking a permanent injunction and monetary damages for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,952,262 (‘262 Patent).

Entitled “Modular LED Unit Incorporating Interconnected Heat Sinks Configured to Mount and Hold Adjacent LED Modules,” the ‘262 Patent is directed to a modular LED unit including one or more LED modules, each bearing an array of LEDs and secured to a heat sink.

Ruud manufactures and sells numerous LED products embodying the invention of the ‘262 Patent for area and street lighting applications and certain floodlight lighting products.

According to the Ruud complaint, Cooper sells a product known as its “Generation Series LED Post Top Luminaire,” which infringes the ‘262 Patent.



Rena GMBH v. M.E. Baker Company

Rena GMBH filed suit against M.E. Baker Company on May 3, 2012 in  the United States District Court for the Central District of California.  Rena is alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,943,526, entitled “Process for the Wet-Chemical Treatment of One Side Silicon Wafers” (‘526 Patent).

The ‘526 Patent is directecd to a process for wet-chemical treatment of one side of a silicon wafer using a liquid bath.  The patented invention improves upon prior processes for protecting or masking the surfaces that are not to be chemically treated.

According to the Rena Complaint, M.E. Baker Company’s treatment process infringes the ‘526 Patent. 

Rena GMBH is seeking a permanent injunction and monetary damages


Water Purification

Calgon Carbon Corporation et al. v. Remote Light Water, Inc.

Calgon Carbon Corporation and Hyde Marine, Inc. (collectively “Calgon”) filed suit against Remote Light Water (RLW), seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement and invalidity of RLW’s U.S. Patents Nos. 6,447,721 (‘721 Patent) and 6,403,030 (‘030 Patent).

Filed May 8, 2012 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Calgon’s Complaint alleges that counsel for RLW sent a letter offering Calgon a license under the ‘721 and ‘030 Patents for Calgon’s Sentinal UV drinking water disinfectant product.

The ‘721 Patent describes a UV disinfection system comprising at least one light source with controllable UV light output that has at least one UV dose zone for providing effective sterilization of microorganisms within the water.  The ‘030 Patent describes a similar process effective for treating waste-containing fluid.

According to the Complaint, Calgon has reasonable apprehension that RLW will sue for infringement because RLW is “in the business of enforcing its patent portfolio through litigation.” 

*Jeff Woodley is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  Jeff is a summer associate at McKenna Long & Aldridge and is currently in his final year at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.  He received his undergraduate degree in Economics also from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Little “e” is Key as eSolar eNforces eCo-mark

June 2nd, 2012

eSolar is a Burbank, California, solar thermal company that makes solar power plants using flat mirrors, or heliostats, to concentrate sunlight onto a centrally located water tank suspended on a tower.  This type of structure is known as “power tower” architecture.

The company owns U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,828,737 for the ESOLAR word mark for, inter alia, “power plants” in Class 11, “capturing and conversion of solar energy into electricity and steam” and “generation and production of energy” in Class 40, and power plant design, development and consulting services and power plant engineering services in Class 42 (‘737 Registration).

Last month eSolar sued eSolar Exchange, an online marketplace for renewable energy projects, for trademark infringement.  According to the eSolar Complaint, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, eSolar Exchange’s use of the ESOLAR mark in its domain name and on its web site in connection with services directly related to solar and renewable energy infringes the ‘737 Registration.

eSolar alleges that the defendant’s use of a lower-case “e” is a compelling indicator of infringement:

Defendant’s use of the ESOLAR Mark with a lower-case “e” in connection with the capitalized word “Solar” is virtually identical to the manner in which eSolar uses the ESOLAR Mark, further demonstrating Defendant’s infringing conduct.

Founded in 2007, eSolar has seen much success in business deals to implement and deploy its technology.  A major one, which was at the time the biggest solar thermal deal ever, is a master licensing agreement with Chinese electrical power equipment manufacturer Penglai Electric (Penglai).

Obviously that success has made eSolar a valuable green brand and one worth protecting.

Green Off-Patent Report (Powered by Cleantech PatentEdge)

April 20th, 2012

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

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

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

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

U.S. Patent No. 5,354,477 (Water Purification) entitled “Low Molecular Weight Amines and Amine Quaternaries for the Removal of Soluble Organics in Oil Field Produced Water.”  The patent describes a method for removing hydrocarbons from water by injecting low molecular weight amines and preferably amine quaternaries with strong acids into an oil and water mixture to remove oil based salts.  Filed April 7, 1992; issued October 11, 1994; expired April 7, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,324,433 (Soil/Water Restoration) entitled “In-situ Restoration of Contaminated Soils and Groundwater.”  The patent describes a method for removing and stabilizing in-situ soluble heavy metal contaminants from soil and groundwater by injecting an aqueous solution of naturally occurring ions.  The solution solubilizes the heavy metals into solution where they can be removed.  Filed April 16, 1992; issued June 28, 1994; expired April 16, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,261,970 (Photovoltaic Cells) entitled “Optoelectronic and Photovoltaic Devices with Low-Reflective Surfaces.”  The patent describes photovoltaic devices with low angle ‘V’ shaped grooves on the target surfaces.  The grooves increase the efficiency of the devices by promoting internal reflection of light from the target surface at the interface of the coverglass.”  Filed April 8, 1992; issued November 16, 1993; expired April 8, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,260,588 (LEDs) entitled “Light Emitting Diode.”  The patent describes a light emitting diode formed as reverse mesas with mirrored sloping surfaces which reflect light in the direction of the light emitting diode surface, improving the efficiency of each diode.  Filed April 14, 1992; issued November 9, 1993; expired April 14, 2012.

U.S. Patent No. 5,317,979 (Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction) entitled “Method and Apparatus for the Complete, Dry Desulphurization of Combustion Waste Gases Comprising SO2 and Dust.”  The patent describes a method for removing SO2 from the combustion waste gases of coal dust.  The process includes heating the gas quickly to a temperature below the sintering temperature of the fly ash, then cooling the gas to a temperature where the distance between the temperature and the dew point is low and is below 25 degrees C.  This binds the SO2 gas to the ash, cleaning it from the combustion waste gas.  Filed April 16, 1992; issueed June 7, 1994; expired April 16, 2012.

David Gibbs is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  David is currently in his third and final year at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.  He received his undergraduate degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Shooting Ions at Wafers: Will Ion Implantation Be the Next Upstream Solar Patent Battleground?

April 16th, 2012


As noted in a previous post, solar patent litigation has begun to move upstream to encompass photovoltaic manufacturing equipment. 

Some recent public statements by PV production equipment maker Silicon Genesis (SiGen) about startup equipment vendor Twin Creeks Technologies (Twin Creeks) hint at more upstream solar patent trouble on the horizon. 

This Greentech Media story quotes a SiGen press release in which the company said it was “closely following” Twin Creeks announcements of a process “similar to [SiGen’s] beam-induced wafering…”  Additional SiGen statements and intimations included the following:

As the pioneers of beam-induced wafering and assuming it is not utilizing any of our technology embodied in our 100+ U.S. patent portfolio which we are monitoring…

The fact that Twin Creeks Technologies was founded by a venture capital firm shortly after it evaluated SiGen’s beam-induced wafering business plan and technology, including our prototype 2 million electron volt implanter is of concern.

According to Cleantech PatentEdge™, SiGen owns at least 24 US, European, and international patents and applications, including U.S. Patent No. 7,687,786, entitled “Ion implanter for non-circular wafers” and 7,750,322, entitled “Ion implanter for photovoltaic cell fabrication” (Ion Implanter Patents).

The Ion Implanter Patents are directed to an ion implanter (100) comprising an ion source (120), a high-voltage extraction assembly (130), a dipole filter magnet (140), an accelerator (150), and an endstation (160).  The accelerator (150) applies an accelerating voltage between the dipole filter magnet (140) and the endstation (160).

This brings ions in the ion beam (145) to the implant energy necessary to shoot the ions into a silicon wafer before they reach the endstation (160).  The endstation (160) includes a disk (162) with pads (182) disposed around it.  The ion beam (145) irradiates silicon wafers disposed on the disk between inside circle (184) and outside circle (186), and the ions settle into the wafers at a finite depth. 

According to the same Greentech Media piece, the ions are then heated, and the result is a silicon wafer that cleaves off the substrate along the crystalline plane.

According to Cleantech PatentEdge™, Twin Creeks owns 48 US, European, and international patents and applications, including two recently issued patents relating to ion implanters, U.S. Patent Nos. 7,989,784, entitled “Ion implantation apparatus and a method” and 8,044,374, entitled “Ion implantation apparatus” (Implantation Apparatus Patents).

The Implantation Apparatus Patents are directed to an ion implantation apparatus comprising a process chamber (10) having part spherical upper and lower walls (12, 13), a high-voltage enclosure (15), and an accelerator tube (18), which interconnects the the high voltage part of the vacuum chamber within the enclosure (15) and the process chamber (10). 

The process chamber (10) contains a process wheel (14).  Substrates for processing are carried in the process chamber (10) about the periphery of the wheel (14).

A beam of ions for implantation is produced in an ion source structure (16) within the high voltage enclosure (15) and directed into the magnet structure (17).  The magnet structure (17) bends the ion beam so that unwanted ions can be filtered from the continuing beam, which is directed towards the process chamber (10).

The acclerator tube (18) includes an electrically insulating element to allow the ion source and structures (16, 17) to be held at very high voltage and contains electrostatically biased electrodes to accelerate the ion beam to the required implant energy for delivery to the process chamber (10).

As mentioned above, solar cell manufacturing equipment has previously been the subject of patent litigation.  One lawsuit involved competitors Despatch Industries and TP Solar (TP) and their manufacturing equipment used for heat-treating silicon wafers for solar cells.  That case ended in a victory for TP.

Ion implantation may be the next upstream solar patent battleground.

USPTO Throws Out Westinghouse Solar Mounting System Patent on Reexam

March 23rd, 2012

Previous posts (here and here) discussed the U.S. International Trade Commission case between solar installation competitors Westinghouse Solar (formerly Akeena Solar) and Zep Solar (Zep) involving two Westinghouse patents, U.S. Patents Nos. 7,406,800 (‘800 Patent) and 7,987,641 (‘641 Patent).

Both patents cover what Westinghouse refers to as its “Andalay System,” a solar power system which includes solar panels with integrated racking, wiring and grounding (DC solar panels), and integrated microinverters (AC solar panels) for residential and commercial customers.

In August 2011 Zep asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to re-examine the ‘641 Patent, entitled “Mounting system for a solar panel.”

In a recent Action Closing Prosecution, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office threw out the entire patent, rejecting all three claims of the ‘641 Patent as invalid in view of a number of prior art references.

The ‘641 Patent is directed to an integrated solar module frame and racking system.  Claim 1, the only independent claim of the patent, reads:

1. A solar module comprising:

a body portion having a frame;

one or more splices, wherein each splice couples the frame of the body portion rigidly to a frame of the body portion of an adjacent solar module;

a bracket that securely attaches the solar module to a roof wherein the bracket is located along any portion of the frame;

wherein each splice further comprises a body for coupling the frames of the solar module and the adjacent solar module together and a securing mechanism for securing the frames of the solar module and the adjacent solar module together.

FIG. 2 of the ‘641 Patent (reproduced below) shows three modules (102A-102C) coupled together to form an integrated system.  A splice (104e) mechanically connects one module to another and provides the electrical grounding connection between the solar modules.  The unlabeled component shown at the bottom of FIG. 2 is the bracket.


The Action Closing Prosecution rejected the claims of the ‘641 Patent as anticipated and obvious over several prior art patents, including U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2002/0112435 to Hartman, U.S. Patent No. 4,215,677 to Erickson, U.S. Patent No. 5,232,518 to Nath, U.S. Patent No. 4,312,325 to Voges, and Japanese Patent Application No. 10-266499 to Ito.

Westinghouse can appeal the Action to the USPTO Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

March 8th, 2012


There have been several green patent complaints filed in the past few weeks in the fields of hybrid vehicles, solar power, LEDs, and wastewater treatment.


Hybrid Vehicles

Paice LLC et al. v. Hyundai Motor Company et al.

On February 16, 2012, Paice filed suit against Hyundai and Kia in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division.  The Paice-Hyundai_Complaint alleges Hyundai and Kia infringed three of Paice’s patents relating to hybrid vehicles.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,237,634, 7,104,347, and 7,559,388.  All three patents are entitled “Hybrid Vehicles”.  The patents cover hybrid electric vehicles utilizing an internal combustion engine with series parallel electric motors, regenerative braking, and control circuitry.

Paice claims all three patents are infringed in Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid and Kia’s Optima Hybrid vehicles and seeks both injunctive relief and monetary damages.

This case is a major return to patent enforcement for Paice.  The company settled its litigation with Toyota in 2010 after Toyota agreed to take a license to Paice’s entire patent portfolio.


Solar Power

Solannex, Inc. v. Miasole, Inc.

Filed on February 21, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, Solannex’s Complaint (Complaint) alleges that Miasole infringes two of its patents relating to photovoltaic cells.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent No. 8,076,568 entitled “Collector Grid and Interconnect Structures for Photovoltaic Array and Modules:, and U.S. Patent No. 8,110,737 entitled “Collector Grid Electrode Structures and Interconnect Structures for Photovoltaic Arrays and Methods of Manufacture”.

According to the complaint, the two patents relate to “interconnections of multiple photovoltaic cells.”  Solannex asserts that several products in Miasole’s MR-Series and MS-Series product lines are infringing.  Solannex is seeking both injunctive relief and monetary damages.

Solannex sued Miasole in January 2011 over a related patent



Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd. v. Formosa Epitaxy, Inc.

On February 21, 2012, Toyoda filed a complaint against Formosa in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, alleging infringement of eight patents relating to LEDs.

According to the complaint (Toyoda_Gosei_Complaint), the following three patents describe, among other things, “a light-emitting semiconductor device … designed to improve luminous intensity and to obtain a purer blue color”:

U.S. Patent No. 6,005,258 entitled “Light-Emitting Semiconductor Device Using Group III Nitrogen Compound Having Emission Layer Doped with Donor and Acceptor Impurities”;

U.S. Patent No. 6,265,726 entitled “Light-Emitting Aluminum Gallium Indium Nitride Compound Semiconductor Device Having an Improved Luminous Intensity”; and

U.S. Patent No. 7,138,286 entitled “Light-Emitting Semiconductor Device Using Group III Nitrogen Compound” (‘286 Patent).

The complaint describes the following patent as “a light-emitting semiconductor device having an improved metal electrode and semiconductor structure that lowers the driving voltage of the device”:

U.S. Patent No. 5,753,939 entitled “Light-Emitting Semiconductor Device Using a Group III Nitride Compound and Having a Contact Layer upon which an Electrode is Formed”.

The following two patents are described as a “method of manufacturing a semiconductor light-emitting device”:

U.S. Patent No. 6,040,588 entitled “Semiconductor Light-Emitting Device”; and

U.S. Patent No. 6,420,733 entitled “Semiconductor Light-Emitting Device and Manufacturing Method Thereof”.

Finally, the complaint describes the following patents as “’LED[‘s] ha[ving] a thin highly resistive or insulative layer formed below an electrode pad in order to divert current flow from the region below an electrode pad’ to obtain better current efficiency”:

U.S. Patent No. 6,191,436 entitled “Optical Semiconductor Device”; and

U.S. Patent No. 6,933,169 entitled “Optical Semiconductor Device”.

Toyoda is seeking both injunctive relief and monetary damages.


Solar Power / LEDs

Jiawei Technology (USA) et al. v. Adventive Ideas, LLC.

On February 8, 2012, Jiawei filed a complaint for declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement (Jiawei_Complaint) against Adventive in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.  Jiawei is seeking judgment declaring Adventive’s patents invalid and, in the alternative, that they have not been infringed.

The patents at issue are U.S. Patent Nos.:

7,196,477, entitled “Solar Powered Light Assembly to Produce Light of Varying Colors”, describing a garden light which has three different colored LEDs that are activated to produce a varying color light;

7,336,157, entitled “Illuminated Wind Indicator”, which provides for a solar powered visual indicator of wind motion at night by way of an illuminated pendulum assembly in a wind chime;

7,429,827, entitled “Solar Powered Light Assembly to Produce Light of Varying Colors”, which relates to a garden light which has three LEDs that are activated to produce a varying color light;

7,967,465, entitled “Light Device” which describes a solar powered light enclosed in a translucent housing;

8,077,052, entitled “Illuminated Wind Indicator”, which describes a solar powered visual indicator of wind motion at night by way of an illuminated pendulum assembly in a wind chime;

8,089,370, entitled “Illuminated Wind Indicator”, which provides a visual indicator of wind motion at night by way of an illuminated wind chime and associated circuitry; and

8,104,914, entitled “Light Device”, which describes a solar powered light device with at least one power storage device and associated circuitry.


Wastewater Treatment

Aero-Stream, LLC v. Septicair Aid, LLC et al.

On February 24, 2012, Aero-Stream filed a complaint for patent infringement (Aero-Stream_Complaint) against Septicair Aid in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Aero-Stream asserts Septicair infringes several of its patents relating to septic wastewater treatment systems by offering for sale a “Quad Diffuser Aeration Kit” and “Economy Diffuser”.

The patents at issue are U.S. Patent Nos.:

7,264,727, entitled “Septic System Remediation Method and Apparatus,” describing an apparatus and method of remediating a failing wastewater treatment system;

7,429,320, entitled “Wastewater Treatment System,” describing an apparatus and method of remediating a failing wastewater treatment system;

7,468,135, entitled “Portable Tank Wastewater Treatment System and Method” describing a portable wastewater treatment system comprising a wastewater holding tank and a generator positioned to provide oxygen, or ozone, or a combination of the two to the interior of the holding tank; and

7,718,067 entitled “Septic System Remediation Method and Apparatus” describing an apparatus and method of remediating a failing wastewater treatment system.

Aero-Stream is seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages.

David Gibbs is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  David is currently in his third and final year at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.  He received his undergraduate degree in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley.