Archive for the ‘Solar Power’ category

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.

Guest Post: Richard Finch on Stanford’s Solar Work with Nanoshells

March 1st, 2012

A team of engineers from Stanford University in the US has successfully managed to improve the performance of solar PV materials by using a nanomaterial called nanocrystalline silicon, tiny spheres of which have been used by the scientists to improve the light absorption of solar panels.

The process works on the same basis as the acoustics in the famous ‘Whispering Gallery’ in the US Capitol building.

The process involves creating tiny balls of silica and then coating them with silicon to produce lightweight spheres of silicon.  They then etch away the silicon centre using hydrochloric acid.

The outer shell prevents the light from escaping after it is absorbed allowing it to circulate freely within the sphere.  The longer the sphere can keep the light trapped within it, the better the absorption rate will be.

The material is more cost-efficient than existing PV material as it reduces both the amount of material needed for light absorption and the amount of time spent in manufacturing the material. In fact it uses one-twentieth the amount of crystalline silicon as conventional PV materials.

Three layers of silicon represents an absorption rate of 75 percent while even a single layer is more efficient than existing material.

Furthermore, the silicon spheres can absorb light from different angles, allowing panels to absorb more light from a variety of angles relative to the position of the sun in the sky. This could help in situations where achieving the optimal angle of the sun is not always possible.

Shanhui Fan, an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford, said “Nanocrystalline-silicon is a great photovoltaic material. It has a high electrical efficiency and is durable in the harsh sun. Both have been challenges for other types of thin solar films.”

Yan Yao, a post-doctoral researcher said that the material could also be used for other applications such as solar fuels and photo-detectors.

Richard Finch is a guest blogger on Green Patent Blog.  Richard writes for SolarPages.

In Green Brand Battle U.S. Court Bars Chinese SUN-EARTH Eco-mark

February 28th, 2012


SunEarth (owned and operated by the Solaray Corporation since 1992) has been marketing and selling solar thermal collectors and related components under the SUNEARTH brand since 1978.

In 2009, SunEarth filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) seeking federal trademark protection for the SUNEARTH word mark. 

The USPTO suspended action on the application in view of an earlier filed application owned by Ningbo Solar Electric Power (Ningbo) for the SUN-EARTH (and Design) mark:

Through a predecessor company, Ningbo had been using its SUN-EARTH design mark in China since 1978 and began using the mark in the U.S. in 2004.

A U.S. trademark application filed in 2006 for the SUN-EARTH design mark went abandoned for failure to file a Statement of Use.

In 2008, Ningbo filed a second application to register the SUN-EARTH design mark.  This was the application cited against SunEarth. 

The USPTO granted Ningbo’s second application and issued it as U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,886,941 (’941 Registration) on December 7, 2010.  Ningbo changed its name to Sun-Earth Solar Power (SESP) in 2010.

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.

The court recently granted a preliminary injunction against SESP, prohibiting it from using the SUN-EARTH name or mark in the United States.

According to the Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, although SESP has a presumption of ownership of the SUN-EARTH mark due to its federal registration, SunEarth “[is] likely to be able to prove a protectable ownership interest in the trade name and mark that is senior to that of [SESP].” 

The Court based this on its determination that SunEarth was likely to have been using the SUNEARTH mark in the United States before SESP entered the U.S. market in 2007:

Plaintiffs are likely to be able to establish legally sufficient market penetration over their trade name and mark prior to 2007.

The court also noted that SunEarth had produced some evidence of actual consumer confusion:

In addition to several instances of confusion by trade show organizers, Plaintiffs have proffered more than ten examples of actual customer confusion . . .

This case is a good illustration of the “first to use” system of trademark priority in the United States. 

A federal trademark registration creates a presumption of trademark ownership.  However, that presumption can be rebutted by showing a similar trademark was used by someone else in interstate commerce within the United States before the registered trademark.

This case also highlights the difficulties foreign based clean tech companies may face in protecting their green brands when they decide to enter the U.S. market.  We’re likely to see more of these types of cases, particularly from Chinese companies.

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.

NREL’s Optical Furnace is Heating Up Solar

January 31st, 2012

The photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing process typically requires solar cells to be heated to extremely high temperatures.  Traditional methods for heating involve utilizing conventional electric or infrared furnaces to heat the cells for long periods of time.

The heating process allows for the fabrication of the cells but is very expensive and results in impurities and imperfections in the PV cells.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the only federal laboratory exclusively dedicated to the research, commercialization and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, has developed an optical furnace that may change the solar industry.

The optical furnace is able to heat PV cells more effectively at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, which may result in a higher quality product at a lower cost.

The optical furnace is described in U.S. Patent Number 5,577,157, entitled “Optical Processing Furnace with Quartz Muffle and Diffuser Plate ” (’157 Patent) and U.S. Patent Application Number 2011/0003485, entitled “Optical Cavity Furnace for Semiconductor Wafer Processing” (’485 Application).

Figure 1 of the ’485 Application depicts an embodiment of the optical furnace.  The furnace includes a bank of optical energy sources 12 a-n and reflectors 14 surrounding a transport system 22 enclosed in a cavity 18.

According to both the ’157 Patent and the ’485 Application, it is advantageous if the optical reflectors are made of a diffuse rather than a specular material.  A diffuse reflector is advantageous becuase it ensures the optical energy is reflected evenly within the furnace cavity with a minimum of energy loss.

Figure 2 of the ’157 Patent shows another view of the optical furnace.  The figure shows a bank of optical energy sources 21 above the furnace cavity 7.  The cavity consists of a diffuse reflector box 15, 16, 17, 18 made of quartz, called the quartz box or muffle. 

The figure also depicts a diffuser plate 9.  The diffuser plate is also made of quartz and is placed on top of the quartz muffle in order to protect the muffle from the high energy released by the optical energy sources. 

If the quartz muffle were to be damaged, replacement costs would be very high and the process would be time consuming.  The diffuser plate is designed to be quickly and inexpensively replaced when damage occurs.

According to NREL, their optical furnace can potentially increase PV efficiency by four percentage points (from 16 to 20 percent).  This would represent a major increase in efficiency.

Further, NREL is working in conjunction with AOS, Inc. to produce a manufacturing sized furnace. NREL anticipates this manufacturing furnace will be able to produce 1,200 highly efficient solar cells per hour.  The increase in efficiency and manufacturer-scale production will all occur at a quarter of traditional PV manufacturing costs.

These improvements and reduced costs will hopefully mean better and less expensive PV cells on the market in the near future.

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.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

January 29th, 2012

There have been a few green patent complaints filed in the last several weeks in the areas of LEDs, solar power, and biofuels.



Fiber Optic Designs, Inc. v. Seasons 4, Inc.

Filed December 16, 2011 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Fiber Optic Designs’ (FOD) complaint (FiberOptic_Complaint) alleges that Seasons 4 is infringing two patents directed to light strings containing light emitting diodes. 

The two asserted patents are of the same family, U.S. Patents Nos. 7,220,022 and 7,934,852, both entitled “Jacketed LED assemblies and light strings containing same.”



Zep Solar Inc. v. Westinghouse Solar Inc.

In the latest missive in this growing legal battle, Zep has asserted U.S. Patent No. 7,592,537 (’537 Patent) against Westinghouse (formerly Akeena Solar).  The ’537 Patent is entitled “Method and apparatus for mounting photovoltaic modules” and is directed to an interlocking PV module array.

Although the complaint is not publicly available, we have this Filing Report (Zep-Westinghouse_Report) and Westinghouse’s Answer (Westinghouse_Answer) in the case, filed December 20, 2011 in the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division.

The accused device is Westinghouse’s Andalay Groove Interlock product, and other named defendants are Andalay Solar, Lightway Green New Energy, Brightway Global, Morrison Supply Company, Sky Solar Solutions, and Alternative Power & Electric. 

This lawsuit follows other actions between these two competing solar installers (see more details in a previous post here), which now have cross claims of patent infringement in multiple forums.



Gevo, Inc. v. Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC

Another growing patent dispute is the one between Butamax, a BP-DuPont joint venture, and Colorado advanced biofuels startup Gevo (read prior posts about the dispute here and here), which now includes cross claims of patent infringement in multiple forums.

In the latest complaint (Gevo-Butamax_Complaint), filed in the District of Delaware on January 24, 2012, Gevo accuses Butamax of infringing U.S. Patent No. 8,101,808 (’808 Patent) by performing certain isobutanol production processes.

The ’808 Patent, granted on January 24, 2012, is entitled “Recovery of higher alcohols from dilute aqueous solutions” and directed to methods of recovering C3-C6 alcohols from a fermentation broth.

Interestingly, I believe the Gevo-Butamax litigation is the first instance of biofuels patent litigation involving one of the oil majors.

Painting the Town Green

January 23rd, 2012

A team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame, led by Prashant V. Kamat, has developed a semi-conductive paint that turns surfaces on which it is applied into solar cells.

The solar paint is described in U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2009/0114273 (’273 Application), entitled “Nanomaterial Scaffolds for Electron Transport”.

Single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) create the scaffold architecture, which allows electrons to move more efficiently than prior art vis-a-vis nanoparticles or quantum dots.

The nanoparticles are coated in titanium dioxide and either cadmium sulfide or cadmium senenide.  The particles are then suspended in a water and alcohol mixure to form a paste.

Figure 1 depicts the improvement made in the ’273 Application (Figure 1B) over the prior art (Figure 1A).  Figures 10A and 10B depict random electron transport versus direct electron transport utilizing the nanotubes described in the ’273 Application.

According to the ’273 Application, because of the SWCNT’s special properties, it can boost the solar paint’s photoconversion efficiency:

The unique electrical and electronic properties, wide electrochemical stability window, and high surface area render SWCNT beneficial as a scaffold to anchor light harvesting assemblies.  In accordance with an embodiment, the electron accepting ability of semiconducting SWCNT thus offers an opportunity to facilitate electron transport and thus increase the photoconversion efficiency of nanostructure semiconductor based solar cells.

See Kamat’s article about the paint, dubbed “Sun-Believable,” here.

The possibilities surrounding an inexpensive and efficient solar paint are clear, as it could be applied on everyday surfaces like fences and homes to generate electricity. This product could be a huge breakthrough for renewable energy production.

See a short video about how solar paint works here.