Archive for the ‘Recycling & Waste Management’ category

On Green Patenting, Sewage Sludge, and EPA Rulings and Regulations

February 25th, 2014

Environmental regulations can, of course, impact the development and implementation of green technologies.  This can happen on an industry level, for example, when automobile fuel efficiency technology is improved in response to rising CAFE standards.

It can also happen on a smaller scale and affect one company at a time, such as MaxWest Environmental Systems (Maxwest), which has developed gasification technology to break down sewage sludge.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently ruled that MaxWest’s patented gasifier is not an incinerator and therefore will not be regulated as such.  According to the company, this means the technology can be developed and implemented at a lower cost to municipalities (see the press release here).

MaxWest owns at least one patent and one published patent application relating to its gasification technology.  U.S. Application Publication No. 2013/0195727 (’727 Application) is entitled “Fluidized bed biogasifier and method for gasifying biosolids” and directed to a gasifier and methods of gasifying biosolids obtained from sewage sludge.

A fluid bed gasifier (200) includes a bubbling reactor bed section (204) which receives sewage sludge through feed inlets (201) and flue gas through a flue gas inlet (203).  The gasifier has a freeboard section (205) between the reactor bed section (204) and the outlet (210) of the gasifier.


A cyclone separator (207) separates material exhausted from the fluidized bed reactor into clean producer gas for recovery and ash for disposal.  An oxygen monitor (209) may be used to help control oxygen levels in the gasification process together with a producer gas control (208), which monitors oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in the producer gas.

It appears that the control of oxygen levels was critical to the EPA ruling.  According to the ’727 Application, the biogasification process occurs in an “oxygen starved environment” which prevents combustion.  Because there is no combustion, the gasifier is not classified as an incinerator.

An older gasifier technology is described and claimed in MaxWest’s U.S. Patent No. 7,793,601 (’601 Patent), issued in 2010 from an application filed back in 2005.   The ’601 Patent is entitled “Side feed/centre ash dump system” and directed to an apparatus for gasifying solid fuel where the biomass feed material is introduced into the primary oxidation chamber (400) through in opening (408) in the side of a wall (402) or in the floor of the chamber (400).

The wall (402) has multiple layers, and the innermost layer (405) is made of a high-temperature refractory material capable of withstanding elevated temperatures.  According to the ’601 Patent, the wall (402) is therefore capable of allowing oxidation of biomass while maintaining a tolerable skin temperature on the outside of the wall.

Chrysler Clear as Court Holds ECODIESEL Mark Merely Descriptive

October 17th, 2013


I’ve written extensively (see, e.g., here and here) on the descriptiveness hurdles faced by owners of eco-marks containing terms such as “CLEAN”, “GREEN” and ”ECO”, including this author and his blog service mark (see, e.g., here and here).

A recent decision by a federal court in Hawaii provides a window into the fate of a hopelessly merely descriptive mark – ECODIESEL for diesel fuel made from used oil.

Unitek Solvent Services (Unitek) is a Hawaii-based corporation that focuses on recycling, reclamation, and re-use of used oil.  When Unitek began looking into ways to convert used oil into reusable fuel, its president decided on the term ECODIESEL to brand its processed diesel fuel.

In late 2005, Unitek filed a federal trademark application for the ECODIESEL mark.  The application was registered on the Supplemental Register as U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,166,981 for “diesel fuel” and fuel for motor vehicles, namely diesel.”

By contrast with the Principal Register, the Supplemental Register offers lesser protections but also has lower standards for registrability, including permitting registration of merely descriptive marks.

A mark that is merely descriptive of the goods or services it is being used to market or sell is not registrable on the Principal Register without demonstrating secondary meaning, i.e., that consumers have come to associate the mark with the source of the goods or services.

After Chrysler began marketing some of its vehicles with optional diesel engines under a stylized ECODIESEL design (see above), Unitek sued Chrysler in federal court in Hawaii and moved for a preliminary injunction.

In a recent decision, the court denied the motion and held that Unitek’s ECODIESEL mark is merely descriptive and has not acquired secondary meaning. 

The mark is descriptive, the court held, because it requires no mental leap to determine what goods the mark refers to and instead immediately conveys to the consumer those goods:

The Court holds that no mental leap is required in order to conclude that ECODIESEL is a reference to a diesel fuel product that is more ecological than normal diesel fuel.  Unitek concedes that one well-accepted meaning of “eco” is “environmental friendliness,” and does not argue that the term “diesel” in ECODIESEL is anything other than a generic reference to diesel fuel.  Combining the terms, no imagination is required to discern that this term references ecologically-conscious diesel…not even a mental hop is necessary to link ECODIESEL with Unitek’s fuel product…Thus, the ECODIESEL mark is descriptive.

On acquired distinctiveness, or secondary meaning, Unitek provided evidence that it sells all of the ECODIESEL fuel it produces.  The problem was that all the fuel is sold to just one customer, and that cannot constitute enough consumer recognition to demonstrate secondary meaning:

this uncontroverted evidence actually hurts Plaintiff’s case more than it helps because it is undisputed that Unitek sells all of its ECODIESEL fuel to a single customer, Grace Pacific.  This evidence weighs against a determination of secondary meaning because it illustrates the very limited number of customers who have actually ever purchased Unitek’s fuel product and who may have come to associate ECODIESEL with Unitek.  Although Grace Pacific may associate ECODIESEL with Unitek, this is insufficient to establish that a signficant segment of the relevant public would make the same association.

Absent secondary meaning, the ECODIESEL mark was merely descriptive and not entitled to protection.  The court, therefore, denied Unitek’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

On Environmental Crimes and Greenwashing 2.0

September 9th, 2013

Incidents of greenwashing continue apace, increasingly in the realm of what I call Greenwashing 2.0, i.e., misrepresentations in business dealings relating to commercial clean tech equipment and services as opposed to marketing consumer products.

A Colorado company called Executive Recycling, Inc. (ERI) and some of its officers were recently sentenced to imprisonment and fines for fraud and international environmental crimes (see the DOJ’s Colorado office press release here).  ERI was in the business of recycling electronic waste such as cathode ray tubes (CRTs). 

According to the press release, ERI falsely represented that the company would dispose of all electronic waste in an environmentally friendly manner, in accordance with EPA, state and local laws and regulations, and would do so in the United States.

Contrary to its representations, the company sold the electronic waste it received to brokers for export overseas to China and other countries.  ERI did this on a significant scale, being listed as the exporter of record on over 300 exports between 2005 and 2008, including exports of more than 100,000 CRTs.

U.S. Attorney John Walsh noted both the harm to the environment and the damage to ERI’s customers caused by the fraudulent activity:

The defendants in this case not only caused actual harm to the environment by shipping electronic waste overseas for dumping, they defrauded their customers by falsely claiming to be disposing of that waste in an environmentally safe way.

This Greentech Media story reports that the FBI is investigating a number of fraud complaints against a Missouri solar installer called U.S. Solar. 

The central allegations involve abuses of the Missouri Public Service Commission’s solar rebate program, specifically, instances in which the installer allegedly pocketed rebate checks that were supposed to go to customers who had the solar energy systems installed.

In one case, U.S. Solar allegedly installed solar panels on a customer’s roof that an independent installer later assessed to be too shaded for solar energy production.  The independent installer said the roof has “a significant amount of shaded panels and a lot of exposed wires” and the system should be reinstalled.  The customer did not receive his rebate check.

U.S. Solar’s rebate abuses may have contributed to utility Kansas City Power and Light prematurely reaching the $21 million cap on solar rebates.  According to a Solar Energy Industry Association representative quoted in the Greentech Media piece, there should be a full investigation:

We need to determine the extent of U.S. Solar’s bad practices and how much they might have impacted the rebate program.

In my opinion, these cases are properly viewed as a greenwashing because they involve false or misleading statements and/or deceptive activity relating to the environmental benefits of a produce or service.  

Most discussions of greenwashing are unduly restricted to cases in which an individual consumer, a class of consumers, or a consumer watchdog such as the FTC challenges a company making false or misleading green claims about its products or services.

To put greenwashing in its proper context I think we should consider a wider range of cases, some of which are not immediately recognizable as instances of greenwashing, including civil cases brought by commercial consumers and criminal cases brought by governmental authorities.

From this broader vantage point, and keeping in mind the definition of greenwashing – making false or misleading claims about purportedly environmentally friendly products, services, or practices – we are able to recognize, observe and understand greenwashing in its proper context.

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

August 8th, 2013

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



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

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

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

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

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


Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

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

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

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

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



Trustees of Boston University v. Apple, Inc.

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

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

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


Energy Efficiency

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. Dell Inc.

Efficiency Systems, LLC v. IBM Corp.

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

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

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

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


Solar Air Conditioners

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

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

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

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


Water Purification

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

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

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

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


Waste Treatment

Trunzo v. Grobstein

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

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

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

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.

Enough NOxious Gases: Biogas & Electric Cuts Emissions from Anaerobic Digesters

April 13th, 2012

 Biogas & Electric, located in San Diego, California, has developed technology that reduces harmful emissions created during anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion may serve as a renewable energy source, and reduce methane when utilized at wastewater treatment plants, dairies, and landfills. Seth Burns was intrigued by benefits of turning waste to a resource, but realized one of the biggest challenges for the anaerobic digester industry was to reduce the harmful emissions generated by the process.

Stringent standards enforced by the California Air and Resources Board (CARB), and other regional air boards require the reduction of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emitted during the anerobic digestion process. NOx is known to cause an array of health problems including asthma.

In an effort to make the anaerobic digestion process more environmentally sound, Mike Matelich, process chemist and inventor of the process, and Burns partnered to develop a way to reduce NOx and SOx emissions.

The technology is an add-on solution to the biogas engine. The add-on puts the biogas engine exhaust in contact with the liquid waste stream from the anaerobic digester.

“Mike determined that certain chemicals are endogenous to the waste stream, such as ammonia, which can scrub the NOx out of the exhaust stream,” stated Burns.

The bench scale prototype chemical reaction that occurs reduces NOx and SOx, the precursors to smog and acid rain respectively, by greater than 95% each.

Burns and Matelich hope to replicate these results in the field at full scale. The following diagram outlines the process:

U.S. Patent No. 8,012,746, entitled “NOx Removal Systems for Biogas Engines at Anaerobic Digestion Facilities,” describes the Biogas and Electric technology (’746 Patent).

According to Burns, a provisional patent application was filed at the end of December 2009. The non-provisional, filed September 15, 2010, enjoyed accelerated examination via the now-defunct U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Green Technology Pilot Program (GTPP) (read about some fast track alternatives post-GTPP here). The ’746 Patent issued September 6, 2011, just under a year from the non-provisional filing date.

The company has received funding from USDA-NIFA SBIR Phase I and Phase II research grants and from Waste Management. A full-scale dairy-based demonstration project is being constructed in Imperial County, California. The technology will be utilized on a 300 kW biogas engine.

Previous technologies have only been able to reduce NOx to 9ppm, but Burns and Matelich are confident that their technology will be able to reduce NOx emissions enough to meet the stringent CARB standard of 2 ppm.

Burns and Matelich plan to build a demo project within the wastewater treatment industry, and begin installing their solution for revenue.

* Rosemary Ostfeld is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  Rosemary recently completed both her undergraduate and graduate education at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  She double majored in Biology, and Earth & Environmental Sciences as an undergraduate, and received her Master’s in Earth & Environmental Sciences.

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.

Danish Greenwash: Metal Industry Group Defeats Plastic Packager in False Advertising Case

February 15th, 2012

An interesting piece on reports on a recent decision involving greenwashing (and apparently reverse greenwashing) claims in Denmark.

The ruling by the Danish Maritime Court is the culmination of a dispute that began in 2008 after Empac, a European metal packaging industry group, sued RPC Superfos, accusing the Danish plastic packaging company of making false or misleading environmental claims in marketing literature.

In particular, Empac alleged that certain statements about the environmental benefits of plastic versus the negative environmental impact of metal packaging were inaccurate and unsubstantiated. 

According to the article, the Danish court agreed with Empac and found the statements to be inaccurate and unsupported, including invalid statements relating to carbon dioxide emissions.  Althought the court did not order Superfos to pay any damages, the company is prohibited from making certain claims and using certain images detrimental to metal packaging producers.

The court decision stressed the importance of the accuracy of environmental claims in advertising:

To prevent unfair competition strict requirements for accuracy of such environmental claims must apply.  These have to be clear, true, specific and not misleading and have to be substantiated by an impartial expert.

The article quotes Jim Hansen, secretary general for the Danish Aluminum Association, which represented Empac in the case, as calling it important to “have on record that Superfos acted in contravention of the advertising guidelines.”

Hansen also mentioned that advertisers should be careful about life cycle analysis claims, especially those relating to an industry outside the realm of the advertising firm:

Life cycle analyses usually center on someone’s own material.  But if you do make statements about another industry’s material you should be careful.

Which brings us to reverse greenwashing.  In a previous post I discussed this increasingly common phenomenon.

Greenwashing is advertising that misleads consumers about the environmental benefits of goods or services.  For example, making unsubstantiated claims about better energy efficiency or lower environmental impact.

Reverse greenwashing, on the other hand, consists of false or deceptive claims about the negative environmental impact of competitors’ products, such as the detrimental effects of metal containers on the environment.

Reverse greenwashing typically arises in the context of comparative advertising of environmentally friendly aspects of products or services, essentially comparative green advertising.  

I’m sure we’ll see much more of it as the market of green products and service becomes increasingly crowded and firms need to differentiate themselves from their competitors to sell their wares.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent (and Copyright) Complaint Update

December 16th, 2011

Several green patent lawsuits (and one green copyright suit) have been filed in the last several weeks in the areas of LEDs, hybrid vehicles, wastewater treatment, energy management, and biodegradable materials.



Bluestone Innovations Florida, L.L.C. v. Formosa Epitaxy

Bluestone Innovations (Bluestone), a Florida-based patent licensing company, recently filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against Formosa Epitaxy (Formosa), a Taiwanese corporation.

Bluestone alleges that Formosa engaged in the manufacture, importation, offer for sale, and sale of LED semiconductor devices and other optoelectric devices, such as gallium nitride (GaN) LED wafers and chips, and indium gallium nitride (InGaN) LED wafers and chips.

The complaint alleges these activities infringe U.S. Patent Number 6,605,832, entitled “Semiconductor Structures Having Reduced Contact Resistance”.  Bluestone is seeking a permanent injunction and damages, including treble damages and attorney fees.


Wastewater Treatment

Polylok, Inc. v. Bear Onsite

A recent post discussed a suit between wastewater treatment rivals Polylok and Bear Onsite in Connecticut in which Polylok asserted infringement of U.S. Patent Number 6,129,837, entitled “Waste water treatment filter including waste water level control alert device” (’837 Patent). 

The ’837 Patent is directed to a filtration device for a waste water treatment tank with a level alert device to provide an alarm when the filter becomes plugged.  The claims are directed to particular means for mounting the alert device to the filter.

Bear Onsite recently responded with a declaratory judgment action (Petition for Declaration of Rights).  Specifically, Bear Onsite is seeking a declaratory judgment of invalidity, unenforceability and non-infringement of the ’837 Patent.


Hybrid Vehicles

KGR IP L.L.C. v. Ford Motor Company
KGR IP L.L.C. v. Honda Motor Company

KGR recently filed two complaints in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (KGR_IP-Ford_Complaint; KGR_IP-Honda_Complaint). 

The complaints allege that both Ford and Honda are infringing U.S. Patent Number 6,639,614, entitled “Multi-variate data presentation method using ecologically valid stimuli” (’614 Patent).  The ’614 Patent relates to visual display of data using “ecologically valid” icons.

KGR alleges infringement of the ’614 Patent in the Ford Fusion Hybrid vehicles and Honda vehicles that utilize the Eco Assist function.  KGR is seeking injunctive relief and damages.


Fernandez v. Toyota Motor Corporation

Dennis Fernandez, an individual inventor, recently filed a Complaint against Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A and Toyota USA (collectively “Toyota”), alleging patent infringement.
Fernandez alleges Toyota is infringing U.S. Patent Numbers 7,374,003, 7,575,080, and 7,980,341, each entitled “Telematic Method and Apparatus with Integrated Power Source”.

The complaint states that Toyota is using the accused devices in its Prius II hybrid vehicle. The complaint seeks damages and attorney fees.


Biomaterials; Recycling & Waste Management

Frito-Lay North America v. Innovia Films Limited

Frito-Lay filed a Complaint against Innovia Films, Inc. (Innovia), a manuafcturer of bio-based films, on November 23, 2011 seeking declaratory relief over Frito-Lay’s ownership of two patents and two patent applications.

The complaint relates to recent actions commenced by Innovia against Frito-Lay in both the U.K. and Europe.  In that litigation, Innovia claims that Frito-Lay breached a confidentiality agreement and used information gained during confidential meetings to develop biodegradable packaging.  Innovia claims the technology led to Frito-Lay’s U.S. Patent Numbers 7,951,436 and 7,943,218 and U.S. Patent Applications 11/848,775 and 12/716,033.

Frito-Lay contends that it did not acquire any technology from Innovia and that development of its degradable bags was conducted independently.  Frito-Lay states that its “scientists and engineers discovered and invented novel flexible film packaging that maintains certain barrier properties and is made up of several layers of films, including a biodegradable ‘bio-based’ layer.”


Smart Grid / Energy Management

Opower, Inc. v. Efficiency 2.0, LLC

In a rare clean tech copyright dispute, Opower, Inc. (Opower) recently filed a copyright infringement Suit against Efficiency 2.0, LLC (Efficiency 2.0), a New York energy efficiency software company.

Opower produces Home Energy Reports, paper reports mailed to residents which show their home energy consumption in relation to similarly situated neighbors.  Opower’s Home Energy Reports were registered with the Copyright Office in September 2009 as Registration No. VA0001692228 and in October 2011 as Registration No. TX0007435604.

According to the complaint, Efficiency 2.0′s Energy Savings Reports are nearly identical to Opower’s copyrighted reports.  Opower claims the similarities include “overall layout and blocking, use of open space, use of language, use of font, bolding, accents and color, as well as selection and presentation of specific graphics and information.”

Opower is seeking damages, and a preliminary and permanent injunction barring Efficiency 2.0 from using Opower’s copyrighted reports.

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.

Stating its Case: California Asserts New Law Against Alleged Plastic Bottle Greenwashers

November 25th, 2011


Most public enforcement against alleged greenwashing has been at the federal level by agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., the Advertising Standards Authority in Great Britain, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Now American states are getting into the act, with a recent lawsuit filed by California’s Attorney General Kamala D. Harris involving claims of recyclable, compostable and biodegradable plastic bottles.

The complaint (Cal-ENSO_Complaint), brought on behalf of the people of California, accuses ENSO Plastics (ENSO), Balance Water Company (Balance) , and Aquamantra of making false, deceptive, and misleading claims that plastic bottles which include a particular resin made by ENSO will biodegrade or decompose in a landfill or other environment.

Among the marketing statements by ENSO alleged to be false or misleading and/or unsubstantiated are:

ENSO plastic bottles are “truly biodegradable”

“ENSO bottles biodegrade through natural microbial digestion in both aerobic (compost) and anaerobic (landfill) environments”

“ENSO bottles are recyclable with traditional PET [plastic]”

“Our scientific data supports that ENSO bottles will not contaminate PET recycle streams as the material used does not impact the PET polymer in any way”

According to the complaint, statements on Balance’s bottles such as ”100% biodegradable recyclable” and will “break down in a typical landfill or compost environment in less than 5 years” are false or misleading and unsubstantiated.

The complaint cites similar statements by Aquamantra, including “our bottles are made of 100% biodegradable & recyclable plastic” and the bottles “can be composted and will break down in around 240 days.”

The central cause of action in the suit is a recent California state law that banned the use of the terms ”biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decompostable” in any form in connection with plastic food or beverage containers.

Enacted in 2008, AB 1972, requires that food or beverage containers labeled with the term “compostable” or “marine degradable” must meet certain statutory standards. 

This is the first lawsuit to enforce the new law, which the California legislature said is intended to ensure that:

environmental marketing claims, including claims of biodegradation, do not lead to an increase in environmental harm associated with plastic bag and plastic container litter by providing consumers with a false belief that certain bags and containers are less harmful to the environment if littered.

Along with private consumer actions and public enforcement by federal government agencies, legal action by the states adds another level of enforcement against greenwashers.