Archive for the ‘Wind Patents’ category

Guest Post: Pace of Wind Innovation Slows, But is Set to Skyrocket Again

September 17th, 2014

Totaro & Associates, a Houston, TX based research and consulting firm has released a new research report on the pace of wind turbine technology innovation and proliferation.

IP ownership rankings show General Electric still leading with over 1,400 patent families, and the ability to now leverage the Alstom wind portfolio, which puts the combined total above 1,550.  Siemens has overtaken Vestas for #2 as predicted in last year’s report, and Mitsubishi drops from #4 to #5.

Previously outside the top 10, Guodian United Power has rocketed up into the #4 spot due to more patent filings in 2012 than any other company, although most filings were exclusive to China.

The top 10 wind turbine manufacturers control more than 56% of all wind patent filings, as well as over 77% of the patents which are broadly applicable to the entire industry or potentially infringed.  This strongly suggests the concentration of innovation in wind lies with those who can afford it.

The pace of patent filings has finally dropped for the first time after an average CAGR of 47% during the 2007 – 2011 time-frame.  The report indicates only a 7% growth in the number of global patent filings in wind in 2012 vs. 2011 and a slight decline for 2013 is expected as the recent market downturn has put a damper on research and development (R&D) spending and expenditure on IP protection.

Market conditions indicate that the pace is set to increase again in the coming years due to an increased commitment of expenditure on R&D.  Some companies are spending up to 6% of their revenue on R&D, which is almost double the spend rate in 2010 after the financial crisis.  Filings are expected to return to the levels seen in 2011 by 2015/16, although the average CAGR is expected to be a more modest 5 – 10%.

The research also shows that the US has the greatest number of patent filings on wind turbine technology, and companies have collectively spent over $162M on IP protection with over 8,365 individual patent filings there.  Europe is second at $138M with over 6,100 filings and China third at $61M with over 5,000 filings.  China is poised to overtake Europe for #2 within the next 12 months.

Globally, the entire wind industry has spent $522M to date on patent protection.  Expenditure on IP protection by wind companies is expected to escalate, with $1B to be spent by 2019 and $2B by 2026.

The past year has seen the penetration of some non-practicing entities (NPEs), more commonly referred to as ‘patent trolls,’ into the wind market.  These companies acquire orphaned intellectual property assets or develop their own patent portfolios specifically for the purpose of monetizing against the entrenched players in the industry.

With so many patents available for acquisition in the past 18 months, it is no surprise that these NPEs are seeing an opportunity to take advantage of market timing and attempt to drive up costs for operating companies in wind.

The full report is available from Totaro & Associates www.totaro-associates.com.

 

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

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

July 9th, 2014

A number of green patent complaints have been filed in the last several months in the areas of energy management software, LEDs, smart meters, vertical axis wind turbines, and wastewater treatment.  This post covers new lawsuits filed from the end of March through the end of June.

 

Energy Management Software

Intercap Capital Partners, LLC  v. BuildingIQ, Inc.

On April 3, 2014, Intercap filed a patent infringement complaint against BuildingIQ in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.  Intercap asserted U.S. Patent No. 8,078,330 (’330 Patent), alleging that the BuildingIQ software of system infringes the ’330 Patent.

Entitled “Automatic energy management and energy consumption reduction, especially in commercial and multi-building systems,” the ’330 Patent is directed to methods of managing energy usage data including monitoring current energy usage of the energy consumption devices in a building, monitoring building temperature, a building humidity, a building COlevel, a weather forecast and a real-time energy price, and initiating a real-time control of each energy consumption device based on the variables in response to a forecast that a new energy usage peak is approaching.

LEDs

Honeywell International Inc. v. Cree, Inc.

Honeywell sued major LED manufacturer Cree for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,373,188 (’188) and Reissue Patent No. RE41,685 (a reissue of U.S. Patent No. 6,666,567).

The ’188 Patent is entitled “Efficient solid-state light emitting device with excited phosphors for producing a visible light output” and directed to and LED having a phosphor layer and a reflector means adjacent to one side of the phosphor layer for reflecting some of the radiation and light emission that exits from the phosphor layer back into the phosphor layer.

The reissue patent is entitled “Light source with non-white and phosphor-based white LED devices, and LCD assembly” and relates to a light source with an LED coupled to the floor of an optical cavity to permit light to be emitted from the base of the LED and a reflective protrusion below the LED to aid in redirecting light forward.

The complaint was filed March 31, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

 

Koninklijke Philips N.V. et al. v. Schreder Lighting LLC et al.

Filed May 27, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Philips’ complaint asserts the following twelve LED patents:

U.S. Patent No. 6,094,014, entitled “Circuit arrangement, and signaling light provided with the circuit arrangement”

U.S. Patent No. 6,234,645, entitled “LED lighting system for producing white light”

U.S. Patent No. 6,234,648, entitled “Lighting system”

U.S. Patent No. 6,250,774, entitled “Luminaire”

U.S. Patent No. 6,513,949, entitled “LED/phosphor-LED hybrid lighting systems”

U.S. Patent No. 6,577,512, entitled “Power supply for LEDs”

U.S. Patent No. 6,586,890, entitled “LED driver circuit with PWM output”

U.S. Patent No. 6,692,136, entitled “LED/phosphor-LED hybrid lighting systems”

U.S. Patent No. 6,788,011, entitled “Multicolored LED lighting method and apparatus”

U.S. Patent No. 6,806,659, entitled “Multicolored LED lighting method and apparatus”

U.S. Patent No. 6,972,525, entitled “LED switching arrangement”

U.S. Patent No. 7,274,160, entitled “Multicolored lighting method and apparatus”

According to the complaint, Schreder’s floodlight, street-light, residential and urban area LED lighting products, including the Alura LED, FV32 LED, Hestia LED, Piano, Teceo, Akila, Isla LED, Modullum, Neos LED and Nemo brands for, infringe one or more of the asserted patents.

 

Smart Meters

Sensor-Tech Innovations LLC v. Texas-New Mexico Power Company

Austin, Texas-based Sensor-Tech filed a patent infringement suit against the Texas-New Mexico Power Company (TNMP) for alleged infringement of a patent related to smart meter technology.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Marshall, Texas on June 20, 2014, asserts U.S. Patent No. 6,505,086 (’086 Patent).  Entitled “XML sensor system,” the ’086 Patent is directed to a sensor sommunication system adapted to transmit a sensor data file in XML format.

According to the complaint, TNMP’s advanced metering system infringes at least three claims of the ’086 Patetn.

 

Vertical Axis Wind Turbines

SAWT Inc. et al. v. Joe Moore Construction Inc. et al.

On May 13, 2014 SAWT filed a complaint for patent infringement in federal court in Los Angeles.  SAWT has accused Joe Moore Construction, d/b/a Wind Sun Energy Systems and co-defendant Urban Green Energy of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,967,569 (’569 Patent).

The ’569 Patent is entitled “Vertical shaft wind turbine and method of installing blades therein” and directed to a vertical shaft wind turbine wherein the airfoil of each turbine blade is an asymmetrical camber airfoil, each blade is installed with only the convex surface facing the vertical shaft, and a rotary angle of each blade is between 0 and 15 degrees.

The ’569 Patent is owned by co-plaintiff Shanghai Aeolus Windpower Technology; SAWT is a non-exclusive licensee.  This is an interesting one as it’s rare to see litigation over small (non-utility scale) wind turbines, particularly of the vertical axis type.

Wastewater Treatment

Chaffin v. Braden and LBC Manufacturing

Mark N. Chaffin, an individual, sued LBC Manufacturing for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,932,912, entitled “Wastewater treatment system for residential septic systems” (’912 Patent).

The ’912 Patent is directed to wastewater treatment systems and methods wherein a chlorine supply tube is in communication with a venturi chamber and in constant fluid communication a chlorine supply in a chlorine supply canister.  As recirculating pumped sewage effluent flows through the venturi chamber, chlorine from the supply canister is continuously drawn into the venturi chamber and into a recirculation pipe.

Filed April 16, 2014 in federal court in Victoria, Texas, the complaint alleges that the LBC500 liquid bleach chlorinator infringes the ’912 Patent.

In GE Wind Patent Fight Federal Circuit Affirms Wilkins Inventorship Story is Incredible

May 22nd, 2014

In previous posts (hereherehere, and here), I discussed a significant ancillary battle in the GE-Mitsubishi wind patent war.  In this entertaining sideshow, GE and a former employee, Thomas Wilkins, have been fighting over ownership of two of the patents involved in the larger litigation.

The patent-at-issue in this case is U.S. Patent No. 6,921,985 (’985 Patent).  The ’985 Patent is directed to a wind turbine that includes a blade pitch control system and a turbine controller coupled with the blade pitch control system.  To increase the reliability of the turbine’s power supply, the turbine controller causes the blade pitch control system to vary pitch in response to transitions between different power sources.

After Wilkins brought a lawsuit to correct inventorship, Mitsubishi intervened in the suit.  The case aroused Mitsubishi’s interest because the ’985 Patent is one of several asserted by GE against Mitsubishi in at least two lawsuits.

After the district court decided that Wilkins was not a co-inventor of the invention claimed in the ’985 Patent, Mitsubishi and Wilkins appealed.

In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court ruling.

To overcome the presumption that the named inventors on a patent are correct, an alleged co-inventor must prove his inventive contribution by clear and convincing evidence.  The putative inventor can’t rely on his testimony alone.  Rather, there must be evidence to corroborate his testimony.

The problem for Wilkins was that the district court found his testimony on inventorship not credible, and the proffered corroborating witness testimony fell short because the witnesses either relied on Wilkins or failed to provide ample basis for their opinions.

On appeal, Wilkins acknowledged his credibility problems but argued that the instances in which his credibility was impeached only extended to “immaterial and tangential points.”  The appeals court disagreed:

Based on the trial record, we find no clear error in the district court’s assessment that the substance of Wilkins’s testimony, which addressed central issues such as conception and contribution, was inconsistent and purposefully evasive.  We agree with the district court’s conclusion that Wilkins left his case with no credibility.

As it turned out, this wasn’t an issue of insufficient corroborating evidence of inventorship.  Rather, as the court explained, the document Wilkins sent to GE’s German engineers, which he argued demonstrated his conception of the invention, did not disclose any elements of the claimed invention:

Notwithstanding that the record is devoid of proof that the German engineers relied on anything discussed in that document as part of their conception . . . our review of the record verifies that the document does not disclose any of the subject matter claimed in the ’985 patent.

In fact, the document in question “does not even depict the key feature Wilkins claims to have invented, i.e., a UPS powering the wind turbine’s three controllers.”

Therefore, there was no credible evidence of Wilkins’s conception:  ”Wilkins provided no credible testimony for that document to corroborate” and “without credible testimony from Wilkins, there was nothing to corroborate.”

This chapter in the GE-Mitsubishi patent litigation appears to be closed.

Guest Post: US Leads, Europe Second as Wind Industry Spends $430M on Patent Protection

September 16th, 2013

Utility scale wind turbines have become so technologically advanced that they have improved the cost of energy (COE) of wind enough to compete with today’s conventional energy sources.  The ensuing reduction in COE has been the result of two governing forces: public policy and technological innovation.  

The technological trends which have emerged thus far and what might be in store for the future direction of wind turbine technology are explored here.  Policy and governmental R&D support will continue to be essential, and barriers to wind technology commercialization must be further broken down.

The patent landscape can shed significant insight into what technological trends have emerged thus far and what we might be able to infer for the future direction of wind turbine technology.  The patent landscape analytics, as well as extensive analysis of forward looking competitive intelligence, helps shape our view of future technology trends for the industry.

Figure 1 – Analysis Methodology

 

The patent search results comprise over 8,665 patent families and over 32,834 global filings from 67 different countries, dating back to the year 1916 when some of the first grid connected technology took root.  In addition to a component and technology keyword classification, an assessment of the relevance of each patent filing to the industry was performed and results were classified as Low, Medium, Medium/High, and High. 

The assessment of industry relevance indicates the degree to which the patent owner has asserted its patent rights in the past or would be able to seek licenses or otherwise enforce the patent due to usage of that patent protected technology by their competition.

Figure 2 – Industry Relevance Assessment

 

With the results grouped by assignee (or patent owner), it should come as no shock to industry watchers who are the top assignees for wind patent filings.  The list largely coincides with the top market share holders in the sector, and the chart below shows the number of patent families held by each company.

Figure 3 – Assignees (by Patent Family)

 

The industry relevance results indicate that only 0.8% of issued patents would have a high impact on the entire industry as a whole if those patents were universally asserted, with another 6.9% which may become relevant in the future depending on technology evolution and use.  The remaining 92.3% of filings are merely providing owners with basic defensive IP protection on technologies they use in their own product lines, but are not widely used in the industry.

Table 1 – Portfolio Evaluation and Industry Benchmarking (Top 10 Companies)

 

 All combined, the top 10 turbine OEM patent holders control 54.5% of patent filings.  Only 67 patent families out of 8,665 catalogued thus far comprise technology which is broadly applicable to products and services offered commercially within the industry worldwide.

General Electric Company (GE) controls not only the largest number of patent families, but the largest percentage of all wind-related IP with over 15% of patent filings.  While most companies are in-line with industry averages in terms of overall portfolio distribution of Low, Medium and High risk filings, GE’s High risk patents as a percentage of their overall portfolio is double the industry average at 1.8% vs. 0.8%.  Their portfolio also comprises over 35% of all High risk patents held by all companies throughout the industry.

Figure 4 – Global Wind IP Ownership Share

 

Also notable is that top-tier companies have a combined High and Medium/High set of filings which is above the industry average of 7.7%.  The top 10 control over 77% of Medium/High and 80% of High risk patent filings.  This confirms the strong correlation between investment in both R&D and IP protection and the commercial success of top-tier companies.  There is a strong link between the reduced CapEx and optimized energy production resulting from the development and introduction of those patent protected technologies.

The heat map of the filing dates for the patent filings confirms that the majority of filings have occurred in the past decade or so.  Comparison of this trend to turbine capacity additions worldwide is reflective of the shared influence of public policy on technology adoption and the subsequent cost efficiencies enabled by widespread deployment of wind turbines.

Please note that the 2012 – 2013 filings have not all yet published because of an 18 month window in which the patents are not made public.  Filing count up to 2011 is comprehensive.

Figure 5 – Wind Industry Patent Filing Trends (Patent Families)

 

Countries favored for filing include the US, Europe and China, with PCT applications being used heavily in the past few decades.  Collectively, the wind industry has spent nearly US$430M (in 2013 dollars) to date on patent protection across all jurisdictions since 1916.  Our projections indicate that the total will exceed US$1B by 2020 and $2B by 2030, with escalation of filing pace assumed to be consistent to that of the past 5 years.  Annual expenditure will top US$100M per year by 2022.

Figure 6 – Global Wind Industry Patent Filing Costs

 

Figure 7 – Global Wind Industry Patent Filings (Top 30 Countries)

 

Clearly IP capture will continue to be an important consideration for top tier wind companies who are developing and commercializing new products.

 

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

Trigonometry Plus Non-Conventional Steps Equals Eligible Subject Matter in Blade Assembly Patent

July 22nd, 2013

 

Henryk Oleksy is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 6,449,529, entitled “Process for contour machining of metal blocks” and directed to methods of determining machining instructions for a milling machine to cut a concave hook in the root section of a turbine blade (’529 Patent).

In most turbines, projections called hooks located on the interior surfaces of the root sections of turbine blades hold the blades to the rotary wheel of the turbine.  To prevent the blades from wobbling, the curvature of the hook in the root section must be machined to specific dimensions.

In 2006 Oleksy sued GE for infringement of the ’529 patent, and both parties moved for summary judgment as to the validity of the patent.  The issue was whether the claims of the ’529 Patent constitute patentable subject matter under Section 101 of the patent law.

Last month Judge Virginia Kendall of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted Oleksy’s motion and denied GE’s, holding the ’529 patent valid under Section 101 (Oleksy Opinion).

Claim 1 of the ’529 Patent includes a recitation that the instructions for a computer numerical control milling machine are “obtained by trigonometric analysis” of the required curvatures of the spinning form cutter and rotary table of the machine.  Standing alone, trigonometric analysis is an unpatentable mathematical formula.

Therefore, the question was whether the claim includes an additional element or elements that constitute an “inventive step.”  The court found that claim 1 of the ’529 Patent does contain such additional elements including a step of moving the spinning form cutter “in a convex path” while the rotary table rotates “simultaneously from a plus rotation angle to a minus rotation angle and, alternatively, from a minus rotation angle to a plus rotation angle.”

According to the court this step is unconventional and was not used before Oleksy’s invention.  Therefore, the patented process is more than a mere mathematical formula:

As a result, Oleksy did not patent a mathematical formula, he patented a unique process of milling a root section of a turbine blade that happened to include the use of a mathematical formula as part of the process . . . Oleksy’s patent does not pre-empt the use of his trigonometric analysis, he simply forecloses it[s] use with respect to causing a spinning form cutter to move in a convex path to machine the root section of a turbine blade.

The court found an inventive step and also, significantly, noted that the claimed invention is limited to this particular application.  Accordingly, the claimed invention is patent eligible subject matter under Section 101:

Oleksy’s patent contains specifically defined, non-conventional steps.  Moreover, the patent is limited to the particular application of milling the curvature of a hook . . . Oleksy’s process is patent eligible under Section 101.

The court’s decision also addressed claim construction issues and the parties’ motions to dismiss and strike certain claims and defenses.

A2SEA’s Offshore Wind Turbine Installer Does the Heavy Lifting

May 2nd, 2013

One of the major trends in wind power is ever larger turbines for offshore use.  This raises many technical challenges, including how to transport and install such large components at offshore sites.

A2SEA is a Danish company that has expertise in precisely these challenges and has developed technology for it.  The company’s Sea Installer is a wind turbine installation vessel designed to operate in deep offshore waters.

A2SEA owns at least one U.S. patent and several international patent applications, including U.S. Patent No. 6,808,337 (337 Patent) and International Publication No. Wo2006/076920 (’920 Application).

The ’337 Patent is entitled “Vessel with vertically elevational support legs” and directed to a ship (1) which has a hull (2), a deck (3), and two auxiliary cranes (10) positioned on the deck.  A console (5) is mounted on either side of the hull (2), and support legs (9) are disposed in the console (5).

There are two support legs (9) at either end of the console (5), and they are connected to a winch wire (8), which provides for the right pressure on the support legs (9) via a hydraulic system.  A large crane (11) having a loading capacity of about 450 tons is positioned on either side of the hull (2).

During mounting of a wind turbine, the support legs (9) exert the proper pressure to lift the ship (1) and the winch is locked to maintain the stability of the elevated ship:

During the mounting of a windmill the ship will thus on all four legs exert a pressure of 300 tons, which will lift up the ship, whereafter the winch is locked such that a possible wave will not give rise to instability.

The ’920 Application is entitled ”Lifting device for a wind turbine generator” and directed to a lifting device comprising a yoke (5) connecting the hook of a crane (11) with a collar (17) on the tower (8) of a wind turbine (9).  The yoke (5) surrounds the nacelle (113) of the turbine (9) and is designed to lift and move a complete wind turbine.

According to the ’920 Application, the yoke (5)  provides a stable lift because it is attached at a particular point of the wind turbine (9) that represents the turbine’s center of gravity:

In a suitable crane 35, the lifting yoke 5 can be mounted and designed to lift the WTG 9, which is attached at a predeteπnined point near the top of the tower 8 and below the nacelle 13. By lifting the WTG 9 at the top of the tower 8, it will be conveniently close to the centre of gravity that will make the lift of the WTG 9 a stable but heavy lift.

 

Altenera Pitches Wind Energy from the Future

March 7th, 2013

Altenera Technology (Altenera), a Maryland company, was recently chosen as one of just eight finalists to present at the Future Energy Pitching session of the ARPA-E Innovation Summit last month.  Altenera achieved this honor due to its Oscillating Reed Wind Harvester technology.  

The company calls its technology BreezBee®, which uses vibrating reeds to harvest energy from the wind under “virtually all wind conditions.”

The BreezBee® technology is covered by U.S. Patent No. 8,258,644 (‘644 patent) entitled “Apparatus for harvesting energy from flow-induced oscillations and method for the same.”  The ‘644 patent describes “a device and method for harvesting electrical power from kinetic energy of a flow” where “the external gas or liquid flow causes a vibration of the assembly . . . producing electricity in proximity of a magnetic field.”

The ‘644 patent can be better explained with reference to Figure 1(a), reproduced here from the patent.  As the fluid (7) flows over the elastic element (3), the integrated conductive element (8) moves back and forth in the (9) direction with reference to the magnetic field (8) created by the magnetic field source (6), producing electricity. 

The magnetic field should be “fully or substantially perpendicular” to the conductive element.  The shape, form, and materials of the vibrating assembly can vary based on the application, and “are defined by the maximum conversion efficiency for a particular application.”

The BreezBee® represents a functional application of the ‘644 patent.  The LEGO-like hexagonal modules shown here allow for easy combination into arrays of various sizes, making them “easily customizable for any situation.”  

The ‘644 patent discloses a number of such situations: (1) attached to flying vehicles to capture high altitude flows; (2) used in confined flow passages such as pipes or HVAC ducts; (3) used as a flow sensor while simultaneously providing the power to transmit gathered flow information; and (4) implementation as roof panels, providing a more cost-effective alternative to solar cells.   

Further, because this technology has no moving parts, it is “a virtually maintenance-free source of electrical power.” 

While one blog has noted that the details on some of the specifics were limited during the presentation to investors, the modularity, low-maintenance, and customization makes the BreezBee® an attractive alternative to turbine power. 

And if the noiselessness claim (see ieee blog above) made by Altenera’s CBDO, Chase McCarthy, is accurate, BreezBee® would have a notable advantage over turbine power by side-stepping the noise pollution problem that has plagued turbine power.

 

*Cliff Brazil is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  Cliff is currently in his second year at the University of Kansas School of Law in Lawrence, Kansas.  He received his undergraduate degree in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.

Blade Dynamics’ Spar Assemblies Go to Great Lengths

February 11th, 2013

Blade Dynamics is a UK-based company that develops advanced rotors for utility-scale wind turbines.  The company focuses on modular assembly technology to enable longer blades and has developed and GL certified the world’s lightest 49-meter blade.

According to this TechnologyReview.com article, the Blade Dynamics makes blades entirely out of carbon fiber using smaller sections (12-20 meters) seamlessly spliced together.  The company recently received funding from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), a public-private partnership between the UK government and companies such as BP, Shell and Caterpillar, to build 80 to 100-meter blades.

Blade Dynamics owns at least one U.S. patent and at least eight pending U.S. applications relating to its wind turbine technology. 

U.S. Application Publication Nos. 2010/0260611 (’611 Application) and 2011/0103962 (’962 Application) are each entitled “Wind turbine blade” and are directed to, respectively, a load-bearing spar and a blade comprising an elongate spar.   

The ’611 Application is directed to a load-bearing spar (30) for a wind turbine blade (10).  The spar (30) is connected to a root subassembly (20) and supports frame members (40, 50). 

Skin panels (60, 70) are mounted on the frame members to form a continuous outer surface of the blade (10).

The ’962 Application is directed to a wind turbine blade having a sub-assembly including a spar (6) and a root (7).  Successive skin panels (1) are bonded to the spar (6) with flange (4) adjacent to an opening (5) and being bonded to the spar (6).

 

U.S. Application Publication No. 2012/0294724, entitled “Aerodynamic fairing for a wind turbine and a method of connecting adjacent parts of such a fairing” (’724 Application), is directed to methods for connecting the skin panels mentioned above.  The ’724 describes use of recesses (10, 11) and adhesive channels (14) defined in the skin panels (1A, 1B).

A bead of adhesive (17) is applied between the recess (11) and flange (16), which projects inwardly at an acute angle to form a hook-like structure.  The distal end of the first skin panel (1A) is located within the groove formed between the recess (11) and flange (16) to ensure lateral alignment between the two skin panels.  Spacers (12, 13) abut against the face of the recess (11), thereby precisely determining the dimensions of the adhasive channel (14).

Another bead of adhesive (18) is then applied to the outer surface of the assembled skin panels (1A, 1B) to seal the channel at the left-hand side.  The adhesive runs along the adhesive channel (14), assisted by the flow channels (15), ensuring even distribution of the adhesive along the channel.

According to the ’962 Application, this modular assembly structure eliminates the need for separate ribs used by prior designs, significantly reduces the number of components required to create a finished blade, and eliminates at least one alignment step in the construction process.

The TechnologyReview.com article quotes the company’s senior technical manager on other advantages such as enabling greater precision in aerodynamic structures and improving performance.  In addition, because the company’s blades weigh less than fiberglass ones, they can provide longer blades for existing wind turbine designs.

Groundbreaking Research Identifies IP Arms Race in Wind

February 7th, 2013

A new research report published at EWEA 2013 by consultancy Totaro & Associates has catalogued over 27,500 global patent filings related to horizontal-axis, utility-scale wind turbine technology.  Totaro & Associates CEO and Principal, Philip Totaro says that, “We estimate there are ~45,000 to 50,000 global filings in total, and we are continuing our research to catalogue and evaluate them all.”

 

Arms Race

The top patent holders in wind are no surprise.  GE, Vestas, Siemens, Mitsubishi, Enercon and Gamesa control almost 50% of all global patent filings.  Totaro goes on to say that, “Other Tier 1 global turbine manufacturers, such as Sinovel and Goldwind are gaining ground, but historically, they have filed their patents exclusively in China.”

Patent filings are up sharply across the entire industry since 2006, largely due to increased spending on research and development as well as intellectual property (IP) protection. “It seems like there is an IP arms race currently underway in wind,” says Totaro.  The IP ‘Cold War’ has turned hot over the past 10 years with legal proceedings throughout the world over intellectual property rights between AMSC and Sinovel, GE and Mitsubishi, GE and Enercon as well as Enercon and Vestas, plus other non-public IP license and cross-license arrangements.

 

Risky Business

According to Totaro, “Our analysis has shown that only about 1% of issued patents are a high impact on the products and services currently offered by the industry as a whole, with another 7% which may become relevant in the future depending on technology adoption.  The remaining 92% of global patent filings are merely providing companies with basic defensive IP protection on their own distinct technologies, products and service offerings.”

While most companies appear to be in-line with industry averages in terms of overall patent portfolio distribution of low, medium and high risk filings, GE seems to stand out.  GE’s high risk patent filings as a percentage of their overall portfolio, are double the industry average at 1.9% vs. 0.9%.  GE’s patent portfolio also comprises over 36% of all high risk patents throughout the industry, showing a concerted effort to gain a tactical advantage through capturing and aggressively enforcing IP rights.  Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is trying to catch up.

 

Technology Trends

In assessing the technology trends apparent from the research, the report indicates that component developments have historically been directed towards blades, gearboxes, generators and electrical systems, with newer filings directed towards controls and a continuing focus on blade performance enhancements.  Totaro says that, “The blades, drivetrain and electrical systems were the problem children in terms of component reliability in the past, so they needed the most attention; the most improvement; the most innovation.”

Technology developments have historically been directed towards component reliability, torque / speed control, frequency / voltage regulation, performance optimization and load mitigation, with newer filings directed towards manufacturing, construction and O&M.  Totaro continues, “The manufacturing revolution, particularly with the move towards longer blades for both on and offshore has driven a substantial amount of innovation.”

Looking towards the future, the report offers several areas to watch out for including blade manufacturing automation, materials such as hybrid fabrics for blades and graphene for power electronics, anticipatory and load mitigating controls, energy storage integration, VAR and ancillary services support, HVDC technology as well as condition monitoring / SCADA data analysis for predictive maintenance and spares scheduling.

Totaro states that “Out of all the future technology trends, we have long said that materials science will have the single greatest impact on further reductions in wind turbine and sub-component CapEx.  But, as O&M costs have continued to escalate, the industry is shifting focus to services, particularly since turbine sales have dropped as of late.”

 

Technology Deployment Gap

Although, when it comes to deployment of these new technologies, Totaro cautions that a gap exists, “We presently see a commercialization gap amongst technologies being investigated and those actually being deployed.  We believe this is due to project financiers not incentivizing the development and introduction of new technologies and products because of associated technical and commercial risks.  These risks can now be better quantified and mitigated through tools which have been recently developed in the industry; such as the patent infringement risks which can now be mitigated through our IP risk profiles.”

Totaro concludes, “Protection of intellectual property rights will continue to be a hot-button issue for years to come, and the deployment of new technology will be crucial for the industry to achieve sustainable cost parity with other energy sources.”

The full report is available at http://www.totaro-associates.com.

Looking Back at the Top Green IP Stories of 2012

January 13th, 2013

 

Before we start fresh with the new green IP issues as they unfold in 2013, here is a look back at some of the top stories from 2012.

 

No. 8:  With Pilot Past, How to Get Green Patents Fast?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Green Technology Pilot Program came to end in February, prompting questions such as why? and what do we do now?  I offered some answers in this post, and laid out my vision of a harmonized international green patent fast track program here.

 

No. 7:  Falsely Over 40? 

One of the largest greenwashing class action cases exploded in the fall of 2012, with a host of complaints filed against Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia.  The plaintiffs alleged that the automakers built advertising campaigns around representations that a number of their vehicles achieved gas mileage in the 40 mile per gallon range when they knew or should have known the actual mileage was signficantly lower.  According to the complaints, an EPA investigation prompted by consumer inquiries found the gas mileage was overstated in seven Hyundai models and six Kia models, with as much as a 6 mpg discrepancy in some models.

 

No. 6:  Honeywell Targets Nest with Thermostat Control Patents

In February Honeywell sued Nest Labs, alleging that Nest’s trendy learning thermostat (pictured above) infringes seven Honeywell patents relating to thermostat control technology.  Nest requested that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office initiate reexamination of all the asserted patents, and each patent was initially rejected in the proceedings.  The suit could have wider ramifications for the energy management industry as some of the features of the Honeywell patents are already being used by other companies.

 

 No. 5:  Class Action Charges Nissan with LEAF Greenwash

 

Hybrid electric vehicles have been targeted by greenwashing class actions in recent years, but 2012 saw the first such case against an all electric plug-in.  In October, a proposed class action complaint accused Nissan of making misleading representations and inflating the LEAF’s battery capacity and driving range.  The plaintiffs also alleged that the LEAF’s battery system lacks an active thermal management system to circulate cooling fluid through the battery array, a design defect that leads to battery damage and loss of capacity.

 

No. 4:  GE Wins Big in Wind Patent War

The year saw a major victory for GE in its large and long-running wind patent war with Mitsubishi when a Texas jury found that Mitsubishi infringed a key GE wind turbine patent and awarded GE about $170 million in damages.  The patent-in-suit was U.S. Patent No. 7,629,705, which relates to methods of facilitating zero voltage ride through so the turbine can remain online during voltage dips down to zero volts.  GE had other wins in 2012, including a Federal Circuit ruling that breathed new life into its ITC dispute with Mitsubishi.

 

No. 3:  With Fast Track Launches, Two BRICs Fall from the Anti-Green Patent Wall

In an apparent policy 180 (at least with respect to prior rhetoric), two of the BRICs joined the green patent fast track bandwagon in 2012.  In April Brazil’s Institute of Industrial Property launched a pilot program to accelerate green technology patent applications, though it appears to offer limited opportunity for non-Brazilian applicants to participate.  China’s State Intellectual Property Office launched its own prioritized examination program for green patent applications in August. 

As discussed here, these launches arguably are significant developments in view of the countries’ stance on IP protection of green technologies in the UN climate change treaty talks and could represent an inflection point in green IP thought and policy in emerging markets and developing countries.

 

No. 2:  Burgeoning Biobutanol Battle

The Gevo-Butamax litigation was a major story of 2012, notable both for its size and as the first foray of big oil into biofuels patent litigation.  There are at least 17 suits and 14 patents at issue in the various actions brought by both parties.  The patents relate to methods of production of biobutanol and enzymes used in the production processes.  The post on Butamax’s opening salvo can be found here, the latest on the complaints filed here, and coverage of the appellate decision denying Butamax’s bid for a preliminary injunction here.

 

No. 1:  Chinese Supremes to American Superconductor:  We’ll Hear You

(1)  In one of the most significant and closely watched IP cases of the year, American Superconductor (AMSC) filed several lawsuits against Sinovel in China, testing the Chinese wind turbine manufacturer’s home court advantage.  This litigation, involving charges of copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets in connection with software code for turbine control systems, has implications for the clean tech industry and beyond. 

IP protection in China is a huge issue, and for technology companies of all stripes seeking to do business in China this case may be a barometer of whether outsiders will receive a fair shake in enforcing their IP rights in China.  In a promising development, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court (pictured above) agreed to hear AMSC’s appeal of an appellate court dismissal of its copyright infringement action on jurisdictional grounds.