A Review of 2015 Green Patent Suits Filed

A summary review of green patent complaints filed in 2015 reveals that LED and Smart Grid technologies were the primary areas of dispute. Complaints filed in 2015 in areas such as biofuels, hybrid vehicles, and solar reflect the growth in clean energy patents issued in these technology sectors.

LED Technology
The Federal Energy Star website says that LED lighting, when designed well, is different from incandescent and compact fluorescent lighting in that LED lighting is more efficient, durable, versatile, and longer lasting. In line with the growth of LED technology, this LED technology led with the number of patent complaints filed in 2015. At the end of 2015, Bluestone Innovations LLC filed 13 complaints against not only other LED manufacturers, but also retailers asserting infringement of Bluestone’s U.S. Patent No. 6,163,557, which directs to group III-V nitride films. The accused products in Bluestone’s suits are LED lightbulbs with group III-V nitride epitaxial films.

Among several companies seeking to protect their LED technologies is Cree, Inc., which ended 2014 with the filing of six complaints alleging infringements of patents relating to white light LED technology. Their assertion activity continued in 2015 when it filed suit against Feit Electric Company, Inc. et al. alleging infringement of certain utility and design patents involving LED technology. Cree filed complaints in both federal court and with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). Interestingly, noting the government’s promoting of LED lighting as a part of the Energy Star program, Cree’s complaint against Feit also alleges greenwashing. Cree asserts that Feit falsely advertises that some of its LED products meet the Energy Star standard. The ITC in February 2015, ordered an investigation to determine whether Feit’s LED products infringe on Cree patents.

Notably, the defendants in Cree’s late 2014 and 2015 complaints filed complaints of their own in 2015 similarly alleging infringement of LED technology patents.

Smart Grid
Endeavor MeshTech, Inc., in what has been referred to as a patent enforcement campaign, placed smart grid technology in the forefront of green patent complaints filed in 2015. Endeavor’s complaints in 2015 relate to a self configuring wireless network. In 2015, Endeavor MeshTech, Inc. entered into a patent license and settlement agreement with Eaton Corporation with respect to a green patent complaint filed in late 2014. Smart grid is described by the U.S. Department of Energy as a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, employing computer-based remote control and automation. Other smart grid patent enforcement actions filed in 2015 included smart thermostat; remote monitoring and control (Sunrise Technologies, Inc. v. Cimcon Lighting, Inc.; Sunrise Technologies, Inc. v. Selc Ireland Ltd.); and energy management systems (Regen Energy Inc. v. eCurv Inc.; Clean Energy Management Solutions, LLC v. Eaton Corp.).

Water Treatment
Given that water treatment has been a hot news topic, it is notable that technologies in water treatment were also the subject of green patent complaints filed in 2015. In American Greener Technologies, Inc. et al v Enhanced Life Water Solutions, LLC et al., the patent at issue relates to a water treatment device and a treatment process. As well, in the area of water treatment was a complaint related to a rotary disc filter device patent. These types of filters are used to remove/separate different types of particulates from the water content during treatment.

In the case of Neochloris, Inc.’s patent directing to a water treatment monitoring system, not only was a complaint filed in 2015, but the District Court held a few months later that Neochloris’ patent covered an abstract idea and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. In February 2015, Neochloris brought a green patent infringement claim against Emerson Process Management Power & Water Solutions, Inc. et al. As noted, the complaint related to Neochloris’ patent for a water treatment monitoring system; however, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that Neochloris’ patent claimed an unpatentable abstract idea and was thus ineligible for patent protection.

We cannot mention the water treatment in the news without making note that has been long established by the Court of Appeals decision in City of Milwaukee v. Activated Sludge, Inc., that where public health and safety is implicated in a patent infringement action, a compulsory license in lieu of a permanent injunction is appropriate. In 2016, Gibbons P.C. will continue to monitor trends in both the issuance of green patents and subsequent litigation.

George M. Gould is Counsel in the Gibbons Intellectual Property Department.