Mitsubishi struck backÂ recently with a lawsuit of its own accusing GE of violating U.S. antitrust laws (see Mitsubishi’s press release here).Â
The complaint (mitsubishi_antitrust_complaint.pdf), filed in federal court in Arkansas, alleges that GE has engaged in an anticompetitive scheme to monopolize the U.S. market for variable speed wind turbines.
According to the allegations, GE has been trying to intimidate Mitsubishi’s potential customers through “serial” baseless claims of patent infringement and public statements about Mitsubishi’s alleged infringement.
The complaint further alleges that GE’s intimidation tactics included advising Mitsubishi’s customers to take licenses to GE patents or risk infringement suits.Â Â Sonia Williams, aÂ Mitsubishi spokeswoman, said that GE wasÂ seeking “exorbitant licensing fees.”Â
Mitsubishi claims that GE’s alleged scheme has worked as Mitsubishi’s $2 billion in annual U.S. sales of variable speed wind turbines has dropped to zero since initiation of the first patent infringement suit.
The alleged anticompetitive behavior centers on what Mitsubishi says are sham lawsuits asserting variable speed wind turbine patents that GE allegedlyÂ knew were invalid.
According to Mitsubishi, U.S. Patent No. 5,083,039Â (‘039 Patent), which GE acquired in 2002 from Enron’s bankruptcy estate, is invalidÂ in viewÂ of GE’s own prior art reportÂ on work the company did in the 1980’s as part of aÂ U.S. government funded program.
This particular prior artÂ was not previously raisedÂ despite twoÂ investigations in theÂ U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) involving the ‘039 Patent.Â One reason for this is that the first ITC case, between Kenetech/Zond and Enercon, was based on claim 131 of the ‘039 Patent while Mitsubishi’s invalidity assertion involves claim 121.
Specifically, Mitsubishi alleges that GE withheld material prior art from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office during prosecution of the application that issued as the ‘221 Patent and knowingly omitted an inventor from the application that issued as the ‘985 Patent.Â
The same day it filed the antitrust suit, Mitsubishi also fired offÂ a patent infringement complaint (mitsubishi_complaint.pdf) in the Middle District of Florida, accusing GE of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,452,185, entitled “Blade-pitch-angle control device and wind power generator.”
Interestingly, this is not the first green patent warÂ that reached a climaxÂ in an antitrust suit.Â After years of globalÂ litigation between LED rivals Nichia and Seoul Semiconductor (Seoul), SeoulÂ accused NichiaÂ ofÂ repeatedly filing baseless patentÂ suits to squeeze it out of theÂ market for white side-view LEDs (see my post here).
Shortly thereafter, Nichia and Seoul announced a global settlement.Â
Perhaps green patent history will repeat itself.Â The twoÂ new Mitsubishi suitsÂ may increase Mitsubishi’s leverage and lead the parties to the negotiating table.Â