Archive for August, 2011

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Solazyme Sambas Into Brazil with Engineered Algae that Crave Sweets

August 29th, 2011


Solazyme is a South San Francisco company that makes oil from microalgae.  Instead of providing sunlight and carbon dioxide for direct photosynthesis, Solazyme feeds the algae sugars from various biomass feedstocks in the absence of light using fermentation tanks.

Solazyme recently signed a deal with Bunge, a large Brazilian agribusiness company, to build an algae oil plant in Brazil (see Greentech Media’s coverage of the deal). 

The facility will take advantage of Brazil’s plentiful sugar cane and feed sugar cane juice to the algae to produce on the order of 100,000 metric tons of triglyceride oils a year.

Using Cleantech PatentEdgeâ„¢, I found Solazyme’s U.S. Patent No. 7,935,515 (‘515 Patent), which is entitled “Recombinant microalgae cells producing novel oils” and relates to making triglycerides out of sugar cane.

In particular, the ‘515 Patent is directed to genetically altered microalgae cells of the genus Prototheca having exogenous genes encoding various enzymes in the biochemical pathway from sucrose to fatty acids. 

One of the enzymes recited in independent claim 1 is sucrose invertase, which hydrolyzes sucrose to glucose and fructose. 

Other enzymes in claim 1 include a fatty acyl-ACP thioesterase, which hydrolyzes a fatty acyl-ACP substrate, a fatty acyl-CoA aldehyde reductase, which reduces a fatty acyl-CoA molecule to a primary alcohol, a fatty acyl-CoA reductase, which reduces a fatty acyl-CoA molecule to an aldehyde, and a fatty aldehyde decarbonylase, which converts a fatty aldehyde to an alkane or alkene.

The ‘515 Patent also describes and claims methods of manufacturing triglyceride oils using sugar cane or sugar beets as the feedstock in a heterotrophic (growing in the dark) fermentation.

For example, independent claim 11 is directed to a cell with a thioesterase gene encoding a fatty acyl-ACP thioesterase, with claim 18 reciting a method of cultivating the cell under heterotrophic conditions to make a triglyceride composition using sucrose as a carbon source.

Solazyme is not the first U.S. biofuels company to find Brazil’s sugar and biofuels production ability very sweet, and is also not the first to partner with Bunge.  In December 2009 Fremont, California-based Amyris Biotechnologies announced that it had entered letters of intent with Brazilian sugar and ethanol producers, including Bunge, to produce renewable chemicals and fuels.

This trend is one example of tech transfer between U.S. clean tech innovators on the one hand and emerging market and developing country partners on the other hand and belies claims by Brazil, China and other developing nations that IP rights are acting as a barrier to international transfer of clean technologies (see China View article here and my previous post here).

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Toyota Gets a Jump on EDI with DJ over Hybrid Vehicle Patents

August 25th, 2011


Toyota has been the target of a number of patent infringement suits involving hybrid electric vehicles in the last several years (e.g., see previous posts here, here and here). 

So instead of waiting to be sued again, this time the automaker got a jump on Palo Alto-based hybrid and electric vehicle technology company Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI) and brought its own action for declaratory judgment of noninfringement and invalidity of several patents relating to power output control and charge depletion methods for hybrid electric vehicles.

The complaint (Toyota-EDI_Complaint), filed in federal court in San Jose, California, lists U.S. Patents Nos. 5,842,534 (‘534 Patent), 6,054,844, 6,116,363, 6,809,429 (‘429 Patent) and 6,847,189 (‘189 Patent) (collectively “Asserted Patents”) and also names the Regents of the University of California, the owner the Asserted Patents, as a defendant.

According to EDI’s web site, the company holds an exclusive license for the entire University of California – Davis patent portfolio relating to hybride electric vehicles and continuously variable transmissions (read more about the licensed technology here).  UC Davis Professor Andy Frank is the named inventor on all of the Asserted Patents.

Most of the Asserted Patents are directly related, or at least incorporate and improve upon each other, and four out of five trace priority back to an original filing date of 1995.

The earliest patent, the ‘534 Patent, was filed in 1997 and is directed to methods and apparatus for controlling a hybrid electric vehicle to optimize efficiency in varying driving conditions.

The method is performed by sensing the vehicle speed and battery depth of discharge (steps 110 and 120) during operation by the electric motor (12) and comparing them with a control curve (150). 

If those parameters exceed a predetermined threshold, the internal combustion engine (14) is brought on line by engaging the clutch (step 170) and turning on the internal combustion engine (14) (step 180).

The electric motor (12) can be used to supply additional power (200) if the need for additional power demand is sensed (190).  If the internal combustion engine (14) is operating at closed throttle and the brake pedal is depressed for deceleration (210), the electric motor (12) is operated in regeneration mode (230).

Through continuation applications, the subsequent patents claim improvements upon and variations of the methods of the ‘534 Patent such as power output control where the internal combustion engine is coupled to a continuously variable transmission (‘429 Patent) and control methods for hybrid electric vehicles with smaller battery packs (‘189 Patent).

According to the complaint, EDI’s counsel offered Toyota a license to the Asserted Patents, and subsequently contended that Toyota’s hybrid electric vehicles infringe the Asserted Patents and indicated their intention to enforce the patents against Toyota.  Apparently, that’s when Toyota took matters into its own hands.

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Samsung and LG Fight Back Against Osram in Expanding LED Patent War

August 22nd, 2011


In a previous post, I discussed the new LED patent dispute between Osram, Samsung and LG Electronics (LG).  There were a few significant developments last month.

First, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) decided to investigate allegations raised in two Osram complaints that Samsung and LG are infringing a number of Osram patents by importing certain LEDs into the U.S.  See my prior post for a discussion of some of these patents.

Also, Samsung and LG each responded with suits of their own in both the ITC and Delaware federal court in which they accuse Osram of patent infringement. 

Samsung’s Delaware complaint (Samsung-Osram_Complaint) asserts eight patents, six relating to LED structure and two concerning methods of making LEDs. 

U.S. Patents Nos. 7,268,372 and 7,893,443 are entitled, respectively, “Vertical GaN light emitting diode and method of manufacturing the same” and “Nitride based semiconductor light-emitting device” and are directed to gallium nitride LEDs having particular layered structures. 

U.S. Patent No. 7,282,741 (‘741 Patent) is directed to a vertical type nitride LED wherein an n-side electrode comprises a bonding pad (261) formed adjacent to an edge of an upper surface of the n-type nitride semiconductor layer (21).  An extended electrode (262) is formed in a band from the bonding pad (261).

According to the ‘741 Patent, the bonding pad prevents a wire from shielding light emitted from the active layer of the LED, and the extended electrode prevents concentration of current density, thereby ensuring effective distribution of the current density.

The other patents asserted by Samsung in the Delaware lawsuit are:

U.S. Patent No. 7,959,312, entitled “White light emitting device and white light source module using the same” and directed to white LEDs having a blue LED chip with red and green phosphors disposed around it that emit light having certain color coordinates;

U.S. Patent No. 7,964,881, entitled “Semiconductor light emitting device, method of manufacturing the same, and semiconductor light emitting package using the same” and directed to an LED having an electrode layer with an area exposed by a contact hole formed through a first conductivity type semiconductor layer;

U.S. Patent No. 7,771,081, entitled “LED package and backlight unit using the same” and directed to an LED package having a simplified lens shape with an increased beam angle; and

U.S. Patents Nos. 6,551,848 and 7,838,315, relating to methods of manufacturing LEDs and vertical LEDs, respectively.

Samsung’s Delaware complaint lists Osram’s TOPLED, Dragon Family, and OSLON lines of products.

In its Delaware suit (LG-Osram_Complaint), LG asserts eight patents against Osram.  Like the patents asserted by Osram against Samsung and LG, many of these LG patent relate to technology for converting blue LED light into white light.

Three related patents – U.S. Patents Nos. 6,841,802, 7,649,210 and 7,956,364 – entitled “Thin film light emitting diode,” are directed to an LED comprising an LED chip (30) emitting blue light, a thin film layer (86) over the LED chip, and a passivation layer (80) between the thin film layer and the LED chip.

The thin film layer (86) contains a fluorescent material such as phosphor or a compound containing tin and converts the blue light to white light.

The other LG patents include:

U.S. Patent No. 7,821,024, entitled “Semiconductor light emitting device having a roughness layer” and directed to an LED wherein one of the conductive semiconductor layers includes a “horn-shaped roughness” to change the incident angle of light emitted and enhance external quantum efficiency;

U.S. Patents Nos. 7,768,025 and 7,868,348, directed to LEDs having vertical topology and vertical structure, respectively, to improve luminous efficiency and reliability;

U.S. Patent No. 7,884,388, entitled “Light emitting diode having a first GaN layer and first semiconductor layer each having a predetermined thickness and fabrication method thereof”; and

U.S. Patent No. 7,928,465, entitled “Method of fabricating vertical structure LEDs” and directed to methods of making GaN LEDs on insulating substrates.

By my count, there are now at least 30 patents at issue in the several lawsuits filed by Osram, Samsung and LG.  And we’re still in the beginning stages of this growing LED patent war.