TP Tops Despatch as Court Rules Up is Not Down

A previous post discussed a patent infringement lawsuit filed by Despatch Industries (Despatch) against TP Solar (TP) involving manufacturing equipment used for heat-treating silicon wafers for solar cells.

The asserted patent is U.S. Patent No. 7,514,650, entitled “Continuous infrared furnace” and directed to a furnace for treating material with infrared radiation which has a mechanism to allow easy access to interior components (’650 Patent).

In a recent decision (TP_SJ_Decision), U.S. District Court Judge Manuel L. Real granted TP’s Motion for Summary Judgment in the case, holding that TP neither literally infringed the ‘650 Patent nor infringed under the doctrine of equivalents.

The court construed claim 1 of the ‘650 Patent, the only independent claim, according to the plain meaning of the claim terms.

Thus, according to Judge Real, claim 1 required four elements: (1) a heat transfer zone having an upper portion and a lower portion; (2) a conveyor; (3) a jack that allows movement of the lower portion of the heat transfer zone; and (4) a condenser with a removable heat transfer element.

The court held that the TP furnace did not literally infringe the ‘650 Patent because it does not satisfy the third element of claim 1.

Specifically, the heat transfer element condenser of the TP device has a top-lift access feature whereas claim 1 requires bottom access by movement of the lower portion.

Further, the court held the TP device did not infringe under the doctrine of equivalents. Despatch argued that the relative movement by a fixed lower portion and a movable top is essentially the same as a fixed upper portion with a movable bottom.

Judge Real disagreed. According to the court, Despatch’s equivalents theory would eliminate the movement of the lower portion required by claim 1 and would impermissibly expand the scope of the claim.

According to TP’s press release (TP-Release), the company’s furnaces are popular in Asia, and this win means the company’s Asian customers will not experience any delivery disruptions.

If nothing else, this decision reaffirms the importance of claim construction to the disposition of patent cases and stands for the unremarkable proposition, noted by both TP and Judge Real, that “up is not down.”

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.

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Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.