Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

There have been a few green patent complaints filed in the last few weeks in the fields of HVAC systems, thermostats and temperature control systems, and tankless water heaters.


HVACs, Thermostats, and Temperature Control

Nidec Motor Corporation v. SNTech, Inc.

Filed on January 12, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division, Nidec Motor Corporation’s (Nidec) complaint (Nidec_Complaint) alleges that SNTech infringed three of its patents relating to blower motors for HVAC systems.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent No. 5,818,194 entitled “Direct Replacement Variable Speed Blower Motor” and U.S. Patent No.’s 7,990,092 (‘092 Patent) and 8,049,459  (‘459 Patent) both entitled “Blower Motor for HVAC Systems”.

All three of the above patents describe high efficiency, variable speed, drop-in replacement motors for use in residential heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. 

The motors have sensing circuits which deliver corresponding signals to a motor controller that controls the speed of a variable speed motor.  The ‘092 and ‘459 Patents describe the sensing circuits that provide signals to the motor controller.

Honeywell International, Inc. v. Nest Labs, Inc. et al.

On February 6, 2012, Honeywell filed suit against Nest Labs (Nest) and Best Buy in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.  The Complaint (Honeywell-Nest_Complaint) alleges that Nest is infringing seven of Honeywell’s patents relating to thermostat control technology.

While this complaint relates to patents asserted against Nest, the ramifications of the suit could have a broad reach due to the subject matter of the patents asserted.  Below is a list of the asserted patents by patent number and a brief description of each (as the descriptions were given in the complaint):

7,634,504 entitled “Natural Language Installer Setup for Controller”, describes inventions directed at simplifying methods that use natural language to program a thermostat.

7,142,948 entitled “Controller Interface With Dynamic Schedule Display”, describes methods for operating a thermostat including calculating the time anticipated to reach a particular set temperature.

6,975,958 entitled “Profile Based Method for Deriving a Temperature Setpoint Using a ‘Delta’ Based On Cross-Indexing a Received Price-Point Level Signal”, describes a method for reducing energy costs by controlling a thermostat from information stored in a remote location.

7,584,899 entitled “HVAC Controller”, describes an HVAC controller that has a rotatable part which can control one or more parameters of the HVAC system.

7,159,789 entitled “Thermostat with Mechanical User Interface” (‘789 Patent), describes an apparatus for locating a non-rotating part of a thermostat inside of a rotating part, while allowing the rotating part to set and/or control different parameters of the thermostat.

7,159,790 entitled “Thermostat with Offset Drive”, is related to the ’78 Patent and describes the same inventions.

7,476,988 entitled “Power Stealing Control Devices”, describes a power stealing device, whereby a thermostat can divert, or skim, a small amount of electrical charge from a home’s electrical system.

This case has already gotten some attention.  You can access articles here and here which discuss the issue; the first article has commentary from the Green Patent Blog’s own Eric Lane.


Tankless Water Heaters 

EcoSmart US, LLC v. American Heat Manufacturer, LLC

Recently, EcoSmart filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against American Heat Manufacturer (AMH).  That complaint is not published.  However, it appears from AMH’s Counterclaims, which are publicly available, that EcoSmart is alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,945,146 entitled “Tankless Water Heater with Power Modulation” (‘146 Patent).

The ‘146 Patent describes control systems for tankless electric hot water heaters.  The control system monitors the temperature of water entering a hot water heater, the flow rate of the water through a pipe prior to heating, the set point for a temperature of heated water, and one or more heating elements.

On January, 23, 2012, American fired back by filing a counterclaim (American_Heat_Counterclaims) against EcoSmart and Carlos Cabrera, a former employee of EcoSmart.  The counterclaim seeks Declaratory Judgment of non-infringement of the ‘146 Patent, Declaratory Judgment of invalidity of the ‘146 Patent, and tortious interference with a business relationship.

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.