Master of its Domain: Infringement Verdict Could Mean Dominion Dominance in Advanced Metering

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Once in a long while a green patent lawsuit comes along that has the potential to have a major impact on a clean technology sector.

A few that come to mind are GE’s litigation with Mitsubishi involving, among others, U.S. Patent No. 5,083,039, a seminal patent on variable speed wind technology, Paice’s epic battle with Toyota over the hybrid vehicle technology used in the Prius, and the biofuels patent litigation between BP-DuPont joint venture Butamax and the advanced biofuels company Gevo.

We may have witnessed another one this summer, with the announcement last month by Dominion Voltage, Inc. (Dominion) that a jury found Alstom Grid infringed a Dominion patent relating to voltage reduction in advanced metering infrastructure.

Dominion filed an infringement complaint against Alstom Grid in January 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The asserted patents were U.S. Patent Nos. 8,577,510 and 8,437,883 (‘883 Patent), related patents each entitled “Voltage conservation using advanced metering infrastructure and substation centralized voltage control.”

The patents, one a continuation of the other, are directed to voltage control and energy conservation systems where a plurality of sensors sense voltages of the supplied electric power at distribution locations and generate measurement data based on the sensed voltages.

A voltage controller generates an energy delivery parameter based on a comparison of the measurement data received from the sensors to a controller target voltage band, and a voltage adjusting device adjusts a voltage of the electric power supplied at the supply point based on the energy delivery parameter.

If that concept seems broad to you, it is, and the folks at Greentech Media thought so too.  In this piece reporting on the lawsuit, GTM said the asserted Dominion patents “appear to hold pretty broad claim over the very idea of using distributed sensors for grid voltage management.”

According to GTM, the patented technology is embodied in Dominion’s commercial products and is pervasive in the smart meter industry today:

That’s the technology behind DVI’s EDGE control platform, now in use by utilities across the country, and using smart meters and networks from a list of vendor partners including Silver Spring Networks, Elster and Landis+Gyr.

And now at least one of the major commercial users of the technology has been found to infringe of the patents.  According to the Dominion press release, the jury in the lawsuit returned a verdict of infringement, finding the ‘883 patent valid and infringed by Alstom Grid (now owned by GE).

The jury also found that Alstom “induced infringement through the installation of its distribution management system at a customer location.”

Dominion is likely to seek an injunction to stop Alstom Grid from installing and using the infringing products.  However, these cases more often result in a license negotiated by the parties including some sort of royalty payment.

In any event, Dominion is now in a very strong position in the smart meter-enabled grid voltage control space.  According to GTM, which covered the jury verdict here, the company is the U.S. leader in this market and now “has a jury verdict to protect the technology behind that market dominance.”

Eric Lane Avatar

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.