Transatomic Power to Open Source IP Regarding Advanced Molten Salt Reactors

  • Advanced nuclear reactor design firm Transatomic Power announced that it will suspend operations and open-source its intellectual property.
  • Transatomic’s intellectual property portfolio includes three patent applications and, presumably, reactor designs and specifications that have been held until now as trade secrets.

Transatomic Power, a company that once aimed to repurpose spent nuclear fuel as an energy source for advanced reactors, announced recently that it will suspend operations and open source its intellectual property. Transatomic cited its inability to “scale up the company rapidly enough to build our reactor in a reasonable timeframe” as the reason for closing shop.

The “open sourcing” of intellectual property remains a fairly rare occurrence.[1] Although Elon Musk famously open-sourced Tesla’s patent portfolio a few years ago (a move largely seen as a bid to encourage other companies to share the burden of building electrical vehicle infrastructure), most technology companies maintain a close hold on their IP assets. Even when a company declares bankruptcy, it is rare for the company’s IP assets to be open-sourced; rather, those assets are typically auctioned to raise funds for creditors.[2]

There are likely two main types of intellectual property that will be open-sourced by Transatomic: patents and trade secrets.

 

Patents

Transatomic owns just three patent applications.[3] All three are generally directed to molten salt reactors:

  1. U.S. Patent Publication No. 2013/0083878: describes a molten salt reactor using hydrides and/or deuterides as a moderator.
  2. U.S. Patent Publication No. 2015/0228363: describes fuel cladding properties for use in a molten salt reactor.
  3. U.S. Patent Publication No. 2016/0217874: describes a molten salt reactor using a fluoride fuel salt and a hydride moderator.

Two of Transatomic’s applications (Nos. 2015/0228363 and 2016/0217874) were rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on the basis that the inventions described in those applications were not new and non-obvious when compared to existing MSR technology. Those applications were abandoned by Transatomic prior to the open source announcement.[4]

Transatomic’s lone remaining patent application (No. 2013/0083878) has been rejected by the USPTO five times, also on the basis that the invention is not new and non-obvious when compared to existing MSR technology. With Transatomic’s suspension of operations it is uncertain if this application will ever issue as a patent.

 

Trade Secrets

It is difficult to speculate on the scope of Transatomic’s forthcoming public disclosure of its trade secrets because those IP assets are, well, secret. A trade secret is any commercially-valuable information subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy. Common examples include technical designs and specifications, customer information, financials, and marketing strategies.

Transatomic has announced that it will work with the Department of Energy to add its intellectual property – presumably in the form of reactor designs, specifications, and research notes – to the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) database.

 

In its announcement that the IP assets will be open-sourced, Transatomic expressed hope that others will use their research and design efforts to continue the development of advanced nuclear reactors.

 

 

[1] “Open sourcing” of intellectual property means that the property is made available for use by others. Open sourcing may require the party using the property to agree to certain conditions or restrictions on such use.

[2] For example, this blog previously covered the sale of SunEdison’s patent portfolio in bankruptcy proceedings. See our post at https://blogs.duanemorris.com/greenip/tag/bankruptcy/

[3] Transatomic’s relative lack of patent activity (three applications in seven years seems low for an innovative and technology-driven company) may speak to its preference to rely on trade secret protection while developing a new reactor design, cash flow problems, or a failure to prioritize intellectual property protection.

[4] Abandonment of a patent application relinquishes a claim over that intellectual property, with the effect that the subject matter of the application is dedicated to the public. Put another way, the subject matter of an abandoned patent application is “open sourced” without restriction.

Vestas Files New Challenge Against GE Wind Turbine Patent

  • After filing a first challenge against GE’s U.S. Patent No. 6,921, 985 in May, Vestas has filed a second challenge in August to expand its attack on that patent. GE had previously asserted the ’985 Patent against Vestas in a federal patent infringement lawsuit.

Last month Vestas Wind added yet another proceeding to its year-long patent battle against General Electric Company, filing a new challenge against GE’s U.S. Patent No. 6,921,985 at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Vestas had already filed one challenge against the ’985 Patent in May, and appears to have filed a second challenge to attack additional claims of the ’985 Patent. Continue reading Vestas Files New Challenge Against GE Wind Turbine Patent

Solar Panel Mounting Patents Found Invalid, Potentially Saving Defendants EcoFasten and SunModo

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found three patents directed to solar panel mounting technology to have defective priority claims. As a result, the allegedly-infringing products sold by EcoFasten and SunModo pre-date the patents, rendering the patents invalid.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently affirmed the invalidity of three patents directed to solar panel mounting technology. The patents are owned by solar installer D Three Enterprises LLC, and were asserted in federal court against SunModo Corporation and Rillito River Solar LLC, which does business under the name EcoFasten Solar. Now that the three patents have been affirmed as invalid, D Three’s lawsuit against SunModo and EcoFasten will potentially be dismissed. Continue reading Solar Panel Mounting Patents Found Invalid, Potentially Saving Defendants EcoFasten and SunModo

GE, Vestas Battling in a Technological Field They Dominate

  • GE and Vestas are now one year into patent litigation that has the potential to impact the U.S. wind turbine market. The parties reportedly control more than 80% of the market between them.
  • The patents at issue claim inventions in the field of controlling wind turbine generators. GE and Vestas are the preeminent patent owners in this field.

This week marks one year since GE filed a patent lawsuit against its main rival in the U.S. wind turbine industry, the Danish company Vestas A/S. In the past year, GE has modified its patent infringement allegations; Vestas has denied infringement, alleged inequitable conduct by GE when obtaining the patents, and counter-sued GE for infringing Vestas’ patents; and both parties have filed challenges to each other’s asserted patents with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (see here and here). The litigation in federal court was also recently put on hold to await the outcome of those challenges at the PTAB. Continue reading GE, Vestas Battling in a Technological Field They Dominate

EVelozcity Loses Bid to Disqualify Part of Faraday’s Legal Team

  • While defending against allegations of trade secret misappropriation, EVelozcity attempted to disqualify part of Faraday’s legal team for a conflict of interest. That attempt fell short when the court ruled that EVelozcity had not shared confidential information with the allegedly-conflicted attorneys.

As discussed in our previous post, the artificial intelligence electric vehicle developer Faraday&Future, Inc. filed a lawsuit in January against rival startup EVelozcity, Inc. for misappropriation of trade secrets. Several senior members of the EVelozcity team were formerly employed by Faraday, and Faraday accused those former employees of stealing trade secrets on their way out the door. EVelozcity responded to these accusations with two motions to the court. Continue reading EVelozcity Loses Bid to Disqualify Part of Faraday’s Legal Team

Breaking Down the Faraday Future Trade Secret Case

  • The artificial intelligence electric vehicle developer Faraday&Future has sued rival EVelozcity for misappropriation of trade secrets.
  • EVelozcity was formed by the former CFO of Faraday and allegedly recruited several Faraday employees to defect and bring substantial amounts of confidential Faraday data with them.

In January, the artificial intelligence electric vehicle developer Faraday&Future, Inc. filed a lawsuit against rival startup EVelozcity, Inc. for misappropriation of trade secrets. Faraday has reportedly invested more than $1 billion to develop a vehicle called FF 91, which is scheduled to begin production late this year. Continue reading Breaking Down the Faraday Future Trade Secret Case

Wind Turbine Litigation: Judge Orders Stay of GE v. Vestas

  • The patent litigation between GE and Vestas was put on hold pending the outcome of several challenges to the disputed patents brought at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
  • The patents at issue include both GE and Vestas patents directed to wind turbine technology, and specifically to ensuring safe and reliable connections between wind turbines and the power grid.
  • Based on scheduling at the PTAB, the patent litigation will likely be suspended for a minimum of six months and a maximum of eighteen months.

The U.S. District Court judge hearing a dispute over wind turbine patents between GE and Vestas put the case on hold last week, electing to await developments in a series of challenges brought against the patents at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). In an order signed June 7, 2018, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. indicated that the litigation is stayed (suspended) until the PTAB has issued Institution Decisions in each of the validity challenges filed by GE and Vestas (for a recap of those challenges, see our earlier posts regarding GE’s challenges against Vestas and Vestas’s challenges against GE). Continue reading Wind Turbine Litigation: Judge Orders Stay of GE v. Vestas

GE v. Vestas Litigation Update: GE Moves to Sever Counterclaims, Vestas Brings Invalidity Challenge

  • GE asked a federal court to split its patent litigation with Vestas into two parts, which would allow the litigation to proceed with respect to GE’s claims against Vestas while delaying a trial on Vestas’ counterclaims against GE.
  • Vestas filed invalidity challenges at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board against the two GE patents asserted in the litigation.

The patent litigation between two titans of the wind turbine industry continues to heat up as the parties fight over the validity of each other’s patents and the scope of the dispute itself. GE and Vestas, reported to control more than 80% of the US wind turbine market, have been engaged in patent litigation since last summer. Recent developments in the case have the potential to greatly impact the number of claims heard at trial and the relative bargaining power between the parties. Continue reading GE v. Vestas Litigation Update: GE Moves to Sever Counterclaims, Vestas Brings Invalidity Challenge

Solar Tracking Patent Disputed: ArcelorMittal v. Array Technologies

  • ArcelorMittal has challenged the validity of a solar tracking patent owned by Array Technologies in a petition filed with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board
  • Array Technologies had previously brought infringement claims against a solar tracking company called Exosun. ArcelorMittal later bought assets from Exosun, which may have prompted ArcelorMittal’s challenge to the Array Technolgies patent.

International steel and manufacturing giant ArcelorMittal filed a petition in March at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board challenging the validity of a solar tracking patent owned by Array Technologies, Inc. If successful, ArcelorMittal’s challenge could result in the cancellation of a significant portion of Array Technologies’ U.S. Patent No. 8,459,249. Continue reading Solar Tracking Patent Disputed: ArcelorMittal v. Array Technologies

Design of Solar-Powered Lightbulbs at Issue in New Litigation

  • A pair of manufacturers are engaged in litigation over the specific design of a solar lightbulb.
  • Design patents are used to protect the appearance of a product rather than the product’s functionality.

The Gerson Companies, a home décor products importer based in Olathe, Kansas, has sued Quanxin Lighting and Electrical (USA) Inc. in federal court in Delaware last month for infringement of a design patent. The patent is directed to the design of a solar-powered lightbulb. In the lawsuit, Gerson has requested monetary damages and an injunction preventing Quanxin USA’s continued sale of the allegedly infringing products. Continue reading Design of Solar-Powered Lightbulbs at Issue in New Litigation