General Electric Expands Patent Fight Against Vestas

  • General Electric sued Vestas for infringement of a first patent in July. General Electric has now added a second patent to that lawsuit.
  • The asserted patents are directed to “Zero Voltage Ride Through” or “ZVRT” technology.

Tech giant General Electric Co. has added a new patent to its infringement claims against Vestas Wind Systems A/S, thus expanding the scope of the lawsuit it initiated in July. In an Amended Complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles earlier this month, GE now claims that Vestas infringes its U.S. Patent No. 6,921,985 which is directed to technology for connecting wind turbines to power grids. This newly-asserted patent is in addition to GE’s U.S. Patent No. 7,629,705 that was included in the original lawsuit.

The ‘705 Patent is a notable patent in GE’s enormous portfolio. GE asserted the ‘705 Patent against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. in a patent infringement lawsuit filed in Texas in 2010. After nearly two years of litigation, the Texas court awarded GE more than $169 million in damages and entered a permanent injunction that prevented Mitsubishi from selling its wind turbines in the United States. The ‘705 Patent also survived four separate validity challenges brought by Mitsubishi in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Both the patents asserted in the Vestas lawsuit are directed to what’s known as “Zero Voltage Ride Through” or “ZVRT.” ZVRT technology allows a wind turbine to remain connected to an electrical grid during grid voltage transients such as demand spikes or short circuit. GE alleges that prior to its inventions in ZVRT, turbine operators essentially had two choices when faced with grid voltage transients: (1) temporarily disconnect the turbine from the grid, or (2) risk damage and degradation to key electric and electronic turbine components. With ZVRT turbine operators are able to keep the turbine connected to the grid without risk of damage.

GE claims that Vestas is using its patented ZVRT technology in at least four turbine models: the V90-3.0, the V100-2.0, the V112-3.0, and the V117-3.3. GE has also identified 19 major wind farms across 11 states that use at least one of these Vestas models.

In the lawsuit, GE is seeking unspecified monetary damages and an injunction that could potentially prevent Vestas from “making, using, selling, and/or offering for sale within the United States, and/or importing into the United States” any turbines found to contain GE’s patented technology. The potential for an injunction against Vestas creates tremendous risk in the wind industry, as the outcome of this lawsuit could impact both the operation of existing wind farms and the construction and delivery of planned wind farms.

Importantly, GE is also claiming that Vestas had prior knowledge of the patents. Prior knowledge can be a key element for establishing that Vestas is not only infringing GE’s patents, but that Vestas has willfully infringed those patents. A court finding willful infringement is allowed to triple the damages awarded in a lawsuit.

Vestas has not yet answered GE’s claims in the lawsuit. With Bloomberg reporting that GE and Vestas control a combined 83% of the wind turbine market, this patent lawsuit could prove to be a battle of industry titans.

 

Post originally drafted October 10, 2017.