Alstom Grid Appeals, Reverses Dominion Energy’s Patent Win

  • Alstom Grid successfully reversed a jury verdict finding that Alstom infringed a Dominion Energy patent directed to smart grid management technology.
  • The appeal was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is the federal appeals court that takes all appeals of U.S. patent cases.

Alstom Grid LLC won an appeal at the Federal Circuit after last year suffering a patent trial loss to Dominion Energy, Inc. over smart grid management technology. In overturning the earlier jury verdict, the Federal Circuit stated that “no reasonable jury” could have found Alstom to infringe Dominion’s patent.

In January 2015, Dominion sued Alstom for patent infringement in federal court in Pennsylvania. The patent at issue is Dominion’s U.S. Patent No. 8,437,883 which is directed to smart grid monitoring and management. The ‘883 Patent claims an invention of measuring voltages at numerous points in an electric grid and comparing those measured voltages to a “target voltage band.” Voltage adjustments are made to ensure electricity is delivered to consumers within the target voltage band. By making these adjustments, voltages across the entire electric grid can be optimized and overall grid efficiency is increased.

Dominion accused an Alstom software product called e-terradistribution of infringing the ‘883 Patent. The product is installed as the distribution management system of Duke Energy’s electric grid. The case went to trial, and a jury returned a verdict that Alstom’s e-terradistribution software infringed the ‘883 Patent. The jury found monetary damages of $486,000. The judge overseeing the trial decided that the infringement was “willful” and doubled the monetary damages to $972,000. Critically, the judge also entered a permanent injunction against Alstom that would have required Alstom to cease the sale and operation of its e-terradistribution software or to reconfigure the software in a non-infringing manner.

On appeal, Alstom argued that the jury verdict was erroneous because the e-terradistribution software does not compare measured voltages to a target voltage band. Instead, Alstom’s software first calculates an expected voltage for each node of the electric grid. Voltages are then measured at each node, and the measured voltage is compared to the calculated voltage to determine what type of adjustments need to be made on the grid.

Dominion’s claimed invention requires a comparison of measured voltage to a target voltage band, whereas Alstom’s product compares measured voltage to a calculated voltage. The Federal Circuit found that Alstom’s product does not infringe Dominion’s ‘883 Patent because Alstom’s calculated voltage is sufficiently different from the target voltage band claimed by Dominion. The Federal Circuit noted that even a smart grid expert hired by Dominion to testify in the case admitted that Alstom’s software did compare a measured voltage to a target voltage band.

The Federal Circuit overturned the jury verdict, thus eliminating the award of monetary damages and the injunction against Alstom. The case will now be sent back to the federal court in Pennsylvania for final disposition.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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