USPTO Throws Out Westinghouse Solar Mounting System Patent on Reexam
Previous posts (here and here) discussed the U.S. International Trade Commission case between solar installation competitors Westinghouse Solar (formerly Akeena Solar) and Zep Solar (Zep) involving two Westinghouse patents, U.S. Patents Nos. 7,406,800 (‘800 Patent) and 7,987,641 (‘641 Patent).
Both patents cover what Westinghouse refers to as its “Andalay System,” a solar power system which includes solar panels with integrated racking, wiring and grounding (DC solar panels), and integrated microinverters (AC solar panels) for residential and commercial customers.
In August 2011 Zep asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to re-examine the ’641 Patent, entitled “Mounting system for a solar panel.”
In a recent Action Closing Prosecution, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office threw out the entire patent, rejecting all three claims of the ’641 Patent as invalid in view of a number of prior art references.
The ’641 Patent is directed to an integrated solar module frame and racking system. Claim 1, the only independent claim of the patent, reads:
1. A solar module comprising:
a body portion having a frame;
one or more splices, wherein each splice couples the frame of the body portion rigidly to a frame of the body portion of an adjacent solar module;
a bracket that securely attaches the solar module to a roof wherein the bracket is located along any portion of the frame;
wherein each splice further comprises a body for coupling the frames of the solar module and the adjacent solar module together and a securing mechanism for securing the frames of the solar module and the adjacent solar module together.
FIG. 2 of the ’641 Patent (reproduced below) shows three modules (102A-102C) coupled together to form an integrated system. A splice (104e) mechanically connects one module to another and provides the electrical grounding connection between the solar modules. The unlabeled component shown at the bottom of FIG. 2 is the bracket.
The Action Closing Prosecution rejected the claims of the ’641 Patent as anticipated and obvious over several prior art patents, including U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2002/0112435 to Hartman, U.S. Patent No. 4,215,677 to Erickson, U.S. Patent No. 5,232,518 to Nath, U.S. Patent No. 4,312,325 to Voges, and Japanese Patent Application No. 10-266499 to Ito.
Westinghouse can appeal the Action to the USPTO Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Eric Lane is a patent attorney at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog. Mr. Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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