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Recent Alerts

Utility Litigation Monthly Watchdog Report

Stay Informed and Alert!

eComp Consultants initiates the distribution of a monthly litigation alert bulletin to utility company executives and legal counsel within the energy sector of the utility industry. The bulletin, entitled Utility Litigation Alert, provides timely information on litigation activity occurring throughout the industry involving intellectual property associated with technology relating to smart grid initiatives and web-based customer interactions. It also serves as early warning as to potential risks of such litigation causing negative impacts to project initiatives.

See our Consulting Service page to learn about eComp’s Risk Assessment service which describes proactive ways to make sure your company is not infringing others’ IP rights, and to potentially avoid a lawsuit.


utility litigation alerts

Smart Grid Technology – February 2012

eComp Consultants provides this Utility Litigation Alert for the purpose of keeping utility companies informed of the growing amount of litigation activity that has been emerging pursuant to the evolution and steady increase of smart grid/smart technology initiatives being undertaken within the Utility Industry.  Much of this increased smart grid project activity was prompted by the distribution of stimulus funding to utility companies through the Federal Government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The accused products and solutions have targeted major application areas that support utility operations, such as:

  • Wireless communication networks for providing remote monitoring of devices
  • Systems & methods for monitoring and controlling remote devices
  • Wireless communication enabled meters & networks
  • Computer-assisted energy management sales systems for utilities
  • Dynamic real-time call tracking for web-based customer relationship management
  • Interactive communication system for stationary and mobile battery operated units
  • Communication networks utilizing broadband-over-power line (BPL) technology
  • Antenna for electric meter and method of manufacture thereof
  • Wireless communication devices for electric meter and method of manufacture thereof
  • Communications between local subscriber units and base station repeater cells

Following is a recap of litigation activity in these targeted applications that has taken place during the past 2 years:

21 – Number of lawsuits filed involving “smart” technology
12 – Number of utility companies directly accused of infringement
75 – Number of vendors & service providers accused of infringement
92 – Number of products and software solutions identified in patents-in-suits
6 – Number of cases dismissed or terminated

Two of the most notable lawsuits involving the targeted technology are highlighted below.

TransData v Centerpoint Energy, et al – filed October 21, 2010 in the Eastern District of Texas

This case directly targets 4 utility companies and accuses the defendants of infringing 3 patents involving meters that utilize advanced “under-glass” antenna systems that permit integrating the wireless communications system completely inside the meter chassis offering compatibility with existing utility billing systems and meeting stringent wireless network antenna pattern requirements.  The utility companies named as defendants in this case and the accused products or solutions being implemented are:

  • Centerpoint Energy Houston electric, LLC –re:  Itron OpenWay Centron electric meter
  • Denton Municipal Electric – re: General Electric kV2c electric meter
  • Oncor Electric Delivery Company, LLC – re: Landis+Gyr Focus AX meter
  • Texas-New Mexico Power Company – re: General Electric I-210c electric meter

There are three patents involved in this suit, two of which are titled “Antenna for Electric Meter and Method of Manufacture Thereof”, and the third patent is titled “Wireless Communication Device for Electric Meter and Method of Manufacture Thereof.

Litigation is currently in the hands of a mediator in an attempt to possibly reach a settlement agreement and thus avoid costly trial activity.   We will report the status of this litigation in our next bulletin.

To the best of our knowledge, there are no known prior assertions of these patents and this is the first such case filed by TransData against utility companies.

EON Corporation IP Holdings v Sensus USA – filed October 22, 2010 in the Eastern District of Texas

There were 16 defendants named in this case originally and another 9 technology providers were subsequently added, all of whom are accused of infringing various claims of a single patent described as “A system and method for communicating between local subscriber units and a local base station repeater cell in a two-way communication interactive video network”.

The accused products span a broad range of technology related to network portals, devices, and other components associated with Unlicensed Mobile Access (“UMA”) devices and controllers.  Many of the vendors are not known to the utility industry as “front-line” suppliers of wireless communication network solutions but, instead provide communication enablers.

Most notable vendors and their products accused in this case include, among others:

Aruba Networks – “UMA” devices
Sensus USA – FlexNet Network Portals or Buddy mode devices
Cicero – CiceroPhone & CiceroController
IP Access – Femto Access Points (various models)
Cisco – WRTU54G-TM Model
Sprint – Overdrive Hotspot, Mobile Hotspot capable devices and Airave
Advanced Metering Data Systems network integration components
Motorola Solutions – Motorola Defy with Motoblur, CDMA 9100 Series Femtocells

Claims against Sensus USA and Advanced Metering Data Systems were dismissed in April, 2011 with prejudice, thereby closing the door on any future litigation of such claims against those parties.  Other defendants not named above whose claims were also dismissed include Cellular South and nTelos, Inc, both dismissed without prejudice, thereby leaving the door open for possible re-litigation at a future time.

There are currently no known prior assertions of this patent, nevertheless, the patentee has filed other patent infringement cases involving similar technology that is more directly associated with wireless communications networks and related remote devices used in smart grid configurations.

Litigation of this case is currently ongoing between the plaintiff and the remaining 22 defendants and we will report the status in our next bulletin.

PREVENTION IS THE BEST PROTECTION:

eComp Consultants provides a Risk Assessment service that is designed to assist companies in evaluating the potential litigation risks associated with the deployment and/or ongoing operation of this technology. Click here to learn about proactive ways to make sure your company is not infringing others’ IP rights, and to potentially avoid a lawsuit.