Solar panel companies victorious as patent win affirmed

The Federal Circuit on Monday upheld a ruling that parts of three patents covering roof mount assemblies are invalid, preserving a victory for two solar energy companies that had been accused of infringement.

It ruled yesterday, May 21, that the patents, which are directed to “roof mount sealing assemblies”, were invalid over an earlier patent. D Three Enterprises had sued SunModo, based in Washington, and Arizona-based Rillito River Solar (which does business as EcoFasten Solar) for infringement.

The appeals court, in a precedential opinion, affirmed a Colorado district court’s decision finding patent claims D Three Enterprises LLC had asserted against SunModo Corp. and Rillito River Solar LLC were invalid as anticipated.

D Three—which owns US patent numbers 8,689,517; 9,068,339; and 8,707,655—appealed to the Federal Circuit, where Circuit Judges Reyna, Clevenger and Wallach heard the case.

Wallach, who wrote the opinion, provided further detail on the patents, saying they cover “roof mount sealing assemblies which allow users to mount objects on a roof and seal ‘the mounting location … against water.”  SunModo’s allegedly infringing products were available to the public in 2010, while EcoFasten’s was available in June 2009, the court noted.

D Three claimed that the district court erred in granting summary judgment “because a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the 2009 application adequately discloses the asserted claims of the patents-in-suit,” the court explained.

Specifically, it added, the district court divided the claims into two categories––those that recited a washer and those that did not––“and asked whether ‘the parent applications disclose roof mount assemblies that (a) do not have a soft washer but also do not limit the type of attachment bracket, and (b) have a soft washer but do not limit its location’”.

The district court found that the 2009 application’s only disclosure of a “washerless assembly” required an attachment bracket, while the asserted claims disclosed broader configurations of washerless assemblies, the Federal Circuit explained.

It added: “The district court also held that the 2009 application’s assemblies with washers only disclosed washers situated ‘above the flashing’, but the asserted claims covered assemblies with washers below the flashing.”

The court affirmed the earlier ruling, saying all “washerless claims” lack sufficient written description, meaning they cannot claim priority from the 2009 application.

It concluded: “The lack of any disclosure of an assembly with a washer below the flashing, or statement on the flexibility of the position of the washer, is fatal to D Three’s argument.”

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