Bloomberg News

Tech Week Ahead: Ill Winds on Patents for GE, Mitsubishi Heavy

February 27, 2012

General Electric Co. (GE), the biggest U.S. maker of wind turbines, is turning to a Texas jury this week to damp competition from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (7011)

Opening arguments are set to begin tomorrow in a Dallas courtroom on a patent-infringement suit GE filed two years ago against Tokyo-based Mitsubishi. The trial may last through next week.

The dispute revolves around GE’s attempt to maintain its lead in the U.S. wind turbine market. The case is the second between the two to reach trial, following GE’s loss in a U.S. International Trade Commission case in Washington that sought to block imports of Mitsubishi’s turbines over different patents. A federal appeals court that heard arguments more than a year ago involving the ITC case has yet to issue an opinion.

Mitsubishi is accused in the Dallas case of infringing a patent on a way to keep turbines connected to utility grids during voltage fluctuations without sustaining damage. A second patent in the case, related to the turbines’ base design, was ruled invalid by U.S. District Judge Royal Ferguson Feb. 10.

GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, claims that at least 179 Mitsubishi turbines made for Iberdrola SA (IBE)’s renewables unit and Edison Mission Energy infringe the first patent. Mitsubishi signed contracts with the power companies in 2007 and 2008, and the turbines were installed in 2010 and 2011.

Mitsubishi has accused GE in a separate antitrust case of using its patents to monopolize the wind turbine market. That lawsuit is on hold pending the outcome of the GE patent cases.

A 2.4-megawatt wind turbine, the type at the center of the Dallas trial, currently costs about $3.2 million, based on an assumed $1.43 million per megawatt in turbine capacity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Wind Turbine Price Index (WTPIPALL).

The U.S. has the second-largest amount of wind capacity in the world behind China, according to a Feb. 7 report by the global Wind Energy Council.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING

POWER GRID CYBERSECURITY: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations plans a hearing tomorrow to examine utility companies’ efforts to defend their computer networks from hackers. Legislation is needed to help prevent cyber attacks from crippling electrical grids serving more than 300 million people in the U.S. and Canada, House members and regulators say.

To contact the reporters on this story: Susan Decker in Washington at sdecker1@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net;


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