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Speeding Construction of Your Company’s ‘Great Wall’: Protecting Green Technology in China with Utility Models

Posted in Intellectual Property

Great Wall of ChinaThe Economist recently reported on a World Intellectual Property Organization study that the number of Chinese patents filed abroad is rising. China’s patent office was the busiest in the world in 2012. Coupled with this growth of IP, China is now the world’s largest economy, has a growing solar industry, and is leading the world in renewable investment. With China’s economic and IP growth, protecting your green technology in China is becoming more important. However, IP protection in China needs to be balanced against questions regarding the Chinese market, long-term plans for your green technology, or costs.

Chinese utility models provide a cheaper, faster alternative to a “regular” Chinese invention patent if your invention meets statutory requirements. Only shapes, structures, electrical circuits, or network diagrams can be protected by Chinese utility models. The claims cannot include methods or functional language. There are four main advantages for a Chinese utility model. Continue Reading

Multistate ZEV Plan Looks to Increase the Use of Zero-Emission Vehicles Through Infrastructure Development, Standardization, and Taxpayer Incentives

Posted in Renewable Energy

This entry was authored by Hodgson Russ summer associate Jonathan Jasinski. Jonathan is a student at Vanderbilt University Law School.

tire tread close upOn May 29, 2014, the ZEV Program Implementation Task Force issued a 32-page action plan detailing the efforts that eight states will undertake to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in use. ZEVs are battery electric, hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The task force was created by a memorandum of understanding signed by the governors of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont in late 2013. Each of the states have taken some steps to promote ZEVs; the task force’s goal is to coordinate those efforts through joint implementation of the action plan.

What Does the Plan Entail?

The action plan’s primary objective is to have 3.3 million ZEVs in use in the eight signatory states by 2025. To say this represents a large increase is quite an understatement; although ZEVs have been widely available since 2010, only about 200,000 have been sold nationwide. To promote increased ZEV sales, the action plan suggests several “key actions” for the states to take: Continue Reading

Take Off Every Zig: The Risk in Tesla’s “All Our Patent Are Belong to You” Message

Posted in Intellectual Property

Tesla sports car chargingWith a title parodying a classic Internet meme, Elon Musk announced on June 12, 2014, that “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” Musk plans to continue filing additional patent applications and will make subsequent patents freely available as well. This benefits the planet, future generations around the globe, and—more particularly—Tesla, in that it could speed adoption of electric vehicles and the construction of charging stations.

At this point, it’s still not totally clear what Tesla considers to be “good faith.” Musk indicated Tesla was “looking for common sense and fairness.” As an example, Musk clarified that Tesla does not want a competitor to mimic Tesla’s cars or to trick consumers into thinking a competitor’s car is actually a Tesla car. Aiming to provide some additional clarification, Musk also said that Tesla is open to simple agreements with companies worried about what freely using Tesla’s patents “in good faith” actually means. Continue Reading

Department of Commerce Announces Preliminary Decision to Impose Tariff on Solar Panels Imported From China

Posted in Renewable Energy

Solar PanelsThis entry was co-authored by Hodgson Russ summer associate Alyssa Helfer. Alyssa is a student at University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Some U.S. solar equipment manufacturers have lauded the Department of Commerce’s recent decision to impose high tariffs on solar panels imported from China as the end of China’s unfair market advantage; however, from the standpoint of domestic installation companies, the future of affordable solar power doesn’t look so bright.

Currently, solar panels in China are produced with the financial assistance of a government subsidy. In 2011, SolarWorld Industries America Inc., the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the United States and leader of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), filed a petition with the Department of Commerce seeking to impose import duties on solar products manufactured in China. Due to the subsidy, these panels were sold in the United States at lower prices than their domestic competitors. The Department of Commerce ultimately responded by issuing a final decision in 2012 that placed import duties on panels containing Chinese-made solar cells. Chinese exporters have since been circumventing this 2012 order by using cells manufactured in Taiwan in their panels, which allows the panels to be exported to the United States duty free. This business model allowed Chinese manufacturers to sell their products in the United States at a fraction of the price charged by their domestic counterparts, effectively pricing U.S. manufacturers out of the market. Continue Reading

U.S. EPA Approves ASTM E1527-13 for Application to the All Appropriate Inquiry Rule

Posted in Green Building

Effective December 30, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has amended its “All Appropriate Inquiries” Rule (AAI Rule) to reference the recently published American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E1527–13 “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process,” commonly referred to as the “ASTM Phase I Standard.” The amendment approves the use of the new standard for purposes of meeting the AAI Rule requirements.

The AAI Rule sets forth federal standards and practices related to evaluating a property and its environmental conditions, as well as assessing the likelihood of the presence of any contamination. Continue Reading

Cuomo Announces State Investment of $225 Million Toward the Buffalo High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub

Posted in Investing

Buffalo, NY SkylineOn November 21, 2013, Governor Cuomo announced the state’s commitment of $225 million toward the creation of a clean energy research campus in Buffalo, New York. Referred to as the RiverBend project, the campus is slated for the former Republic Steel brownfield site along the Buffalo River and represents almost a quarter of the governor’s $1 billon pledge for state investment in Buffalo. The RiverBend project will develop high-tech facilities, with state-of-the-art equipment, for use by clean energy firms. The model consists of significant state investment in high-tech equipment and facilities that are in high demand and difficult for firms to acquire on their own. This approach was used in developing the state’s nanoscience research and development facility in the Capital District. Continue Reading

Solyndra Lives: Controversial Department of Energy Loan Program Will Continue

Posted in Renewable Energy

Unless you have avoided the news over the past two years, you have likely heard of Solyndrathe now bankrupt California-based solar panel makerthat received $535 million in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Program Office (LPO). Since Solyndra’ s bankruptcy in 2011, some politicians have used it as a rallying cry against government tinkering in the free market and, to a certain extent, what they view as crony capitalism. This public backlash caused the administration to halt the DOE’s issuance of new loan guarantees under the LPOuntil now. Now that the Solyndra experience has cooled a bit, and Congress is focused on other big-ticket items like the Affordable Care Act, it was announced in late-September that the DOE’s controversial program will be revived. Continue Reading

Obama Climate Plan Rests on EPA’s Ability to Force Technology Improvements

Posted in Renewable Energy

Coal Power PlantCan the Clean Air Act be used to force technological improvements, even if that technology is at best under construction but not actually in existence in any place? With the Obama Administration’s climate control plans, the EPA asserts the answer is yes.

On September 20, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its first steps under President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by reproposing the greenhouse gas new source performance standards for power plants. Under the proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines (larger than 850 megawatts) would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines (less than 850 megawatts) and new coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. The proposed regulation of coal-fired units has specifically drawn intense criticism.

Opposition to the proposal has been based on both economic and technical grounds. Typical of the response was that of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander: Continue Reading

Lithium-Ion Battery Prices Likely to Plummet, but Cost of Electric Cars May Be Slow to Follow

Posted in Renewable Energy

Aaron Saykin is a law clerk in Hodgson Russ’s Business Litigation Practice Group.

Electric car rechargingIf the leading industry experts are correct, prices for hybrid and electric vehicles should start to drop, but not nearly as much as you might expect.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the head of a major lithium-ion battery-maker revealed that his company plans to halve the cost of lithium-ion batteries for both hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles within the next six years at the 2013 Battery Show in Novi, Michigan, this month. Continue Reading

Solar Balance of System (BoS) Cost Continues to Be the Focus of Cost-Reduction Strategy

Posted in Renewable Energy

Solar powerSolar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has significant potential to contribute to U.S. energy needs. But the progress of this low-carbon energy source requires significant cost reductions if it is to fulfill its promise and play a significant role. As the cost of PV modules becomes an increasingly smaller piece of the total solar project cost, balance of system (BoS) cost has become a focal point of efforts to increase feasibility.

BoS includes all non-module elements of a PV system, including both soft and hardware costs. The soft costs comprise developer/installer business costs (such as customer acquisition costs, carrying costs, insurance, performance and payment bonds, incentive program participation, administrative costs, and labor) as well as financing and contracting costs, system design and engineering expenses, and costs related to permitting and interconnection. Hardware costs will include inverters, conduit, wiring, monitoring hardware, and mounting systems and fasteners.

While costs for PV modules have been decreasing, BoS has failed to keep pace. Continue Reading