China’s JinkoSolar and Norwegian solar panel manufacturer REC Group have joined forces to challenge the validity of a patent asserted against them in litigation brought by Hanwha Q CELLS this past March. JinkoSolar and REC have jointly filed a petition for inter partes review (IPR) of U.S. Patent No. 9,893,215 B2 with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), arguing that prior art renders the patent claim anticipated or obvious in light of five prior art grounds.
According to previous research, the ‘215 B2 patent was first filed by Q CELLS and SolarWorld in 2008 and granted in 2014. The patent is for a method of “manufacturing a solar cell with a surface-passivating dielectric double layer.” This manufacturing method covers a broad range of potential products, including any using PERC technology. Q CELLS is claiming in its U.S. patent infringement complaint that JinkoSolar, REC and LONGi Solar have been unlawfully importing and selling solar cells and modules that infringe Q CELLS’ patented passivation technology. Q CELLS wants the three companies to be prevented from selling product in the United States and other countries.
JinkoSolar and REC’s new petition explains that the ‘215 B2 patent is invalid as “anticipated by, or obvious in view of, the prior art.” LONGi Solar also filed a separate IPR petition on May 13, 2019.
“The inter partes review process is an important safeguard against poor quality patents that suppress innovation in the market. Hanwha Q CELLS’ assertion of the ‘215 patent against its competitors is technically unfounded and threatens to stifle the industry’s transition to grid parity solar, driving up electricity prices for homeowners, businesses, and utilities,” said Kangping Chen, CEO of JinkoSolar. “Additionally, the fact that all three respondents in the ITC action challenge the validity of this single patent on multiple, independent grounds, further demonstrates the weakness of Hanwha’s case.”
“As an innovator and leader in the solar industry,” said Steve O’Neil, CEO of REC Group, “REC values the importance of protecting intellectual property and views the patent system as an important tool for encouraging innovation; Hanwha Q CELLS, however, seeks to misuse this system to compete in the courts rather than the U.S. market. We believe that the ‘215 patent is invalid and Hanwha Q CELLS’ allegations of infringement are unjustified. As shown by our joint IPR filing, REC will continue to defend itself vigorously against Hanwha Q CELLS’ meritless claims.”