EPO Revokes Solar Patent
BERLIN, April 3, 2009 -- The University of Neuchâtel and Oerlikon Solar were dealt a blow this week after the European Patent Office (EPO) revoked the solar patent that was the basis for their infringement case involving a California company.
In the oral decision issued Tuesday, the EPO revoked European Patent No. EP 0 871 979 issued to the University of Neuchâtel (the Neuchâtel patent). The Neuchâtel patent is the subject of an infringement lawsuit filed in Germany by OC Oerlikon Balzers AG of Liechtenstein, parent company of Oerlikon Solar, against Sunfilm of Germany. Sunfilm bought its solar production line equipment from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials.
Applied Materials' SunFab production line is used to manufacture ultralarge 5.7 m2 thin-film solar PV modules. Each line can be configured with single or tandem junction technology, the company said.
Switzerland-based Oerlikon Solar has owned exclusive worldwide rights to the Neuchâtel patent since 2003. It describes a way to deposit microcrystalline silicon on glass and glass-like substrates -- said to be the first industrially feasible production method for such silicon layers.
After the ruling, the company said it believes the EPO didn't recognize the true contribution that the University of Neuchâtel made to the art.
"Oerlikon Solar disagrees strongly with the decision of the EPO. At the same time we want to clearly outline that the validity of the patent remains in force pending a final decision regarding Université de Neuchâtel's appeal," said Jeannine Sargent, CEO of Oerlikon Solar.
While the process described in the patent is an important one for producing thin-film silicon solar modules, Oerlikon Solar said its business isn't dependent solely on that specific patent.
The EPO panel ruled that the Neuchâtel patent is invalid in its entirety. The university may appeal the decision to an EPO Board of Appeal; the patent remains valid pending the board's final ruling.
"We have to say that we are disappointed that a mere technicality in the filing process has led the EPO to revoke this valuable patent in its entirety, and we do not believe it is the right decision," said professor Christophe Ballif, head of the university's photovoltaic lab. "We are convinced of our patent's validity and therefore the Université de Neuchâtel will appeal the decision."
For more information, visit: www.oerlikon.com/solar/ or www.appliedmaterials.com
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