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Analysis: GE’s intellectual property battle with Siemens Gamesa

GE is suing Siemens Gamesa in a UK court over an alleged IP infringement. Windpower Monthly invites an analyst to consider the lawsuit’s wider context and its possible impacts

A legal battle with Enercon in 2014-15 had delayed the Westermost Rough wind farm, which features Siemens turbines
A legal battle with Enercon in 2014-15 had delayed the Westermost Rough wind farm, which features Siemens turbines

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GE’s strategy of global patent enforcement against Siemens Gamesa could be worth more than $800 million, according to an intellectual property (IP) expert.

But a lengthy legal battle could also cause project delays, revenue losses and supply chain disruptions, IntelStor CEO Philip Totaro told Windpower Monthly.

The US tech giant recently filed a lawsuit against its European rival in a UK court, over technology that keeps turbines grid-connected when the voltage drops.

While GE claims Siemens Gamesa has infringed its IP rights with this technology, Siemens Gamesa denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to defend itself.

The latest lawsuit follows those filed by GE against Siemens Gamesa in the US and Germany. GE also has patent life left in jurisdictions including France, Spain and Sweden, according to analysis firm IntelStor.

Totaro explained that the manufacturers have filed lawsuits against each other as they prepare to negotiate licensing agreements for patented technologies – a “typical” strategy in IP litigation. 

GE has licensing agreements for low- and zero-voltage ride through technology with all of its main competitors – except for Siemens Gamesa – and so is able to extract IP royalties from other firms’ turbine sales.

Meanwhile, a Siemens Gamesa lawsuit claiming GE’s Haliade-X turbines infringe its patents for offshore direct-drive technology indicates the Spanish-German manufacturer is trying to strengthen its position in potential licensing agreements, Totaro argues.

GE has yet to pursue litigation in every country where it has a patent and where Siemens Gamesa also has an installed or planned project.

But IP expert and IntelStor CEO Philip Totaro told Windpower Monthly that if it did so, the total it could get from this strategy would exceed $800 million.

Totaro added that he was “surprised” that GE had let similar patents expire in Belgium and the Netherlands – off which Siemens Gamesa also has offshore turbines installed. He calculated that these patents could have been worth $124 million in licensing fees to GE.

Delays

IntelStor’s CEO added that other costs could accumulate for Siemens Gamesa due to project delays and supply chain disruptions. With its latest lawsuit, GE seeks to block construction of the 1400MW East Anglia THREE East Anglia THREE (1400MW) Offshoreoff Suffolk, UK, Europe Click to see full details and 1386MW Hornsea Project Two Hornsea Project Two (1386MW) Offshoreoff Yorkshire, UK, Europe Click to see full details wind farms in UK waters.

Totaro warned that while the litigants could settle at any time – which he believes would prompt GE to withdraw the request for a formal trial – the legal battle could drag on, delaying around 2.6GW of UK offshore wind capacity.

Project delays could be incredibly costly because of deferred revenue, he explained. Though it is difficult to estimate the delays’ length and associated revenue losses, he noted that a similar legal battle between Siemens and Enercon in the UK took about 15 months to resolve. Though Siemens was ultimately cleared in court, this delayed projects including the Westermost Rough wind farm. 

Delays to the start of construction would also cause disruption at Siemens Gamesa’s factories, including at its blade facility in Hull, north-east England. Disruptions to sub-component suppliers would also be likely, Totaro warned.

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