Patent squabble expands again -- Vestas and Enercon

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Aloys Wobben, owner and boss of German Enercon, remains at loggerheads with Vestas, listed on the Danish stock exchange, over a growing list of patent grievances started in 2005. The companies are the wind industry's largest and fourth largest turbine suppliers.

Wobben has launched legal proceedings against Vestas, claiming patent infringements in relation to various technologies developed by Enercon for interconnecting wind turbines to the grid and, in Germany, lightning protection. Last month, Enercon extended the patent challenges relating to grid connection beyond Germany, England and Scotland to the Netherlands and Canada, reports Vestas.

While fighting the challenges over the past year or so, Vestas launched its own legal challenges questioning the validity of Enercon patents on technology relating to tower oscillation and to frequency technology for grid connection, granted by the German patent office.

While Wobben remains steadfast in his resolve to pursue the grid connection patent disputes, Vestas says it has prevailed in almost all the other patent validity cases that have completed their process through the main courts in Germany. Verdicts also went its way in Germany's federal patent court in two instances relating to the validity of Wobben's patent on lighting protection. The dispute relating to infringement of that patent dates back to August 2005 (Windpower Monthly, September 2005). A final hearing on that case is pending in Germany's federal supreme court following a challenge against the patent court's decision by Wobben, citing procedural errors. Vestas is confident the verdict will again go its way.

Vestas also says it has prevailed in Germany in instances relating to the validity of Wobben's patent on tower oscillation and in the area of grid connection concerning frequency. Wobben is challenging the court's decision on the frequency technology patent by taking the case to the supreme court, again citing procedural errors.

Even if Wobben loses this appeal, Vestas may have to launch more challenges on oscillation and frequency against Enercon. Not only has the German firm now been granted a patent by the European patent office for the grid connection technology specific to the case brought against it by Vestas in Germany's courts, it has made a further application at the European patent office for the patent on tower oscillation, which, if granted, would also apply in Germany. Several other companies have lodged complaints about Enercon's European patent on frequency.

The disputes between the two companies over patents spread beyond Germany's borders in 2006 when Wobben launched a challenge against Vestas-Celtic Wind Technology in England and Scotland last April regarding its grid connection patents (Windpower Monthly, May 2006). "Aloys Wobben is trying to monopolise the connection of wind turbines to the grid by applying a patent strategy which aims at obtaining an exclusive right to the actual electricity grid codes," Vestas said at the time. Last month, Vestas said it maintained its opinion from a year ago that "Vestas Wind Systems A/S is not infringing the patent rights of Aloys Wobben." Enercon declined to comment.

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