Business: Mitsubishi to build disputed turbine - New plant will make 2.4 MW model

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has upped the ante in its patent fight with General Electric (GE) by confirming plans to assemble its flagship 2.4 MW turbine in Arkansas in the US.

Mitsubishi awaits final ruling on whether its 2.4 MW machine infringes General Electric patents

The 2.4 MW model turbine is at the centre of a multi-million-dollar fight between the rivals that could lead to imports of the turbine being banned.

Jonathan Wang, manager of corporate planning for Mitsubishi Power Systems America, verified that the Arkansas plant would assemble MHI's 2.4 MW turbines. But he would not comment on the practicalities in the context of the legal dispute.

The $100 million assembly plant, to be built in Fort Smith, is to employ 400 people. The Arkansas state government has offered MHI a package including $3.75 million for site preparation and infrastructure. The plant will also be eligible for a 16-year break on state income tax and a refund of some sales and use taxes. Construction will start by early 2011 and operations by 2012.

The news comes as the US International Trade Commission (ITC) is reviewing a judge's preliminary finding that the turbine infringes three GE patents and that imports should be banned. The ITC, to issue a final ruling by December 7, only has jurisdiction over imports and not domestic activity. MHI's recourse, if it loses the next ITC round, would be to appeal to a US district court, which could take up to two years.

Another lawsuit pending

In a separate lawsuit filed in Texas, GE is seeking an injunction to prevent the Japanese company from any further patent infringement. If an injunction were imposed, it could apply to all domestic activity that involves the disputed patents. The lawsuit has been shelved until the ITC case is resolved.

If GE prevails, MHI could re-engineer the turbine - a time-consuming process - or buy licenses from GE, as have other manufacturers for the US market. MHI could also attempt to license one of the disputed patents - 985, for low voltage ride through (LVRT) technology - from an alleged co-inventor, Thomas Wilkins (Windpower Monthly, November 2009). GE's 985 patent does not expire until 2023. The other vital GE patent at the core of the case - 039, for variable-speed technology - expires in January 2011, around the time when MHI says it will start building the Arkansas factory.