Power Electronics

Jury Upholds Validity of Digital Power Patents

Last Thursday, a jury issued its verdict in the Power-One lawsuit against Artesyn Technologies, upholding the validity of two of Power-One’s Z-One digital power management and control patents asserted against Artesyn Technologies. The jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division also found that one of these two patents (U.S. Patent No. 7,000,125) had been infringed by Artesyn's digital point-of-load PMBus-compatible product, though not willfully. Although only token damages may be awarded in this case, the ruling has broad implications for the application of board-level, point-of-load power solutions, according to Power-One.

Though the jury’s verdict has been delivered, the final verdict—the judge’s official documenting of the ruling—should be entered in the “January timeframe” said Dave Hage, corporate executive vice president, speaking by phone yesterday. At that point Emerson Network Power, which owns Artesyn, has 30 days to appeal the ruling, said Hage.

In the wake of last week’s jury verdict, both Power-One and Emerson Network Power issued announcements claiming victory in the case. For their part, Emerson Network Power said, “Artesyn Technologies successfully defended the majority of a competitor’s claims of patent infringement...Power-One, Inc. alleged that Artesyn infringed 82 separate claims in four of its patents. Yesterday, a Texas jury found that only one patent was infringed involving a product that Artesyn had never sold, never offered for sale and that the market has never used.”

However, Power-One refutes Emerson Network Power’s assertions that four patents and 82 claims were at stake here. In Power-One’s statement on November 19, the company said, “As is normal in complex litigation, the court had asked Power-One to simplify the trial and the allegations against Artesyn. Power-One cooperated with the Court's request and voluntarily elected to litigate on only two patents ...and on only twenty total claims.”

Furthermore, Power-One noted that the jury found that all twenty claims in the two patents that were actively litigated by Power-One were valid, and that all seven claims of the '125 patent were infringed. None of the claims or any of the four patents originally asserted by Power-One were legally dismissed by any adverse court order, or declared invalid, says Power-One. All Power-One patents and claims originally asserted remain valid and enforceable U.S. patents, according to the company.

Power-One also takes issue with Emerson Network Power’s statements downplaying the infringement of the Artesyn product, which it described as “never sold, never offered for sale and that the market has never used.” Power-One notes that that it filed this lawsuit in 2005 shortly after the announcement by Artesyn of the infringing product, the DPL20C, in September of 2005.1 According to Power-One, this swift action prevented Artesyn from ever selling the infringing product and only allowed it to use demonstration prototypes in the marketplace.

Power-One states that it continued the lawsuit to fulfill its goals of proving its patent rights valid, proving its exclusive rights to certain digital power management techniques, and preventing future infringement. The jury verdict successfully accomplishes the company's goals, according to Power-One. The company also notes that since there were no sales of infringing product, the parties stipulated prior to trial to a token damage of award of $100. Power-One has requested that the court enter a permanent injunction against appropriate parties to enforce the jury verdict.

According to Power-One, the verdict decided a number of important issues in their favor. The jury found both of the two asserted patents to be valid and found that Power-One's U.S. Patent No. 7,000,125 (the '125 patent) has been infringed by the Artesyn Technologies' digital point-of-load PMBus-compatible product. The '125 patent, which contains seven of the claims being litigated, applies to a digital power control system for programming, controlling, and monitoring an array of point-of-load regulators using a data bus for communication with and control of the point-of-load regulators.

The other patent in question, U.S. Patent No. 6,936,999 (the ‘999 patent), which contains 13 of the claims being litigated, concerns sequencing and timing of power converters. Although the jury upheld the validity of the ‘999 patent, it did not find that Artesyn’s product infringed on this patent. But in terms of priority among the patents in question, “the ‘125 patent was by far the most important patent,” said Hage.

According to Power-One, the jury relied upon the court's main interpretation of the key patent claims in this suit in reaching its verdict of patent validity and infringement. In that interpretation, the court construed the key term "Point of Load Regulator" to mean a dc-dc switching voltage regulator designed to receive power from a voltage bus on a printed circuit board, and adapted to power a portion of the devices on the board and to be placed near the one or more devices being powered as part of a distributed board-level power system.

Power-One believes that its digital power management and control intellectual property (IP) covers and applies to a very wide range of digital power control products, systems, communications methods, bus architectures, and implementations, together with dc-dc point-of-load implementations using data bus communication, including the PMBus protocols.

“Should people try to connect multiple point-of-loads on a board with a communications bus, they will be violating our IP,” said Hage. He further explained that the point-of-load dc-dc converters could either be point-of-load modules or point-of-loads that have been implemented using discrete components.

When asked to elaborate on its November 16 statement, Emerson Network Power declined to comment further. Similarly, a representative of the PMBus organization also declined to comment on the Power-One lawsuit.

Power-One's Chief Executive Officer, Bill Yeates commented, "We are very happy with this jury verdict...We believe this jury verdict firmly validates our position that our intellectual property is very broad, and is valid and enforceable. It was imperative that we vigorously defend our intellectual property, and we will continue to do so should others try to violate our broad IP portfolio."

Mr. Yeates continued, "The entire battle, both in the court and in the marketplace over digital power management, no doubt set back the time clock for overall adoption. We believe that the adoption will begin to ramp as customers understand this verdict, which proves that Power-One clearly has the controlling intellectual property for this technology."

References:
1. This announcement was reported in the September 21, 2005 issue of PETech Times, see “Power Supply Vendors Announce POLs Using Digital Power”. Note that at the time of the DPL20C announcement, the company had indicated plans to introduce similar products with different current ratings, form factors, and increasingly higher levels of digital control and integration, in the future.

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