Power Electronics

When Giants Fight, The Little Guys Lose

The jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, upheld the validity of the Power-One Z-One digital power management and control patents asserted against Artesyn Technologies, according to a press release issued by Power-One on Nov. 19, 2007. Artesyn Technologies, along with Astec America, is now part of the Emerson Electric Co.’s Network Power business unit.
The oracle has spoken, albeit from both sides of the mouth.

The court awarded Power-One the right to two patents for digital power control systems for programming, controlling, communicating and monitoring an array of point-of-load regulators (POLs) by a data bus — which was infringed by the Artesyn PMBus-compatible POL — as well as a token sum of $100 in monetary damages.

Since neither data sheets nor products for the DPL20C POL were available for sale on the open market, the small monetary award could probably be justified. In actuality, the lawsuit was not directly about money, but rather about the protection of Power-One’s intellectual property (IP).

By initiating the lawsuit, Power-One in essence prevented Artesyn from selling its products for almost two years.

While this strategy protected Power-One’s IP, it backfired in some way by limiting the sale of its own products, since the outcome of the patent infringement lawsuit was not determined for a long time and many companies did not want to risk designing with disputed products.

So not only did both Power-One and Artesyn lose, but the whole power-supply industry lost. Maybe now, if there is no appeal by Artesyn, the industry can move forward and implement the digital management technology.

Licensing its technology will hopefully be a great payoff for a company that had the vision four years ago and was willing to invest more than $50 million in a technology that revolutionized the power-supply industry and allowed it to leapfrog into the digital domain.

The industry is hoping that it can restart the digital power clock, set back by the lawsuit uncertainty, and that adoption of the digital technology by the customer will begin to ramp up.

In saying all this, I have to admit that for three years I was part of the Power-One Z-One digital power development team and promoted the product after that for more than a year. So my views might be a bit biased.

Nevertheless, I am confident that we have already made the leap into the digital power domain and that there is no turning back. Just as switching power supplies replaced linear power supplies, the digital conversion and control of power will dominate the future markets.

When giants fight, the little guys lose.

Let us hope that the fight is over and that we can move on.

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