“Stealing is not competition”: SolarEdge founder comments on IP claim

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On Monday SolarEdge announced it had filed a lawsuit in the regional court of Mannheim, Germany, against Huawei. The lawsuit pertains to alleged intellectual property infringements of the HD-Wave topology used in SolarEdge’s inverters. Huawei has denied the claim.

At Intersolar Europe, which closes in Munich today, pv magazine sat down with SolarEdge Vice President for Marketing and Product Strategy – and one of the company’s founders – Lior Handelsman.

pv magazine: What type of signal are you sending, with Monday’s announcement of the IP claim filed against Huawei?

Lior Handelsman: The signal is clear! Like any other industry, the photovoltaic sector can only grow if companies invest in innovation. When other companies use intellectual property [IP] that you developed, and that is rightfully yours without paying you for it, it is considered stealing. Since we believe that Huawei infringed our IP rights, we filed a lawsuit. The only way the PV industry will grow is if IP laws are upheld. We believe that our IP has been copied by Huawei, so we sued them and their distributor in Germany because it is also an IP infringement to bring these products into Germany. Now, this is a matter for the court.

What makes the HD-Wave technology patentable, and why do you believe that will stand up in court?

Patent law is very complicated, but the specific law that we filed a lawsuit for is a granted patent. The U.S. patent office has reviewed that patent, and the European patent office, and they came to view it as a patent. If now, that exact same typology is in another inverter, I think this is an infringement.

How do you describe that topology?

We use a topology that is a modification of the multi level topology with an adaptation for low voltage systems, and we actually have several patents for that. It is one or two out of 170 patents we have on optimizers and inverters in PV systems.

How do you know it’s the exact same topology?

You open up the inverter and take a look inside.

Onlookers from the industry might consider this move to be a reaction to increasing competition from Huawei; so to speak, they are ‘cutting your lunch’.

Today they are not eating our lunch, because the product has just been launched. Also, overall they haven’t been eating our lunch. Our sales have consistently been going up, so there is no business indication that this is happening. This not a matter of losing a business competition. It is a matter of IP, it is an entirely different thing.

We are okay to compete on price; we are okay to compete on features, we are okay to compete on anything that is fair competition. Copying is not fair competition. It is not even related to the sport. For example, if you write an article and someone translates it into another language and now gets revenue without giving you credit for it, that is copying. Maybe that person is copying it into a language that you didn’t even plan to publish it in, so that person isn’t stealing your lunch, but stealing your IP. That is IP theft and not related to losing the business fight. It is related to someone stealing your patents. If we invest two years of development in HD-Wave technology and someone comes and copies it, to save those two years of development, they should be stopped.

Is it just an isolated case or are you making a more significant statement?

No, this is a more significant statement. We will vigorously protect our IP wherever it is infringed. If people ask me whether we will be suing more companies or other products, I don’t know the answer to that question, as it is for the lawyers to decide. The statement is clear, however; wherever we see our IPs infringed, we will react.

Regardless of the cost?

Yes, regardless of the cost.

How do you react to Huawei’s response, saying that the company employs the biggest number of R&D engineers in the world, probably implying that it would not need to infringe your patents?

I don’t know what their motive is. The fact is that the patented topology of HD-Wave inverters is in their products. The number of R&D engineers doesn’t always matter; quantity doesn’t always meet quality. If someone invented something, he or she invented it, and it is theirs. You can throw a thousand other engineers at it; it will be still [the original inventor’s] invention. If it is a useful invention, use these engineers to invent something else. So to claim that they don’t think that they infringe that patent is a foreseeable statement, but now it is a matter for the courts.