US trade commission dismisses Hanwha patent infringement claim

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Chinese solar manufacturer JinkoSolar has announced the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) yesterday confirmed its technology does not infringe a patent asserted by Korean rival Hanwha Q Cells.

The company said the ITC had issued a final determination which confirmed the initial decision made by administrative law judge (ALJ) MaryJoan McNamara in the case in April.

In a statement issued by Jinko, CEO Kangping Chen said: “We welcome this final decision from the ITC, confirming what we have known all along: our products do not infringe Hanwha’s patent. From the start, we have believed that the case brought by Hanwha was legally and technically meritless and a transparent attempt to disrupt innovation and slow our momentum. The ALJ’s decision confirms that Hanwha should never have brought this case in the first place. JinkoSolar is a true innovator, and this outcome validates our technology.”

A Hanwha spokesperson told pv magazine in response: “Hanwha Q Cells respects the decision rendered by the United States International Trade Commission on June 3, 2020. However, it is regrettable that the commission has not taken our claim into proper consideration. As an industry-leading solar company, Hanwha Q Cells has been strongly supporting fair competition and promoting intellectual property rights in the industry.”

Referring to the final three digits of U.S. patent number 9,893,215, the Hanwha representative added: “It is our maintained position that Hanwha Q Cells’ ‘215’ patent has been infringed. To that effect, we will seek all possible legal avenues to protect the company’s valuable intellectual property rights.”

Case history

In March last year, Hanwha filed patent infringement lawsuits in Germany and the U.S., claiming rivals had used its solar cell passivation technology to improve their own products. The U.S. case, which was determined yesterday, according to Jinko, cited the Chinese company as well as rival Longi Solar and state-owned module manufacturer REC Group. Jinko and REC Group were the defendants in the German case.

Hanwha also opened proceedings, based on the same claim, in Australia against Jinko and Longi, later expanding that suit to Sol Distribution and renewables developer Baywa re on the basis the latter two businesses had distributed products which featured the alleged patent infringement.

In June last year, Jinko and REC Group lodged claims disputing Hanwha’s assertion of a patent on the technology at the heart of the dispute, with Jinko claiming two months ago that the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board had opened an investigation in December.

When the administrative law judge sided with Jinko in the U.S. case in April, Hanwha announced its intention to appeal.

Last month, Norway-based REC Group, which is owned by the Chinese state, confirmed it had filed a patent lawsuit of its own in China against Hanwha, claiming the Korean company had infringed rights related to REC’s split-cell and junction box technology. REC Group said the case had been accepted by the Suzhou IP Tribunal on April 8 and served on Hanwha Q Cells (Qidong) on April 20.

This copy was amended on 04/06/20 to include Hanwha’s statement. The article was further amended on 05/06/20 after a request from Jinko to change the headline. The original article was based on a press release issued by the manufacturer so the headline stated, correctly, Jinko had “claimed” the ITC had found in its favor. Jinko approached pv magazine requesting the headline be changed to reflect the court ruling as fact.