Hanwha broadens Australian solar patent fight to include REC, BayWa, Sol

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UPDATED: Hanwha Q Cells extends Australian patent infringement fight, with new Federal Court filing against REC Group, Sol Distribution and BayWa.

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Korean solar manufacturer Hanwha Q Cells has extended the reach of its legal action in Australia, with new patent infringement claims filed against Norway-based REC Group and solar PV panel distributors Sol Distribution and BayWa r.e. Solar Systems.

The new claims, filed with Australia’s Federal Court this week, follow separate filings at the start of the month, alleging that China-based rivals JinkoSolar and Longi Solar had used Hanwha’s patented passivation technology, which boosts solar cell efficiency, without authorisation.

The Australian case was preceded by legal battles in both Europe and the US, also initiated by Hanwha: one in Germany against Jinko and Norway’s REC, and two more against the same companies plus Longi in the US.

The aim of the various claims is to obtain court orders to stop the rival solar companies from importing, marketing, and selling the alleged infringing products in the corresponding markets – although in Germany it also calls for the recall and destruction of alleged infringing products.

In a statement on Monday, Hanwha Q CELLS said it had “made significant investments in the commercialisation of the relevant technology” and, as the patent owner, had the exclusive right to sell solar modules in Australia incorporating that technology.

“We do not tolerate the infringement of our intellectual property rights and we will vigorously defend our technology from being unfairly used”, said the CEO of Hanwha Q CELLS & Advanced Materials Corp, Hee Cheul (Charles) Kim.

“We commenced legal action in Australia against two distributors as we are concerned they are distributing products supplied by REC Group that incorporate our patented passivation technology.”

Kim also said that his company believed taking legal action would contribute to the long-term, healthy development of Australia’s solar energy industry.

In a statement emailed to RenewEconomy on Monday evening, BayWa r.e. said it considered the allegations to be “without technical and legal merit,” and that it would work with its supply chain partners to defend the company against them.

“BayWa r.e. fully respects intellectual property rights and takes any allegations to the contrary very seriously,” said BayWa r.e. Solar Systems managing director, Durmus Yildiz.

“As always, BayWa r.e. will continue to keep its customers and partners fully appraised of any developments. Day-to-day business is unaffected, and we continue to be committed to providing the very best customer service.”

Other companies named in the Australian case have not formally responded to the claims, but some have released statements denying the allegations made in the German and US cases.

“Based on JinkoSolar’s preliminary analysis of Hanwha’s complaints and the asserted patents, the Company believes that the complaints are without technical or legal merit,” a statement from that company said earlier this month.

“JinkoSolar, therefore, categorically refutes Hanwha’s allegations.”

In a separate statement, LONGi also denied the allegations, saying it had “always attached great importance to technology innovations and respect for intellectual properties.”

“At present, the company owns over 1,000 patents and patent applications, and maintains global leadership in various key photovoltaic technologies. LONGi’s PERC cells have repeatedly earned world records in cell efficiencies.”

In a statement accompanying the original Australian lawsuit, Hanwha said its patent claims were not restricted to any particular method of manufacture, such as atomic layer deposition (ALD) or plasma-enhanced chemical deposition (PECVD).

Rather, it said, they were directed to a solar cell structure with a first dielectric layer including aluminum oxide and a second dielectric layer that contains hydrogen.

“The patented technology can be applied in many ways. A solar cell employing what is known as Passivated Emitter Rear Cell (PERC) technology is only one type of solar cells that may use technology covered by Australian patent no.2008323025 and its global equivalents,” the statement said.

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