GE Wins Wind Patent Ownership As Court Finds Testimony Too Impeachy

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In previous posts (here, here, and here), I discussed a major offshoot of the GE-Mitsubishi wind patent war in which GE and a former employee, Thomas Wilkins, tussled over ownership of two of the patents involved in the larger litigation.

The remaining patent-at-issue in this ownership dispute was U.S. Patent No. 6,921,985 (’985 Patent). The ’985 Patent is directed to a wind turbine that includes a blade pitch control system and a turbine controller coupled with the blade pitch control system. To increase the reliability of the turbine’s power supply, the turbine controller causes the blade pitch control system to vary pitch in response to transitions between different power sources.

After Wilkins brought a lawsuit to correct inventorship, Mitsubishi intervened in the suit. The case aroused Mitsubishi’s interest because the ’985 Patent is one of several asserted by GE against Mitsubishi in at least two lawsuits.

The court recently conducted a six-day bench trial to decide whether Wilkins should be named a co-inventor of the ’985 Patent and issued a decision answering the question in the negative.

To overcome the presumption that the named inventors on a patent are correct, an alleged co-inventor must prove his inventive contribution by clear and convincing evidence. The putative inventor can’t rely on his testimony alone. Rather, there must be evidence to corroborate his testimony.

Apparently, Wilkins was his own worst enemy in the trial. The court found his testimony not credible, and the proffered corroborating witness testimony fell short because the witnesses either relied on Wilkins or failed to provide ample basis for their opinions.

The court found Wilkins undermined his own credibility by providing “purposefully evasive” responses to even basic questions. He was “repeatedly impeached during cross-examination, to the point where the veracity of even simple answers were called into question.”

In its decision, the court had more harsh words for Mr. Wilkins, whom it also described as appearing to be a pawn of Mitsubishi:

Mr. Wilkins leaves this case with no credibility. He was a purchased witness/party, and whether or not that was the intent of Mitsubishi, clearly that was the result. His bias is only paralleled by his attitude that this is all a game. His definition of truth seems to be that which personally will benefit him the most….Impeachment during cross examination became so constant that it became routine, even to the point of the Court’s finding it difficult to believe the obvious without corroboration…

having observed Mr. Wilkins’ demeanor during examination, the Court is left with the firm impression that Mr. Wilkins is a game player who was more concerned about gaining personal advantage than testifying truthfully.

Taking all these factors together, the Court does not find Mr. Wilkins’ trial testimony to be credible evidence.

Accordingly, GE retains full ownership of the ’985 Patent as the court held Wilkins was not a co-inventor:

the Court concludes that the heavy burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence has not been met, and therefore Mr. Wilkins should not be named a co-inventor of the ’985 patent.

Eric Lane is a patent attorney at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog. Mr. Lane can be reached at elane@mckennalong.com

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Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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