LED Litigation Goes Tubular: Altair Targets LED-O Light Tubes


Altair Engineering (Altair) is a Michigan-based company that sells energy efficient solid state lighting products, particularly LED lamps, through its subsidiary, Ilumisys.

Altair owns U.S. Patent Nos. 7,049,761 (’761 Patent) and 7,510,299 (’299 Patent), both directed to a light tube for a fluorescent light fixure having a plurality of light emitting diodes within the bulb.

Light tube (20) is illuminated by LEDs (22) packaged inside the tube. The light tube (20) includes a cylindrically shaped bulb portion (24) having a pair of end caps (26, 28) at opposite ends of the bulb portion.

The LEDs are mounted on a circuit board (30). The circuit board (30) and LEDs (22) are enclosed by the bulb portion (24) and the end caps (26, 28).

The two patents are related in that the ‘299 Patent is a continuation of the ‘761 Patent, which means the patents have the same written description and figures but different claims.

Last month Altair sued LEDS America in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan alleging that the Florida-based LED maker’s LED-O T-8 Replacement Tube product infringes the ‘761 and ’299 Patents.

LEDS America launched the LED-O product line in July (see the LED-O brochure here).

The complaint (altair_complaint.pdf) provides a little bit of the backstory of the dispute, including a preview of one potential non-infringement argument.

According to the complaint, the defendant told Altair that its products do not infringe the asserted patents because they do not have an “end cap” as required by the claims of the patents, but instead have a “power supply.”

The complaint alleges that, prior to bringing the suit, Altair ordered one of the T-8 products and confirmed that the “power supply” is actually a large “end cap.”

Another point of interest relating to the infringement issue is that there is recent precedent as to the meaning of one of the terms of the ‘761 patent claims.

Last year another LED maker also targeted by Altair in the Eastern District of Michigan, LEDdynamics, won a partial summary judgment ruling that one of its LED tube replacement products did not infringe certain claims of the ‘761 Patent.

The ruling (altair_order.pdf) was based on the court’s claim construction interpreting the term “a plurality of closely-spaced light emitting diodes” to mean that adjacent LEDs are sufficiently close that another LED can’t fit in between them.

If the case gets to the claim construction phase, it will be interesting to see if the “closely-spaced” term and the prior interpretation of it plays a role.

Eric Lane is a patent attorney at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog Mr. Lane can be reached at elane@luce.com.



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