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Patent battle stirring up LED industry.

Two LED lighting manufacturers are embroiled in a trademark battle that some believe could change the course of the LED industry. It has the trade so up in arms that several producers have formed an alliance to oppose one party.

The issue revolves around Color Kinetics Inc., a Boston lighting manufacturer known for its beefy patent portfolio. Founded in 1997, the firm said it holds 40 patents, with approximately 130 pending. It sells the rights to use these technologies to other companies, in addition to making its own products.

Many manufacturers claim to have been using some of the technologies for years, and even decades. If a technology has been on the market for a year or more, it cannot be patented, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In March 2002, Super-Vision International of Orlando, Fla., filed a lawsuit against Color Kinetics, seeking to invalidate some of its patents. SuperVision claimed that four of these light-emitting diode technologies, including one used underwater in pools and spas, were produced well before the patents were issued. In June 2002, Color Kinetics sued the other firm for patent infringement.

Brett Kingstone, Super-Vision's president/CEO, fears that Color Kinetics is trying to monopolize pre-existing technology. "If Color Kinetics' patents are upheld, they will have a lock on the LED industry," he said.

Color Kinetics believes it is within its rights. "We have spent millions of dollars in our research and development program, and have protected our developments by patenting technologies, products and applications," the company said in a statement. "We protect our intellectual property, and we are committed to defending it when necessary." The firm chose not to discuss details of the case or the controversy.

Last year, approximately 250 companies formed the LED Alliance to side with Super-Vision, Kingstone said. About 115 have signed a petition asking the USPTO to rescind the patents, he added.

Felicia Spagnoli, Color Kinetics' spokesperson, questioned the other manufacturers' ability to make such judgments. "We're talking about patents that were independently granted not only in the U.S., but also in Europe, Hong Kong and elsewhere," she said. "Patents are subjected to due diligence by investors and partners. For people without legal qualifications to comment on whether a patent is valid is questionable. That's why this needs to play out in the court, not in the trade press."

Kingstone said many companies feel bullied by his court rival. An affidavit from Artistic License of the United Kingdom claims that an executive and an attorney for Color Kinetics served a cease-and-desist order at the former's booth at a trade show, demanding that the staff take down its color-changing LED displays and stop selling the products or risk being sued.

"The individual claiming to be a senior executive of Color Kinetics informed a member of my staff that 'she should start looking for a new job' as they were going to 'take us down,' "read the document from Artistic License founder Wayne Howell.

SuperVision is further allying itself with companies by purchasing their invention portfolios and selling licensing rights. "We're providing this as a defensive measure so we can maintain a free and open market," and to help raise funds for the court case, Kingstone said.

Both companies have flied motions for judgment, with some left to be heard. Kingstone said he hopes the case will go to trial later this year.

This episode takes place at a pivotal point in LED history, he added. In the mid-1990s, the industry developed a way to offer the product in the complete color spectrum. This broadened the range of products to which LED technology can be applied, allowing sales to double or triple every year since, he said. He noted that in the past five years, sales of LED lighting have gone from $100 million to $1.4 billion.
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Title Annotation:MAKING NEWS
Author:Robledo, Rebecca
Publication:Pool & Spa News
Date:Jun 6, 2005
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