U.S. International Trade Commission will investigate Hanwha Q CELLS’ alleged patent infringement complaints

After Hanwha Q CELLS filed patent infringement complaints against JinkoSolar, LONGiSolar and REC Group with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) last month, the ITC has voted to institute an investigation into the claims.

The original complaint alleges violations of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 which makes unfair methods of competition and importation of certain products into the United States unlawful. Hanwha Q CELLS is alleging that the other three solar panel manufacturers are unlawfully importing and selling solar cells and modules that infringe Q CELLS’ patented passivation technology. Q CELLS requests that the ITC issue a limited exclusion order and cease and desist orders.

The investigation will be assigned to an administrative law judge who will set a schedule for the case. the law judge will make an initial determination was to whether section 337 was violated, and then the determination will be reviewed by the Commission. The target date for the completion of the investigation is in 45 days.

“We are pleased that the USITC has decided to initiate this investigation,” said Hee Cheul (Charles) Kim, CEO of Hanwha Q CELLS & Advanced Materials Corp. “Ensuring strong protections for intellectual property signals to producers that it is worthwhile to undertake the R&D necessary to increase efficiency and lower the cost of solar energy. Ultimately, protecting our intellectual property rights will enable us to keep innovating and investing in our products, which in turn will contribute to the growth and development of the U.S. solar industry and market.”

The patent claims asserted by Q CELLS relate to U.S. patent 9893215-B2, which was first filed by Q CELLS and SolarWorld in 2008 and granted in 2014. The patent is for a method of “manufacturing a solar cell with a surface-passivating dielectric double layer.” This manufacturing method covers a broad range of potential products, including any using PERC technology.

JinkoSolar, LONGi Solar and REC Group have all previously commented that business will continue as usual as they work with legal counsel to defend themselves.

Bloomberg reported that NextEra Energy and Con Edison filed its own comments with the ITC that future large-scale solar development could be jeopardized if Q CELLS succeeds in barring imports into the United States from its competition. The two developers warned of “significant job losses” in solar. LONGi Solar stated in its own documents to the ITC that if it is prevented from supplying product to the U.S. solar market, U.S. customers would face increased competition and limited supply of solar panels.

Many companies submitted comments to the ITC, including DuPont, Vivint Solar and SEIA. A number of solar installers that are also Hanwha Q CELLS customers submitted statements to the ITC expressing concern that if Q CELLS succeeds in banning the import of other solar modules, Q CELLS would not have enough inventory to meet existing U.S. demand, and their businesses would be directly jeopardized.

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