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GE files new suit against Mitsubishi over wind-turbine patents

General Electric Co., the biggest maker of wind turbines in the U.S., filed a new patent-infringement lawsuit against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and plans to appeal an earlier case it lost.

The new complaint, filed Thursday in federal court in Dallas, claims Mitsubishi Heavy infringes two patents. One is related to the base frame supporting the weight of the rotor and the other covers a way to keep the turbine connected to the electricity grid even when the voltage drops. GE seeks a court order to block further use of its inventions, plus cash compensation.

“GE has 148 issued U.S. patents related to wind energy,” Dan Nelson, a spokesman for the Fairfield, Conn.-based company, said in a statement. Mitsubishi “has substantially less. We believe that there are multiple areas where MHI’s 2.4-megawatt wind turbines infringe on GE’s existing patents.”

GE said it is challenging a Jan. 8 decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington that Mitsubishi Heavy wasn’t violating five other GE patents. GE sought to block imports of turbines made by Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Heavy.

The commission’s decision “indicates errors that provide grounds for an appeal,” Nelson said. He declined to further comment on specific issues of the appeal.

The dispute is part of a larger legal effort by GE against Mitsubishi Heavy, which is seeking a bigger foothold in the U.S. market, now dominated by GE and Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

Roger Taylor, Mitsubishi Heavy’s lawyer in the ITC case, said he couldn’t comment until he had analyzed the new complaint.

Wind farms

In 2009, wind farms almost matched the additions of natural-gas fueled plants for a second year, together accounting for 80 percent of all new generating capacity in the U.S., the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association said in January.

GE, the largest supplier to the U.S., built 2,633 wind turbines last year, down from more than 3,323 in 2008, according to transcripts from company presentations.

The turbines, which resemble high-tech windmills, convert wind into electricity for a region’s electrical grid. Wind speeds change all the time, so the turbines must be built to provide a constant source of power.

Power supplies

Texas, Iowa and California have the most wind power capacity in the U.S., which has more than 35,000 megawatts, or enough for about 9.7 million homes, the group said. That’s about 3.3 percent of total U.S. power supplies, according to U.S. Energy Department data.

The complaint filed yesterday cites Mitsubishi Heavy’s turbines installed at the Goat Mountain wind farm in San Angelo, Texas.

GE, in a lawsuit filed in September against Mitsubishi Heavy, is seeking cash compensation for past infringement of the five patents in the ITC case. That case was put on hold until the ITC completed its investigation.

The new case is General Electric CO. v. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., 10-cv-00276, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).

The ITC case is In the Matter of Certain Variable Speed Wind Turbines and Components Thereof, 337-641, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington). The previous civil case is General Electric Co. v. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., 09cv229, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Corpus Christi).