From 4.5% to 25%+, the development of the photovoltaic industry is inseparable from the word “efficiency”. The gradual increase in photovoltaic cell module conversion efficiency has laid the foundation for the industry to continue to move forward. Under the core technology, it is difficult to avoid patent disputes behind the competition in the photovoltaic cell module market.
Recently, the patent war has resumed! On September 29, Zhonghuan, the global leader in monocrystalline silicon wafers, issued an announcement stating that it had received a notice from the joint venture company Maxeon that because Canadian subsidiary Japan had used Maxeon shingled solar cell module patents without permission, Maxeon was in Tokyo District Court, Japan. Initiated a patent infringement lawsuit against Canadian Canadian subsidiary.
Maxeon, headquartered in Singapore, is a new company established by the US photovoltaic giant SunPower to spin off the international photovoltaic cell module manufacturing business. The oil giant Total Solar Energy International holds 39.2034% as the largest shareholder and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zhonghuan. Central Singapore Investment Development Pte Ltd holds 28.8480% of the shares and is the second largest shareholder.
Canadian Solar has recently been deeply involved in litigation disputes. In addition to Maxeon, Solaria, a component manufacturer based in Fremont, California, also took Canadian Solar to court. The charges in the two cases simultaneously point to patents related to shingled battery modules.
As one of the high-efficiency module technologies, the shingling technology seamlessly connects the cells. Compared with the conventional packaging technology, 13% more cells can be installed, effectively increasing the light-receiving area, increasing the module power by 15-20W, and having a special series-parallel structure. It reduces the influence of the solder ribbon resistance on the power of the module, reduces line loss, suppresses the hot spot effect, and performs better under low light conditions.
However, it is not easy to pick the “thorny rose” of imbricate tiles. The biggest risk is patents.
Founded in 1985, SunPower owns more than 2,000 photovoltaic technology patents, the most representative of which is shingle technology. For this, SunPower applied for as many as 70 patents. In July 2019, it further officially obtained the Chinese shingle patent authorization. . In addition, there is also Solaria who holds the shingle patent.
In 2015, SunPower, together with Zhonghuan Co., Ltd. and Yixing Pioneer Park Technology Development Co., Ltd., jointly established a joint venture company, Huansheng Photovoltaic, and introduced SunPower shingle technology. So far, Huansheng Photovoltaic is “famous” for shingle, claiming to be the only domestic legal intellectual property license authorized Manufacturer of shingled components. After litigation and negotiation, Solaria formed a strategic cooperation with Jiangsu Seraphim and a new energy in the Chinese market to jointly develop, produce and sell high-efficiency shingled modules.
In addition to patents, a relevant person in charge of a component manufacturer introduced that shingled components are difficult to yield, and the reliability of battery connections is very important, which also forms its high technical threshold.
As a result, photovoltaic manufacturing companies began to look for alternative technologies for shingles, and high-density component packaging technologies such as overlap welding and negative film spacing were successively applied. For example, the recent rapid offensive of 182 modules, the three leading modules of Jinko, Longji, and JA Solar have successively supported the overlap welding technology, which is different from the conductive adhesive of the shingle technology, and uses flexible ribbons to realize the laminated arrangement of the cells.
Regarding the shingled technology patent, according to previous media reports, the core technology patent has expired and belongs to the category that can be used publicly, but it is still difficult to avoid patent disputes. On September 25, Canadian Solar stated in the Solaria lawsuit that it has been in a lawsuit with Solaria since April this year and will file a counterclaim. The products involved in the case did not infringe Solaria’s patent. For the dispute between the two, the ITC investigation is expected to begin in October.
In fact, the “patent battle” has never stopped for many years in the photovoltaic industry. Compared with the current “niche” shingled technology, the patent disputes of PERC batteries, which have completed technological iterations and occupy the mainstream of the market, have a greater impact.
At the beginning of last year, Hanwha Q-Cells filed patent infringement lawsuits against JinkoSolar, Longi and REC in the United States, Germany and Australia. Hanwha Q-Cells claims that these three companies have used its patented passivation technology to improve the efficiency and performance of solar cells. Its appeal is to prohibit the above companies from exporting infringing products to the US, Germany and Australia markets, and prohibit marketing and sales in these markets. Product sales.
In response to the lawsuit, Longi stated that the patents used in the Hanwha lawsuit were acquired through multiple transfers and purchases from other research institutions, and that only part of the patent rights are shared with other companies. Jinko said that it will consider requesting Hanwha for alleged invalidation of the patent. It is understood that the preparation of the back passivation film is the core process step of PERC cells, which is mainly divided into atomic layer deposition (ALD) represented by Hanhua and the plate type (PECVD) deposition method represented by Meyer Burger. Longi The PECVD technology is used.
In early June, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that the products of Chinese photovoltaic companies such as Longji and JinkoSolar did not infringe the patent rights of Hanwha Q-Cells (patent number: US9893215) and did not violate Section 337, and the investigation was terminated. In this regard, Hanwha Q-Cells expressed an immediate appeal.
Hanwha’s lawsuit in Germany has received completely different results. On June 20, the District Court of Dusseldorf, Germany ruled that REC, Longi and Jinko had illegally used patented passivation technology in their solar cells infringing Intellectual property. These companies are required to stop providing, placing on the market or using products related to patented technology in Germany, destroy directly or indirectly possessed or all related products, and notify commercial customers to recall related products. Regarding the ruling, the three companies being sued all stated that they would appeal.
It is understood that Q-Cells was once one of the largest local solar cell manufacturers in Germany. In 2012, it filed for bankruptcy and was eventually acquired by Hanwha Group. Germany is one of my country’s important component exporters. As my country’s photovoltaic companies’ overseas market competitiveness and brand influence increase, German local companies are at a disadvantage in the competition. This ruling will boost the German photovoltaic manufacturing industry to a certain extent. What needs to be vigilant is that since the end of the EU dual opposition, Europe has once again become a hot spot for Chinese component companies to export. Once other regions imitate Germany, it will have a negative impact on the development of my country’s photovoltaic enterprises and even the entire photovoltaic industry.
At present, the ruling of the patent case has not caused a chain reaction. Longi said that the company has stocked new technology products and reached an agreement with Hanwha on alternative technology solutions. The transformation of part of the production line has now been completed. Even if the company loses the lawsuit and causes the alleged infringing product to be prohibited from being sold in the relevant country, the company can continue to conduct business in the relevant market by changing the product design plan.
In fact, behind the chaotic patent disputes are often “market disputes.” Over the years, Jinko, Longji and other companies have firmly occupied the top ten global module shipment rankings, and their overseas shipments have been increasing year by year, which has brought certain pressure to foreign companies. JinkoSolar responded after Hanwha Q-CELLS initiated a lawsuit. These actions by Hanwha Q-CELLS were carried out after JinkoSolar achieved rapid growth in solar product sales in the US and Germany.
Today, this patent dispute that lasted for more than a year has not yet ended. For photovoltaic companies, avoiding patent risks requires strengthening the layout of patents in overseas regions, increasing investment in overseas patent reserves, while enhancing patent protection awareness and enhancing their own innovation capabilities.