Solar Patents on the Rise: Third-Generation Solar Technology Takes Lead

Solar patents issued in the USA rose from 86 in 2008 to 146 in 2009. Already more than 60 new solar patents have been filed in the first quarter of 2010 alone.

Patents are widely considered as an essential indicator of growth. The number of patents issued in any country in a year is said to indicate the growth of research and technology development.

What Types of Patents Were Filed?

Very advanced or third-generation solar technologies involving newer solar designs, such as nano-modified and organic solar cells, were applied for in the photovoltaic sector with 32 patents.

Second generation technologies, which use thin-film solar cells followed with 25 patents as first generation technologies based on silicon trailed with 16.

The top patent owner in the PV arena is Samsung with five patents over the last five months, pushing aside Canon which has led the index since 2002. Canon, Sharp, Emcore and Mario Rabinowitz have four patents each.

Japanese technology

Of the top 11 PV patent holders, five are based in Japan while the rest are in the United States. But Japanese patent holders dominate the top 11 if the six-year total is considered, with the top three Japanese companies holding over 16 percent of all PV patents.

US Solar Patents

United States-based companies, however, filed the most patents for solar thermal technology and concentrating solar power, innovations for which stayed at the same level.

Solar thermal, or concentrating solar power, has been a hot area in 2010 - as 22 patents were invited from individual companies in the first quarter of 2010.

Only five of the 22 grantees were not based in the United States. The rest were from California, Massachusetts, Florida, Connecticut, Michigan, Texas, Louisiana and Washington.

Boeing Company remained the top patent owner in the solar thermal sector since 2002, with 14 patents in total. UTC Power Corporation and Mario Rabinowitz each have seven. Since 2008, only five patents have been filed for the technology that uses the sun’s thermal energy to heat specialized liquids to produce steam.

Quality vs Quantity

But some groups say the renewable energy industry should focus more on the quality of solar energy technology patents rather than on the quantity.

A study from Griffith Hack, an Australian patent law firm, which investigated the quality of solar patents filed in the United States from various countries, sought to prove it.

The results were not very encouraging. In general, patents from green veterans like the United States, Britain, Japan and Germany fared well in quality. Japan’s patent quality was said to be improving while the United States and Australia’s were declining.

Meanwhile, the number of patents filed by China in the United States rose from one in 2000 to 118 in 2008, a growth rate far exceeding that of any other country. However the quality of the solar patents was reportedly still low.

Report Publisher

The Clean Energy Patent Growth Index has been published since 2003: it is published by Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C., a New York-based law firm dedicated to intellectual property law, and comes out twice a year.

Solar energy technology patents are now second only to that of fuel cells, with patents for solar photovoltaic hitting a record high in 2009. However, according to the number of patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office there were still four times as many patents granted to fuel cell technologies as solar patents.

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