Maxeon Claims Solar Panel Patent Infringement

Maxeon Claims Solar Panel Patent Infringement

April 21, 2024 | By Keith Martin in Washington, DC, Eagle Robinson in Austin, Luke Edney in Austin, Mike Stimson in Austin | San Antonio, and Richard Zembek in Houston

Maxeon has accused Canadian Solar, REC Solar and Hanwha of infringing three Maxeon patents by making, importing and selling n-type solar panels with TOPCon cells.

Maxeon filed lawsuits in federal district court in Texas against REC Solar and Hanwha on April 19 and against Canadian Solar on March 29. 

Lawsuits against other solar panel manufacturers that make n-type panels using TOPCon cells are possible, depending on other manufacturers' particular designs.

The technology has been gaining market share over the more common p-type panels or PERC technology because TOPCon cells can reach efficiencies of energy conversion as high as 26.89% and work better in hot and humid climates and in regions with overcast skies.

Maxeon is seeking up to triple its actual damages from the three companies and injunctions to stop making or selling n-type panels using TOPCon cells. It has asked for jury trials.

Lawsuits in the eastern district of Texas, where the lawsuits were filed, take 21 months on average to reach trial.

Most patent infringement cases eventually settle before trial. Accused infringers often fight back by asking the US Patent and Trademark Office to review the validity of the patents.

The lawsuits are not currently expected to affect solar projects that use the affected panels and are already built or have already taken delivery of panels. Maxeon could make similar claims against project owners based on use of these types of panels, but it has so far focused on manufacturers as it is not considered smart business practice to sue potential customers.

However, the lawsuits could create near-term market turmoil by making it more expensive for panel manufacturers to supply n-type panels with TOPCon cells and drive up prices for such panels. Aggrieved patent holders sometimes also ask the International Trade Commission to block imports of infringing products.

In the typical solar panel purchase contract, the panel manufacturer represents that it is not infringing patents and agrees to compensate the customer for losses it suffers due to such infringement, modify equipment so that the equipment no longer infringes, or obtain a license from the patent holder so that the customer can continue using the equipment in the original form.

Maxeon, a solar panel manufacturer now based in Singapore, was spun off by SunPower in August 2020.

A group of researchers looked at the patents related to TOPCon technology and concluded that SunPower held the earliest patents among the top six companies holding most TOPCon patents. SunPower held 24 such patents, LG Electronics held 35, Tesla held 13, Applied Materials held eight, and IBM and Tempress each held five, according to a 2020 patent landscape report.

The three patents that Maxeon asserts are being infringed are United States patent nos. 8,222,516 issued to SunPower in 2012, 8,878,053 issued to SunPower in 2014 and 11,251,315 issued to SunPower in 2022.

SunPower assigned all three patents to Maxeon in December 2022.