One of the world's biggest solar panel makers which recently began shipping photovoltaic modules from its new plant in Dalton, Georgia is suing three rival solar manufacturers, claiming they are illegally infringing on patented technology to improve their products.
Hanwha Q Cells and Advanced Material Corp., said Tuesday it has filed lawsuits in U.S. and German courts and with the U.S. International Trade Commission, claiming that two Chinese competitors and a Norwegian rival are using Hanwha's passivation technology on their equipment. Hanwha Q Cells alleges that Chinese panel manufacturers Jinko Solar and Longi Solar and the Norway-based REC Group are illegally using a patented technology, which helps boost the power output from light in creating electricity from solar panels.
The request for an ITC investigation and court order against the three rival firms comes as Hanwha Q Cells gears up production at the $157 million plant the company has built in the Carbondale Business Park in Dalton. The new facility, which was announced last May, is scheduled to employ more than 600 employees by the end of the year as part of Hanwha Q's strategy to capitalize on the growth of America's solar industry, which the Solar Energy Industries Association projects will double in the next five years.
"We have taken these actions both to protect our property rights and to give the market confidence that research and development initiatives to develop future technologies can continue," said Hee Cheul (Charles) Kim, chief executive of Hanwha Q CELLS and Advanced Materials Corp. "Our high-efficiency modules rely on this patented technology and set us apart from competitors."
The 300,000-square-foot production plant Hanwha Q Cells is building in Dalton is equipped to produce up to 1.7 gigawatts of solar panels when it is in full production later this year. The Dalton plant began shipping the first solar panel parts last month.
"This is the largest factory of its kind in the western hemisphere and reflects our commitment to the United States and the important markets here," Kim said. "We believe that the legal actions we have taken in the United States and Germany will effectively protect our ability to innovate and reinforce our reputation as a leading supplier of high-quality products and a trusted business partner to our customers."
Scott Moskowitz, director of strategy and market intelligence for Hanwha Q Cells, said the lawsuit was filed to help protect the type of product innovation and investment Hanwha is making and which the company claims its rivals are stealing for their own use.
"Our goal with this case is the protect our factory and protect our technology to really encourage the kind of innovation that is going to let companies like ours to build factories in the United States and elsewhere," Moskowitz said.
Most solar panels are being produced in Asia, which led the United States to impose a 25 percent tariff on solar panel imports in 2017.
In its 57-page complaint filed with the International Trade Commission, Hanwha Q Cells wants the ITC to issue a cease and desist order against the three rival firms using the passivation technology which the Korean company bills as Q.ANTUM solar cells and the company says is protected by its patents. Such ITC complaints typically take more than a year to investigate before any actions are taken.
Hanwha Q Cells began manufacturing using its passivation technology in 2012 and has produced more than 2.5 billion such cells globally.
"The passivation technology at issue in these legal actions is critical to Hanwha Q CELLS's plans for the future," Kim said.
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