Based on a complaint filed by Solomon Technologies, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) has voted to institute an investigation into whether or not Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain infringes on a patent awarded to Solomon 15 years ago.
If Solomon is successful in its ITC action, Toyota could be prohibited from importing into the United States infringing combination motor and transmission systems and those products containing such systems—i.e., Toyota’s hybrids.
Solomon filed the ITC complaint on 10 January 2006, followed up by a supplemental letter on 30 January. The company’s ITC actions are in addition to a lawsuit Solomon filed against Toyota in September 2005, claiming the same infringement.
The filing of the ITC complaint is the next step in our effort to fully prosecute the alleged infringement by Toyota and to protect our valuable intellectual property. We believe that the ITC’s streamlined administrative process, as well as the technical depth of the ITC staff, will be helpful in expediting and supporting our claims.
While the ITC can not assess damages against an infringer, it can issue an exclusion order prohibiting the importation of infringing technology. We will continue our effort to protect our intellectual property to the fullest extent possible.—Solomon President Peter DeVecchis, Jr.
The ITC will first schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing, and an administrative law judge will make an initial determination as to whether there has been a violation. That initial determination is subject to review by the Commission.
Within 45 days after institution of the investigation, the ITC will set a target date for completing the investigation. ITC remedial orders in cases such as these are effective when issued and become final 60 days after issuance unless disapproved for policy reasons by the US Trade Representative within that 60-day period.
Toyota has been the target of a number of different lawsuits. In 2005, Anglo-Dutch transmission developer Antonov plc sued the automaker in a German court, also claiming that the Toyota illegally copied Antonov’s design for the driveline of the Prius and RX 400h hybrids. (Earlier post.)
Solomon develops and sells fully integrated electric power drive systems, some of which incorporate its “Electric Wheel”. The Electric Wheel combines two permanent-magnet motors with an infinitely variable, planetary-gear transmission within a housing.
One rotor is fixed to the transmission’s outer ring gear, the other to the inner sun gear. A three-pinion planetary gear set between the ring and sun gears turns the output shaft.
The system has flexibility in supporting different power configurations to meet specific requirements either via the use of larger motors or adding a second motor to each gear and doubling the total horsepower.
The current Electric Wheel model has a 6 hp motor turning the ring gear and a 4 hp motor turning the sun gear. The 4 hp motor is a 6 hp unit that’s been derated through the controller because it turns a gear with a greater mechanical advantage.
Maintaining that same 3-2 ratio, other configurations are possible such as a 33 hp unit (20 hp motor on the ring gear and a derated 12 hp motor on the sun gear) and a 50 hp unit with two motors attached to the ring gear (20 hp and a derated 10 hp unit) and a single 20 hp motor on the sun gear.
NASA used a simplified version of the Electric Wheel in the Sojourner Mars rover and has supported its development since 1994 through its Mid-Atlantic Technology Center in Pittsburgh.
Solomon Technologies patent, #5,067,932, awarded 26 November 1991: Dual-input infinite-speed integral motor and transmission device