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Singapore solar energy retailers lock horns over patent on electrical meters

SINGAPORE — Solar energy retailer Sun Electric has taken Sunseap, believed to be the biggest market player in the solar industry here, to court over a patent infringement related to an aggregation and metering system used at tech giant Apple’s facilities here. Sunseap, however, has responded by challenging the validity of the patent, and countersuing Sun Electric.

Singapore solar energy retailers lock horns over patent on electrical meters

HDB flats in Jurong fitted with solar panels by Sunseap. Photo: Sunseap

SINGAPORE — Solar energy retailer Sun Electric has taken Sunseap, believed to be the biggest market player in the solar industry here, to court over a patent infringement related to an aggregation and metering system used at tech giant Apple’s facilities here. Sunseap, however, has responded by challenging the validity of the patent, and countersuing Sun Electric.

The patent suit stems from a landmark contract between Sunseap Group and Apple last year, where the solar firm would supply Apple with clean energy, making the latter the first firm in Singapore to be fully powered by renewable energy.

Part of the energy comes from the solar panels installed on the rooftop of Apple’s Ang Mo Kio office, while the rest comes from offsite solar energy that is harnessed from multiple sites installed with solar systems.

Sunseap currently installs and manages solar photovoltaic systems on the rooftops of more than 800 government, residential, commercial and industrial buildings. According to Sunseap, it currently has about 80 megawatts of built solar capacity, or about 70 per cent of the market share.

In court documents obtained by TODAY, Sun Electric claimed that Sunseap was using meters that measure the amount of electricity imported from the national grid to these buildings, and the solar energy exported by these buildings to the grid, among others. The meters installed at Apple’s facilities at Knightsbridge mall and Ang Mo Kio also determine the tech firm’s power consumption.

Sun Electric claimed that these meters infringed its meter patent, and asked for unspecified costs.

In its defence, Sunseap argued that Sun Electric’s patent was invalid and has also countersued, noting that the latter’s threats had affected Sunseap’s chances of landing new contracts.

Sunseap noted that in its agreement with Apple, it supplies energy to the tech firm by buying electricity from the National Electricity Markets of Singapore, and resells it at agreed tariff rates.

Sunseap claimed that it neither owns nor operates a meter that measures power imported from, or exported to, the national grid. It also does not own or operate a consolidation unit to determine the solar power supplied by the buildings to the grid.

Instead, it is informed of the amount of solar energy supplied by the buildings to the grid through a third-party provider such as SP Services, Sunseap said in its defence.

In its counter-suit, Sunseap noted that Sun Electric had made threats of infringement proceedings to the former’s clients and potential customers.

Citing a tender called by Keppel Infrastructure Holdings around last August, Sunseap said that it was initially awarded the project.

But before the details of the project could be finalised, Sun Electric’s chief executive officer Matthew Peloso allegedly told Keppel that Sunseap had infringed his company’s patent, and that the tender award would be vulnerable, claimed Sunseap.

This led to Keppel eventually deciding not to award the tender to Sunseap.

Sunseap, in its counter-suit, also claimed that Sun Electric had committed the “tort of unlawful interference with trade”, including defaming Sunseap’s subsidiaries by making and publishing statements that were “calculated to disparate the plaintiffs”.

The resulting losses included loss of contracts from existing and potential customers, and damage to its reputation and market standing, Sunseap added.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Dr Peloso noted that Sun Electric’s lawyers are examining the counter-suit and will be filing an appropriate defence in due course.

On the patent suit against Sunseap, he added: “We are confident of our position. We continue to press on with our research projects in Singapore, which have already yielded several additional patent applications in Singapore.”

Separately, Sunseap founder Frank Phuan said: “We are confident that there is no merit in Sun Electric’s claims. We will be defending the claim vigorously, and will also look to Sun Electric for all damage caused to us.”

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