U.S. patent law provides no shortage of pitfalls for innovators -- a story Spectrum has tracked closely over the years (for a recent roundup see Keeping Score in the IP Game). Electric power utility Southern California Edison (SCE) -- one of the leaders in the development of smart metering -- isn't waiting for trouble. To ensure that IP shenanigans can't freeze innovation in smart metering, SCE decided to file a sort of defensive patent claim on behalf of the entire industry.
Paul De Martini, SCE's VP for Advanced Technologies and one of the 'inventors' on the claim, explained the move in an interview yesterday with industry newsletter Smart Grid News. The filing broadly covers the business practice of using Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI to communicate between a utility and its customers -- a bidirectional exchange that is widely expected to boost the quality and efficiency of electric power systems. De Martini says that SCE and other utilities have been held hostage by patent infringement claims for pre-AMI technology and wanted to ensure the same would not occur with AMI. Should SCE's patent be granted, he says the company will extend a worldwide nonexclusive royalty-free license to anyone interested.
SCE is also supporting an effort by IEEE, EPRI, and others to develop a SmartGrid Open Source Repository to push new AMI concepts into the open domain.
If you want it from the horse's mouth, read SCE's presentation on Open Innovation. SCE is also soliciting comments via firstname.lastname@example.org, and will be presenting a web-based news conference on the move on September 19th.