Business

Durham’s Cree wins legal ruling against major competitor Feit Electric

Semiconductor Operator Linda Mathew tends to wafers inside of an evaporator machine inside of Cree's "clean room" environment on Friday, August 15, 2014 in Research Triangle Park.
Semiconductor Operator Linda Mathew tends to wafers inside of an evaporator machine inside of Cree's "clean room" environment on Friday, August 15, 2014 in Research Triangle Park. jhknight@newsobserver.com

An administrative law judge with the U.S. International Trade Commission has ruled that a major competitor has been selling LED bulbs that infringe on Cree patents, a legal victory that ultimately could end up barring Feit Electric from importing and selling the bulbs.

Durham-based Cree announced Tuesday that it had received a notice of the judge’s initial decision, known as an initial determination, which found that the bulbs from Feit and its Asian supplier, Unity Opto Technology, infringe on four Cree patents and therefore violate the Tariff Act of 1930.

That one-page notice, issued Monday, followed a hearing on a complaint filed last year by Cree. The case now goes to the commission, which can adopt, modify or reverse the judge’s initial determination. The commission’s final determination is expected by Nov. 29.

Feit couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the ruling by Administrative Law Judge Mary Joan McNamara.

Brad Kohn, Cree’s general counsel, said in a statement that he hoped that the judge’s initial decision would prompt the commission to issue an exclusion order “preventing the importation of products that improperly use Cree’s patented technology.”

“We are pleased that the judge’s decision reaffirms Cree’s breakthroughs on more efficient and omni-directional LED lighting products,” Kohn said.

Cree officials weren’t available for further comment. “Cree does not comment on ongoing litigation,” the company said in a statement.

Cree’s LED bulbs are sold exclusively by Home Depot.

The judge also upheld Cree’s claim that Feit, a privately held company, is misleading consumers by touting that certain of its bulb meet federal Energy Star standards when they actually failed to meet those standards. Cree is seeking a cease and desist order that would bar those products from being imported into the U.S.

Cree contended in its complaint that it tested Feit’s bulbs and found that some, but not all, of its 40, 60 and 100-watt bulbs failed to meet Energy Star criteria. Cree alleged that one area where some Feit bulbs were founding lacking was the requirement that their light be omnidirectional, that is, distributing light “all around.”

Although Cree’s amended complaint contended alleged that Feit’s bulbs infringe on six Cree patents, the judge’s finding of patent infringement was limited to four patents.

Cree also is seeking unspecified monetary damages from Feit and Unity Opto in a related lawsuit that is pending in federal court in Wisconsin, where the company has a major presence. The International Trade Commission doesn’t have the power to award monetary damages.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii

  Comments