Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Going into production: Part 3 Interview with Richard Weir

Part of the reason that it's difficult to appreciate the magnitude of what EEStor is working on is because everyone tends to think of our current climate being one where we have an energy problem....full stop. High demand + low supply = high energy prices....high food costs, etc etc. But, what if to move forward, we have to set aside that problem definition and start over by recognizing what is extremely apparent to seemingly only a few: our problem isn't energy sources/supplies, but rather energy storage. Think about it for a minute. You could hop in your SUV and drive it from LA to NYC on one tank of gas if only your gas tank were the size of a bus. Very inefficient but very possible. Yet, none of us ever stops to think that what is swishing around in our tanks today was once 8000 miles away buried under 8 miles of sand. Isn't it the same though and is that really what we want powering us around our way?

Enter EEStor. Solar, wind, wave and all of the other ways of acquiring energy may now finally become viable alternatives due to the one thing so many were overlooking for so long: storage is the problem more so than supply. These ideas were introduced and made clearer for me by Ian Clifford in an interview I will post soon. For now, this isn't going to sink in right away so let's come back to this and pick up where we left off with installment 3 of my interview with Richard Weir, CEO and President of EEStor. (an installment that was delayed by nothing less than 3 days of storm induced power outage at my Washington, DC area home---inside the beltway no less--we really need these ultracapacitors, don't we? )


Proof. That's what everyone--skeptics, competitors, would be consumers-- is waiting for from EEStor. Weir says that they anticipate they'll be in production in early 2009 But, when you talk to him, you notice that despite what he is saying which is essentially "be patient, we will release information when it's the proper time to do so," he is anxious to tell you what's going on. He talks quickly and the words run together so that you're sometimes hearing concepts and not sentences all delivered with a measured giddiness that is clearly detectable. At the end of my interview, just as the tones of our voices were signifying that this interview is coming to an end real soon, I asked for one more question and Weir responded, "I already gave you a ton of information!" and then he chuckled a bit. I asked if I could contact him again if I had follow up questions and again laughing, emphatic "Nope!" but then as if not to offend he says, "thanks for the interest, we'll have some information out soon."


What he is referring to is the permitivity testing being performed by a third party lab. It literally could come out any day now. Success here means, among other things, that EEStor will receive additional investment from Ian Clifford at Zenn Motors. Weir is going to need it because his biggest competitor is Maxwell, a firm with offices in San Diego, CA, Switzerland and China. They would appear to already have a big lead on EEStor in terms of commercialization of IP but for Weir, the comparison is bothersome and his response was probably his only unmeasured statement. I asked him if Maxwell was his biggest competitor and he stated, "how can they be a competitor when their cost is $13,000 per kWH?"

"And you guys beat that pretty well," I asked. "We're under lithium ion which is around $350 to $850 depending on where you're buying it from. " You hear that Maxwell? I'm reaching out to you now for a rebuttal.

He ended the interview by saying, "We'll put out another news release here soon. And that will pretty well define the direction and successes we've had to date and what we're happy about."

What we're happy about as followers of this company is that someone is working on something revolutionary and as garnered enough interest to capture the imagination.










23 comments:

marcus said...

Well I congratulate you on your journalistic technique of stretching almost nothing over three whole posts while maintaining suspense! However I have some sympathy in that you don't have much to work with. Looking forward to their press release. I hope it includes third party verification of the power density. That would end all this uncertainty.

mrjerry said...

I must say part 3 was a disappointment since nothing new was disclosed. I do like the journalist style but little substance. So what can I concluded from this, this is the forth story that I read permitivity testing results is being announced soon. There is a hint of further production delays Zenn latest spin, zenn will get the first release commercialization units in 2008, if they remain on track (ian only uses this phrase when he knows it is delayed), late 2009 cityZENN, if eestor delays this time table will be extentend. Since I have been following zenn and eestor since march of 2006, i understand the spin talk. So I think this is going to happen, well as lockheed martin said, it works, so I give it 90% yes, time table, perhaps first deliverables middle 2009, full production 2010.

I should say is permitivity testing is a key milestone, it translate into yes it can work, so delays are ok with me the future will be driven by storage, it changes everything.

Martin said...

As I'm working as a patent examiner for 5 years now, I must tell you that the claim from the eestor patent app (WO2006026136 A2) is the most worthless claim I've seen so far. I have even shown it as the example of a badly drafted claim to some of my students.

The usual patent "bargain" between applicant and Patent Office results in a trade-off between private and public interests: while the applicant seeks to obtain a patent as broad as possible, the Office aims at restricting the scope of the patent as narrow as necessary in order to protect the public from unjustified patent rights.

Therefore, because a good patent attorney is of course aware of that, a well-drafted patent app always starts with broadly drafted claims (which do usually collide with some prior art). During the examination procedure, the claims are successively narrowed down in response to the examiner's objections until they just fulfil the requirements of novelty and inventive step.

In contrast to this, the eestor claim is drafted in complete disaccord with the basic rules of patent business: it is actually a 3-pages-method claim (!) for producing an electrical storage unit which is so narrow that virtually any competitor could easily get around it without infringing the patent. Just to give you some comparison: a well drafted claim for some new technology usually fits within 1/3-1/2 of a page!

To conclude, why should a patent attorney draft such an useless claim, provided he's not off his head? The reason is pretty clear to me: the applicant wants to have a patent as quickly as possible at any price despite it will be useless. You all know that when simply hearing the term "patent", many people switch off their brains because they think that the technology has somewhat been "verified" by the Patent Office. This is, however, not the case. The examination in a Patent Office is purely based on paper and not on prototypes. Only in very extreme cases, e.g. when a perpetuum mobile is claimed, the patent is refused for "insufficient disclosure".

Hope this view from the patent side of the story helps.

mrjerry said...

martin, there is 17 outstanding patents, so you may be right about it being rushed but we have no access to the ones outstanding, perhaps you can see them and let us know if they are the same kind of general or are they specific and protective in nature. Considering the players here Kliener Perkins, I am sure they have made sure they protect their investment...

Martin said...

Hi Jerry,

I cannot see them, and even if I could, this would of course be highly confidential.

>> let us know if they are the same kind of general or are they specific and protective in nature.

That's exactly the point I wanted to raise:
The more specific a claim the less protective it is. And this is exactly the case in the WO'136 application. The claim is overly specific and thus not protective at all since everybody can easily get around it.

A patent is a protective right you get in return to disclosing your invention to the public. Either the eestor patent does not correctly disclose how to fabricate the EESU (in this case it would be void) or it does - but without effective protection.

RJ said...

"the most worthless claim" is a pretty harsh comment, Martin. However, I do find your post very interesting and I have to say that you are probably correct in your guess as to why the claim is so poorly written. It goes back to the "greedy fear" analogy that B used. When you stumble upon some great money-making thing, you don't go out and tell everyone how you did it or how they could do it. You go out and get a patent, that, like you say Martin - causes people to "switch their brains off" because they think that the patent office has verified that the invention actually works. Thus stopping most people from trying to do the same thing you are doing. Very interesting.
But...at the same time, Martin, I can't help but picture your face when you realize that this "3-page-methods" claim actually protects eestor in the exact manner that they would like to be protected.

mrjerry said...

Martin

All 17 patents being processed have been with Kliener Perkins involved, that is one of the purpose of a VC is to guide small companies along to make sure the protect their investment and seed money for them. It's what we call a win/win at least at the beginning. So I believe your point which is valid, the other patents being processed should fill the voids as you stated here. Also the difficulty in producing a commercial product that requires almost 100% defect free (1000s of layers coated with pure barium titanate with no voids) will takes many years for someone to duplicate, so I don't see much of a threat here.

Martin said...

Hello,
I would just like to emphasize that I´m not a native speaker, so, please apologize if my comments sound a bit harsh.

The term "worthless claim" was not meant to defame the subject-matter of the claim. It could be well that eestor´s invention exactly works the way it is described therein.
The claim appears "worthless" to me in terms of its protective value which is simply non-existant. I see 100s of patent applications per year and I can promise you that nobody would draft an initial version of a claim like in the eestor application when scope of protection is an issue. It´s as if you filed your tax declaration with an exaggerated estimate of your annual revenue: the IRS would accept gladly!

So, I cannot help but imagine why somebody who has invented the holy grail of energy storage would disclose his invention in return of such a narrow claim?

Even the 17 later patents change nothing if they don´t claim priority on the earlier application. In this case, everything which is disclosed in the earlier application would be novelty destroying for later patent applications. However, the same effect (so-called defensive publication, cf Wikipedia) could be achieved much cheaper by disclosing the invention on the internet or in technical journals.

The "greedy fear" analogy does not apply here: patent applications are drafted by patent attorneys and they usually know very well how to obtain the boadest possible protection for their clients.

marcus said...

So Martin, what you are suggesting is that EESTOR filed this patent just to try and "put people off" pursuing their line of research? Is this the only logical explanation? I would have thought that anyone serious about this would have interpreted the patent similarly to you, ie worthless, and gone ahead with their plans. I don't get it.

Tom Villars said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said...

Hi Marcus,
not exactly. I'm asking myself the question: Why? Why should anybody spend an estimated 50k $ for pursuing a patent which has 0 protective value?

For me, the only logical explanation for their poorly drafted claim is the one I formulated above: just get a piece of paper which has officially printed "Patent" on it, in order to add credibility to your technology.

Scott said...

Look at the wikipedia article on EEstor. It's impossible to have the permittivity they mearued in the world patent if they are using a 10 nm aluminum oxide coating. People keep saying weir worked for IBM and Xerox Parc, but i can't find any verification of that except from EEStor. Any contributions he may have made to disk storage are also sketchy.

Tom Villars said...

I quick search of Google Patents brings back quite a few pattens with "Richard Weir ibm"

Also this is from a Business Week artical back in 2005, "The company was founded in 2001 by Richard D. Weir, Carl Nelson, and Richard S. Weir, who have backgrounds as senior managers in disk-storage technology at such companies as IBM and Xerox PARC. They previously co-founded disk-storage startup Tulip Memory Systems, where they won 16 U.S. patents."

marcus said...

Perhaps Martin, it may be worth checking out some of Weir's other patents to see whether they are of similar standard or not.

Tom Villars said...

Here is a link to a photo of an actual unit.

mrjerry said...

tom

That is not eestor, this is a LS Ultracapacitor.
http://www.ultracapacitor.co.kr/ultracapacitor/features.html

Tom Villars said...

Really?!

I suppose it is possible Forbes just made a mistake, but that is just weird.

The link you provided isn't working at the time of this post, but it looks like the www.ultracapacitor.co.kr site is having problems.

marcus said...

It would not surprise me if was an intentional mistake.

mrjerry said...

Bogus of them to post that picture in fact, you will notice that they had to doctor the picture to remove the LS logo...
here is a better picture of the LS ultracapcitor. goto gogle under image and put in LS ultracapacitor it's the first one.

Tom Villars said...

Since EESTOR has concentrated on making a better dielectric could improvements to the plate, such as nanotubes to increase the total surface area, also be incorporated into a later versions of the Energy Storage Units?

A short post at UTFO says "The product is a ceramic-based unit fabricated with integrated-circuit techniques." Do any other ultracapacitors on the market use integrated-circuit fabrication techniques?

I’m a lay person in this space who’s been reading about EESTOR. I’m afraid I’ve picked up just enough of the terminology to ask what are likely to be silly questions, so if the questions' phrasing are nonsensical please feel free to say so.

Ipatent said...

A few more of their patent applications published in early July. The patent work is much better as they have changed law firms. The energy density claims are based on data from an earlier Phillips patent. No actual experimental results showing energy density are in the applications- just projections from the Phillips data.

Tom Villars said...

ipatent, do you have a link? Most recent I can find is Feb 7, 2008

steve said...

The most recent filings in the WIPO Patent were in June 2008 and there have been back and forth deliberations between EESTOR's Patent attorneys and the Patent Examiners...

http://v3.espacenet.com/textdoc?DB=EPODOC&IDX=EP1789980&F=0

then click on

"View document in the European Register"

You can view all of the correspondence as well as the examination report issued by the EPO by clicking the link on the left of that page

"all documents"

If you click the link "about this file". It tells you that the status of the application is "in progress".

It also indicates the "database was updated on July 22, 2008."

But the most recent document I could find was a "Reply to the Examination Report" filed by EESTOR's attorney. You can read it as well as the EPO report it refers to at the links above.