When the U.S. Patent Office published patent application number 11/626,810 in July 2008, few people noticed—at first. Soon, however, the metering-technology community was abuzz, mostly with outrage.
The patent, filed by a group of 21 employees of Southern California Edison, claimed ownership over some basic ideas for using advanced-metering infrastructure (AMI). For example, the Edison employees claimed they invented the methods of communicating via the Internet or meters to deliver such capabilities as outage detection, demand response and dynamic pricing.
If the Patent Office grants the patent and all its claims, other utilities would be legally forbidden from using any of the methods described, without first obtaining a license from the patent holders.
“The audacity is just mind blowing,” said an industry executive who spoke to Fortnightly on condition of anonymity. “They say it’s a defensive patent—to prevent a patent troll from claiming he invented the smart grid and getting rich on licensing. But if that’s true, then why didn’t they assign the patent to EPRI? I don’t believe Edison is that altruistic.”
To get the inventors’ side of the story, we called Paul DiMartini, the primary inventor named in the patent application, and vice president of Southern California Edison’s SmartConnect program, which the California PUC approved in September.