On Monday, February 5th, Chicago, IL-based wireless power solutions provider NuCurrent filed a complaint alleging trade secret misappropriation and patent infringement against Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics (KRX:005930). The case, filed in the Eastern District of Texas, alleges that wireless charging technologies incorporated by Samsung into their Galaxy S7 and S8 product lines copies technology which was presented to them by NuCurrent under the terms of a confidentiality agreement.
In its suit, NuCurrent notes that it is an early pioneer in the field of wireless charging technology, having been founded in 2009 by a group of students from Northwestern University working to solve a problem in powering implantable medical devices. By 2012, NuCurrent began exploring the commercial appeal of its wireless power charging antennas in industries other than the medical device field, including consumer mobile devices. Samsung began making forays into the wireless charging sector in 2013 by marketing a wireless charging accessory kit as an add-on to the Galaxy S4 smartphone. Wireless charging became a standard feature in Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones which were released in 2015.
NuCurrent alleges that representatives of both NuCurrent and Samsung were introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2015. At that time, Samsung allegedly expressed an interest in working with NuCurrent to improve its own wireless antennas. NuCurrent agreed to explore a potential business relationship after executing confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. Email correspondence between the two entities took place through early 2015 and in March, NuCurrent’s CEO Jacob Babcock traveled to Samsung’s Korean headquarters to further collaborate on antenna design and deliver sample wireless power coils which had been developed by NuCurrent for Samsung.
Collaboration under the terms of the business agreements continued between NuCurrent and Samsung into 2016, at which time NuCurrent representatives questioned Samsung representatives about the commercial progress of their partnership. NuCurrent alleged that, by the summer of 2016, Samsung had already sold millions of devices incorporating NuCurrent’s patented technologies and trade secrets including the Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+, two devices which had vastly improved wireless charging systems compared to previous versions with the use of wireless charging coils which emulate the sample coils provided by NuCurrent. The improvements to the wireless charging systems were widely touted by Samsung on the release of the Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ products without attributing NuCurrent at all.
NuCurrent learned of Samsung’s infringement when its engineers performed an inspection of industry devices, finding that Samsung devices had copied significant aspects of NuCurrent’s sample antenna designs. This included double-conductive layers used in wireless power coils as well as multi-layer multi-turn (MLMT) technology developed and protected by NuCurrent which enables faster power charging with increased efficiency and lower heat generation. NuCurrent also alleges that infringing wireless charging technologies have been incorporated by Samsung into the Galaxy S3 Watch, including a wireless power coil closely resembling a NuCurrent coil designed specifically for wearable devices.
NuCurrent notes that it will suffer irreparable harm if Samsung is allowed to continue infringing on its patented technology and misappropriating its trade secrets, especially given that the wireless charging industry is still in its relative infancy and will become much more valuable in the years to come. Market research released by Grand View Research indicates that the wireless charging market will be worth $22.25 billion by the year 2022 thanks to increased demand for hassle-free charging for electric vehicles and consumer electronic devices.
NuCurrent’s lawsuit lists six causes for action, including one violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and four counts of patent infringement. Patents being asserted by NuCurrent in its case against Samsung include:
- U.S. Patent No. 8680960, titled Multi-Layer-Multi-Turn Structure for High Efficiency Inductors. It claims an inductor having first and second conductor layers and an insulator layer positioned between the two conductor layers in a way that reduces electrical resistance, increasing inductor efficiency.
- U.S. Patent No. 9300046, titled Method for Manufacture of Multi-Layer-Multi-Turn High Efficiency Inductors. It covers a method of manufacturing MLMT structures.
- U.S. Patent No. 8698591, titled Method for Operation of Multi-Layer-Multi-Turn High Efficiency Tunable Inductors. It covers a method of operating an electrical circuit which reduces the intrinsic resistive losses of an inductor structure, especially those experienced at high frequencies.
- U.S. Patent No. 8710948, titled Method for Operation of Multi-Layer-Multi-Turn High Efficiency Inductors. It claims a similar method of operating an electrical circuit resulting in a more efficient inductor.