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First Solar on the patent throne for solar PV

First Solar's patenting activities have largely outstripped that of its key competitors in Europe and China, according to analyst CambridgeIP.

By Kari Williamson

CambridgeIP's analysis reveals a patent portfolio of 337 patents and patent applications, with more than 100 filed in 2010, and the analysis confirms First Solar's technology leadership in the CdTe-based solar PV space, and identifies key collaborations and licensing partners.

The research has, however, revealed a weak patent coverage in Asia. This may prove to be a strategic weakness, as the Asian markets for solar PV grow in size, and local manufacturing capabilities develop, Cambridge IP says. The research identifies a number of Chinese organisations that have been patenting in the CdTe solar PV technology

CambridgeIP's analysis of the geographical coverage of First Solar’s patent filings shows a focus on the US when compared to its peers. First Solar’s patent-based competitive advantage in the US may become increasingly relevant as Chinese manufacturers expand to US markets, as it may have a strong patent-based capability to defend its home market. However, First Solar's relatively weak patent coverage in Asia (and in particular in China) may reveal a strategic risk.

"First Solar is one of the few non-Chinese companies that combines scale and a strong patenting and technology base. This places it well to compete in the evolving solar PV industry landscape. Key to its continued ability to compete with the large manufacturing capacity accumulated by Chinese solar PV companies is an ability to scale-up its latest technology rapidly, and protect its unique technology. Access to a strong IP base will prove key to protecting technology-based differentiation for US, EU and Asian PV technology companies alike, as it can underpin the rapid scale-up of next generation technologies and protect key markets from copy-cat entry” says Ilian Iliev, CEO of CambridgeIP.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets