E-Scrap News

LCD dismantling startups spar in patent dispute

Lawyer with gavel, working on documents at a desk.

FPD Recycling has sued to invalidate a patent licensed to Votechnik for a flat-panel dismantling robot. | PaeGAG/Shutterstock

A company commercializing its flat-panel device dismantling system in the U.S. has gone to court seeking to invalidate a competitor’s patent.

Ireland-based Peregrine Technologies, which has a division called FPD Recycling, has sued the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland over a patent that was originally issued to the university in 2016 and was renewed in December, according to the Irish Examiner. The suit alleges that the patent is invalid because it lacks novelty and does not include an inventive step.

In a way, UL is simply caught in the middle of a patent dispute between two companies, FPD Recycling and Votechnik, with one of them, FPD Recycling, actually based at the university it’s suing.

FPD Recycling is commercializing a robotic system called FPD Pro, which dismantles and removes hazardous materials from scrap flat-screen devices so the materials can be recycled. The first U.S. system has been rolled out at Pennsylvania e-scrap processor eLoop.

UL’s patent has been exclusively licensed to a company called ALR Innovations, which does business as Votechnik, according to the Examiner. The newspaper reported that Votechnik recently sent a letter to FPD Recycling alleging that the FPD Pro infringes on the patent, a charge that FPD Recycling denies. 

The two companies and the university all have long-standing connections. Paudy O’Brien, the CEO and one of the founders of FPD Recycling, is also the former executive director of Votechnik Technologies, a company that spun out of UL. O’Brien spoke on stage at the E-Scrap Conference in 2018, when he was still working at Votechnik. 

Votechnik was founded and is led by Lisa O’Donoghue, who was a Ph.D scientist at UL. O’Donoghue has recently reached out to North American e-scrap industry stakeholders seeking to find a U.S. recycling company to partner with on a one-year trial of her company’s robot, the ALR4000. Voteknik currently has a demonstration site in Ireland for the ALR4000, which is Votechnik’s fourth iteration of the robot. 

O’Donoghue and O’Brien didn’t provide comments on the patent dispute by E-Scrap News’ deadline. 

Both Votechnik and FPD Recycling, which is based at UL, have received public funding to advance their technologies, which aim to improve the challenged economics of LCD device recycling and improve worker health and safety. An EU-funded project called ReVolv helped develop an earlier iteration of Votechnik’s system, which also received support from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. 

As recently as last fall, FPD Recycling received 17.7 million euros (about $18.9 million) from the European Innovation Accelerator (EIC), which is part of the European Commission, to help scale internationally, hire more employees and upgrade existing sites, according to the Examiner and EU. And the Irish government’s Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) last fall awarded 3.7 million euros (about $4 million) to a waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) project that includes participation by Peregrine Technologies and is led by UL. 

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