According to the ’396 patent, photovoltaic devices using thin-film compound semicondutor materials such as copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) can provide electricity at higher efficiencies and lower cost, as compared to silicon-based devices. However, existing techniques for forming such thin films are difficult to scale up to commercial production levels while maintaining requirements of film uniformity and compositional control. The ’396 patent discloses a method for producing compound semiconductor thin films by depositing a precursor film containing at least two chemical elements and inducing a chemical reaction in the deposited film giving the film a different chemical composition by introducing additional amounts of one of the chemical elements. The disclosed process is described as “provid[ing] superior compositional uniformity,” “enabl[ing] more flexible control of the film’s morphology,” and “improv[ing] intergrain electrical transport” and intergrain adhesion.
According to its website, Sunlight Photonics “is a venture-backed company focused on developing low cost, high efficiency renewable energy sources based on solar power.” The company’s goal is to “develop and bring to the mass market innovative technology to harvest solar energy with high levels of efficiency while providing cost-competitiveness with those of fossil fuel-based electric power plants.” Sunight Photonics is guided by the former management team of InPlane Photonics, which was acquired by CyOptics in 2007. According to the USPTO database, Sunlight Photonics owns three U.S. patents, including the ’396 patent, and another (U.S. Pat. No. 7,923,282) recently issued on April 12, 2011.
The ’396 patent resulted from an application filed in October 2009. About one year after filing, the application was accepted into the USPTO’s “Green Technology Pilot Program,” in response to a petition filed by Sunlight Photonics. Under this program, the application was given special status so that it could be advanced out of turn for examination. As a result, the application was examined and allowed in February 2011, resulting in a pendency of about 17 months, which is significantly less than the average pendency for this technology in the USPTO of about 30 months (using FY’09 statistics).
This pilot program is scheduled to continue until December 2011, and approximately 1/2 of the 3,000 spots in the program currently remain available. If your application can be characterized as being related to green technology (e.g., greenhouse gas reduction, energy conservation, development of renewable energy resources, etc.) then it may be worthwhile to file such a petition to put your application on a faster track through the USPTO.