Osram lowers the boom on N.H. lighting firm

Selling low-energy long-life commercial lamps has become a serious business, as Cort Cary — who runs Green Energy Management LLC out of his Westmoreland, N.H., home – has found out the hard way.

On June 18, the lighting giant Osram Sylvania Inc. — a Germany-based firm with more than 1,700 employees in New Hampshire alone — filed suit in U.S. District Court in Concord claiming that Green Energy Management’s sale of “electrodeless” lamps violates the company’s patents.

Osram Sylvania quickly announced the suit the day after it was filed, using Cary’s firm as an example.

“This is the first action in the United States in our campaign to enforce Osram Sylvania’s patents for the Icetron induction lighting system,” said Peter Lawler, head of Osram Sylvania’s Low Pressure Discharge business unit. “Osram Sylvania is committed to enforcing its intellectual property rights in the United States and throughout the world. Osram Sylvania will not tolerate infringement of its intellectual property rights.”

Cary told NHBR that the lawsuit “came out of the blue,” and he quickly pulled off his Web site the lamps mentioned in the law suit as soon as frightened competitors called him, worried because they offer similar energy-saving technology for sale.

“It represents a minuscule fraction of my business,” said Cary. “It so happens I had the factory’s name on the Web site, so I was a sitting duck. I yanked it, because even if I’m right, I’m just a one-man band in New Hampshire, and they will spend me into the ground.”

Cary said he called the company and told it he would stop selling the products in question.

“I put up my hands and said, ‘I surrender.’ I hope that they will give me a break. They picked on the smallest fish in the pond.”

When asked for a comment on the suit, the company issued the following statement:

“With over 1,700 New Hampshire employees, Osram Sylvania has built its business on energy saving lighting for more than 30 years. Osram Sylvania has invested millions of dollars and added hundreds of jobs in New England to develop new energy efficient technologies, such as the Sylvania Icetron lamp. In order to continue these R&D investments, we must ensure copy-cat products that infringe our patents are taken off the market. We are working to systematically identify all infringements of our Icetron induction lamp patents and look forward to resolving the pending case against Green Energy Management.”

Cary continues to sell other electrodeless or induction lamps, which are used in warehouses, tunnels and for other commercial uses that he says does not infringe on Osram’s patent.

The lamps use 60 percent less electricity than traditional fluorescent lights and last five times longer, which means that companies don’t have to replace them as much, so purchasing them “is really a no-brainer,” Cary said.

According to his Web site, replacing 10,000 lamps would save a customer $3.5 million in energy and maintenance costs, as well as reducing one’s “carbon footprint” by 20 million pounds, the equivalent of taking 2,700 cars off the road annually.

Cary, who said he previously made money flipping houses when the real estate market was doing better, switched to selling all sorts of energy lighting systems via the Internet a year and a half ago. He lost money the first year, ordering samples in small quantities, but things are beginning “turn the corner,” thanks to the rise in energy prices and greater environmental awareness, he said.

Bob Sanders can be reached at bsanders@nhbr.com.