Switch Signals Legal Action on Data Center Design Patents Coming

Switch, the Las Vegas-based data center provider that has for years touted a long list of its founder and CEO Rob Roy’s pending and issued data center design patents, is beefing up its legal team to go after companies it says have infringed on its intellectual property.

Roy has “more than 350 issued and pending patent claims,” the company says, crediting the CEO with designing everything from power and cooling systems to the meeting-room interiors in its data centers. Switch is now signaling that it’s prepared to pursue legal action against companies it alleges have copied some of his inventions.

“Today many companies copy these designs in their data centers, and while Switch is flattered, we are also ramping up our IP legal team to address those that are infringing on our patents,” Sam Castor, the company’s executive VP of policy and deputy general counsel, said in a statement last month.

A licensing deal Switch announced today may be a way to avoid legal conflict for one of the companies he was referring to. Schneider Electric, the French energy management and automation giant that’s also one of the biggest suppliers of data center infrastructure equipment, agreed to license the design of Switch’s hot-aisle containment and cooling system, which prevents hot air that comes out of servers from mixing with cold air produced by the facility’s cooling system, making the system more efficient.

Switch may have developed a unique way to implement hot-aisle containment, but the overall concept has been in widespread use by the data center industry for years. Keeping hot and cold air from mixing is a generally accepted best practice in designing energy efficient data centers.

But Schneider licensed nearly 270 patents that describe Switch’s approach, according to Adam Kramer, executive VP of strategy at Switch. With that many patents, there are bound to be elements that make its particular implementation unique.

Switch did not say why Schneider licensed the intellectual property in its announcement of the deal. In a phone interview with Data Center Knowledge Kramer only said, “They want to use this IP.”

It is possible that Schneider is licensing technology it has been using in its products already. It is a €25 billion corporation with vast engineering resources it could tap to develop its own implementation of the hot-aisle-containment concept. We’ve reached out to Schneider for clarification and will update this story when we get a response.

In a statement, Schneider’s senior VP of data center systems, Chris Hanley, said the license will “clear the way for us to incorporate Switch’s innovative hot-aisle containment and cooling technologies, which will complement Schneider’s product offerings and efficiencies.”

The hot-aisle containment and cooling system it licensed is called Switch T-SCIF (Thermal Separate Compartment in Facility). According to Kramer, key among the 265 patents licensed are:

  • Integrated Wiring System and Thermal Shield Support Apparatus for a Data Center: U.S. Patent Number: 8,072,780
  • Air Handling Control System for a Data Center: U.S. Patent Number: 8,180,495
  • Data Center Air Handling Unit: U.S. Patent Number: 8,469,782
  • Electronic Equipment Data Center of Co-Location Facility Designs and Method of Making and Using the Same: U.S. Patent Number: 8,523,643
  • Data Center Facility Design Configuration: U.S. Patent Number: 9,198,331
  • Electronic Equipment Data Center and Server Co-Location Facility Configurations and Method of Using the Same: U.S. Patent Number: 9,622,389
  • Air Handling Unit With A Canopy Thereover For Use with a Data Center and Method of Using the Same: U.S. Patent Number 9,693,486

Switch said it has had a licensing program since 2016. Its first licensee was NV Energy, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned Nevada utility.

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