* European Patent Office revokes Swiss university’s patent
* Applied Materials had been accused of violating patent
SAN FRANCISCO, March 31 (Reuters) - The European Patent Office on Tuesday revoked a solar patent issued to a Swiss university in an apparent victory for chip gear-maker Applied Materials Inc (AMAT.O).
The solar photovoltaic technology patent was issued to the University of Neuchatel and licensed exclusively to Oerlikon Corp OERL.VX, a Swiss technology group, Applied Materials said.
Oerlikon had alleged the patent was being violated by Germany’s SunFilm AG, a key customer of Applied Materials.
SunFilm uses Applied Materials’ “SunFab” thin-film process, a technology that has won the company orders from 11 firms in eight countries worth about $3 billion as of late 2008.
“Following oral proceedings ... the EPO panel ruled that the Neuchatel patent is invalid in its entirety and accordingly revoked the patent,” Applied Materials said in a statement.
The university was not immediately available for comment. Oerlikon said it would likely appeal the decision.
Applied Materials has steadily expanded its capacity to produce manufacturing equipment for the booming solar energy industry, hoping to spur growth as demand for its core semiconductor-making gear slows.
The patent in question involved thin-film solar technology. Oerlikon, saying it was trying to defend its intellectual property, brought a complaint against SunFilm in German courts in June 2008.
“This is not a final decision yet,” said an Oerlikon spokesman, Burkhard Bondel. “With the University of Neuchatel we will most likely appeal the decision. Although this patent describes an important part of the technology, our whole business does not depend on it.”
Oerlikon has 500 solar patents granted or pending, Bondel said.
Shares of Applied Materials were up 1.8 percent to $10.85 in afternoon Nasdaq trade, lagging a 3 percent rise in the Nasdaq Composite Index. (Reporting by Clare Baldwin; Editing by Edwin Chan and John Wallace)