First Solar filed a lawsuit today against Toledo Solar, a thin-film solar module manufacturer, which—like First Solar–is based in Ohio.
According to the court filing, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, Toledo Solar sold Malayasian-made First Solar solar modules under the Toledo name, claiming they were made in America. The filing states that the action is in violation of the Lanham Act and the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act “for false designation of origin and passing off goods of another.”
First Solar claims that Toledo Solar falsely represented that Toledo Solar manufactured solar modules that in fact were manufactured by First Solar. The filing states Toledo falsely claimed that it manufactured the solar modules that Toledo had provided for installation on the Ohio Governor’s mansion in Columbus; that Toledo falsely represent that the modules were made by Toledo in Ohio, and that Toledo advertised on social media that it manufactured certain solar modules in Ohio.
The reportedly nefarious practice was discovered in the summer of 2022 when First Solar employees went to the Ohio Governor’s mansion to remove 20-year old solar modules for decommissioning. There the employee saw modules in Toledo Solar boxes that had the familiar First Solar imprint and serial numbers on the side. Toledo Solar and new serial numbers had also been etched into the modules. First Solar’s junction boxes had also been changed.
First Solar reports that the solar modules were actually manufactured by First Solar at its manufacturing facility in Malaysia, and that by these actions put First Solar at liability and reputational risk. The filing also notes that past customers of Toledo Solar may also have been deceived.
On a conference call, a First Solar spokesperson stated:
We were disappointed to learn that Toledo Solar has modified, marketed, and sold First Solar’s CadTel (Cadmium Telluride) solar panels as its own, and have filed a complaint against the company for deceptive trade practices. Given our role as a solar industry leader with a track record in championing domestic solar manufacturing, we have taken this action after careful consideration of the seriousness of the matter. Our intent is to address and ultimately resolve the issue by having Toledo Solar notify all purchasers of any First Solar panels that it has sold as its own, and to prevent it from making further false claims and selling any additional First Solar panels it may have in stock.
Prior to filing the lawsuit, First Solar did some of its own investigating by ordering 200 Toledo solar modules from a retail distributor. The modules were delivered in February 2023, and included a label indicating that they were manufactured by Toledo Solar and Made in the USA. Toledo Solar provided a notarized certificate of origin verifying that the modules it consigned to the distributor for sale were “the products of the United States of America.” What they found was that, like the modules provided by Toledo Solar for the Governor’s mansion, the modules included First Solar’s manufacturing serial numbers showing they were manufactured by First Solar in Malaysia. In addition, they included First Solar’s junction boxes.
According to the filing, First Solar is seeking:
- A preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting Toledo Solar from continuing to falsely represent in commerce, promotion and commercial advertising that Toledo Solar manufactured solar modules that in fact were manufactured by First Solar;
- An injunction requiring Toledo Solar to notify every customer who purchased First Solar manufactured solar modules from Toledo Solar of the actual origin of the solar modules and of any alterations made by Toledo Solar to the modules;
- The disgorgement of any profits made by Toledo Solar from the sale of solar modules it falsely represented it manufactured, but in fact were manufactured by First Solar;
- The recovery of First Solar’s reasonable attorney fees and costs pursuing this action;
- Such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.
In the meantime, First Solar said it will replace the modules on the Governor’s mansion with its own product at no charge to the State of Ohio.
First Solar is represented by Squire Patton Boggs LLP of Cleveland, Ohio.
pv magazine USA reached out to Toledo Solar for comment, but at press time had not received a response.
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