Creating an innnovative idea is one thing but protecting it is quite another, says Airsynergy's legal and IP director Adrian Kelly.
Jim Smyth, Airsynergy’s CEO and lead inventor, first came up with the idea for our first innovation when he went to buy a traditional wind turbine for his own home. He believed a traditional turbine’s performance could be vastly improved by applying the air management techniques he used in his earlier career designing air conditioning systems. Inspired by his theory, we developed a “shrouded” turbine that successfully augments wind speed in both low and high wind conditions, doubling the power output of conventional wind turbines and making small wind power feasible in places previously deemed impractical. But creating an innovative technology is one thing. Protecting that idea is quite another, and frankly, just as important.
Aggressive global patenting
As a solicitor specialising in intellectual property, my job is to make sure that Airsynergy protects the value of its inventions through an aggressive global patenting strategy. This is especially crucial to our business because at Airsynergy, we see ourselves, first and foremost, as a product development and licensing company.
We license our designs to partners in the wind turbine industry who will, in turn, assemble, manufacture and sell our products throughout the world. We employ a ‘Partner Friendly’ license strategy in terms of promoting what we do and engaging with current and new market entrants. In this way, we believe we can enhance the value proposition of wind energy to end users, by giving existing market players and new entrants access to our cutting edge technology.
For instance, last year we entered into an exclusive license agreement in the United States with New York based Aris Renewables Energy, LLC. Airsynergy has granted Aris a royalty bearing patent license to develop, manufacture and sell wind turbines and wind powered streetlights utilising Airsynergy’s patented enhancement technologies. The license covers the US and Caribbean and Aris is also acting as an agent for Airsynergy to secure other licensees in South America. We are in the process of awarding similar liscencing agreements in Europe and Asia.
Given the international applications of our technology, we have lodged an extensive amount of applications for patent protection throughout the globe on all of our inventions. These international applications, many of which have proceeded to full grant provide significant geographical protection. Our company has employed leading patent attorneys to ensure comprehensive international IP protection.
We have also carried out a number of international patent searches to see if there have been any possible prior art that could void the patentability of our inventions. The most recent of these searches have been infringement and patentability searches carried out in New York. These searches confirmed that they expect our Patents would proceed to grant in the US.
From the outset, we recognised the importance of making sure our innovation was protected and I encourage entrepreneurs seeking to protect the value of their inventions to get professional advice from a patent attorney and ensure that there are no ‘disclosures’ of the invention prior to lodging a patent that could bar a patent grant.
Preliminary advice regarding the patentability of your invention is usually free. The cost of having your patent professionally drafted and lodged by a patent attorney is usually about €2,000 plus VAT. It will cost only ca. €150 if you want to lodge the application yourself, but I would not recommend this. It is a service worth paying for, as a badly drafted patent is worthless.
If you don’t lodge a patent you do not enjoy any patent protection, though there may be other weaker intellectual property rights you enjoy such as copyright, unregistered design rights etc. but these are not as strong in terms of providing protection to the inventor.
Ireland is this year expected to hold a referendum on the establishment of a Unified Patent Court following an agreement signed by 25 mostly EU states last year.
The court would hear cases regarding patent infringement proceedings of European patents. The idea is to reduce the administrative burden of translation and other costs and to provide a uniform decision making forum that creates more certainty for business people.
To bring the court into force the agreement needs to be ratified by 13 countries, including the three countries where most European patents are registered: France, Germany and the United Kingdom. In Ireland this means having a referendum to ratify the proposal. In the meantime, it’s business as usual in Ireland with the Commercial Court dealing with patent infringement where the value of the claim is at least €1 million.
The key to international protection is to know when and where to lodge your patents for maximum commercial benefit. Inventors who lodge them in the wrong order can end up shooting themselves in the foot, and the results can be disastrous.
At the end of the day, if your business is innovation, a global patent strategy must be an integral part of your business model. Those who fail to treat this process with the thoughtfulness and priority it deserves, does so at their own peril.
Adrian Kelly is Director of Legal and Intellectual Property at Airsynergy of County Longford, Ireland. An experienced Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, he oversees Airsynergy’s intellectual property and filing strategies as well as the legal and commercial aspects of its multi-national licensing agreements.
ABOUT THE AIRSYNERGY WIND TURBINE
• Interim power readings on the 5kW unit by GL confirm enhanced turbine produces [100 per cent] more power output than comparative 5kW turbines in the market.
• This results in an almost halving of the cost of wind power generation as the added cost of our enhancement technology results in only a modest cost increase to the overall system (c.20 per cent extra capex).
• Conventional small wind turbines do not ‘cut in’ until wind speeds of approx 2.5/3.5 m/s while the Airsynergy turbine cuts in at wind speeds as low as 1.5 m/s.
• The duct for our 5kW is only 1.5m deep and made of lightweight plastics that are very simple to manufacture.
• The duct is easily added to existing wind turbine designs with only minor strengthening of the base and tower required. Our latest enhancement unit prototype added only 20 per cent to the overall cost of the turbine.
• The turbine shroud helps suppress the noise levels from the turbine.
• This technology will enable wind power to be generated closer to the point of use, rather than large distances from the customer that could save power transmission losses of up to 25 per cent.
• It is estimated that on average the payback is reduced by 40 per cent compared to existing turbines.
• Airsynergy’s design creates a smooth laminar airflow reducing the effect of turbulence, thus reducing the maintenance cost over the turbines’ lifespan.
• Capacity factors of > 50 per cent (site dependent) mean that grid connections can be more effectively used.
• It secured the Engineers Ireland Technology of the Year Award in 2013.