Take good care of your clean-tech IP

2 min read

Innovators in low-carbon technology should work with specialists to maximize the value of intellectual property, says IIya Kazi.

We have seen huge advances in environmental technologies, fuelled by the public’s interest in the planet’s future and by government support through grants and other incentives. UK-based hi-tech companies are among those at the cutting edge of this ‘clean’ industrial revolution, as many of the entries to The Engineer Technology & Innovation Awards demonstrate.

The huge interest in green technology makes economic sense as well. The current global market for low-carbon technologies is about £150bn and is predicted to quadruple over the next five to 10 years. The challenge for innovators is finding the right commercial outlets for their technology.

It has always been difficult for innovators to retain a clear focus on what elements in their new technology will make money and often the most challenging aspect of commercialising intellectual property (IP) is recognising what you have, then safeguarding and commercialising it. To make the most of their innovations it is vital for UK businesses to work with the right partners to maximise the value within their IP. Much of the innovation in low-carbon technology is not in itself revolutionary but is the result of an advance in a well-trodden field, and it sometimes takes considerable creative insight to identify scope for IP protection.

The best advice when it comes to identifying IP is: don’t assume you know what you have, seek commercial advice and collaborate with the right partners. Over its 99-year history Mathys & Squire has found that clients benefit from working with IP attorneys in a collaboration that helps to keep them focused on the commercial applications of their innovations. Attorneys at Mathys & Squire have often identified alternative commercial applications for clients that over time have proved at least as lucrative as the original concept. Much of their skill comes in identifying and obtaining commercially useful protection where others have dismissed possibilities or failed to spot them.

Earlier this year, to coincide with the G8 summit, the Global Climate Network produced a paper entitled ‘Breaking Through on Technology’, which highlighted the fact that most low-carbon technologies require proportionately greater up-front investment than more carbon-intensive alternatives, and how a shortage of finance was delaying the adoption of low-carbon technology.

This is where a paradox exists. In a global free economy, the vital finance for R&D requires that the resulting technology can be sold at a profit and this is where the protection and commercialisation of IP has a vital role. Strong IP is often the key to winning the investment capital that allows technology development and transfer.

However, the Global Climate Network report recognised this paradox when it stated: ‘IP law can also act as a barrier and measures to encourage companies to use or relinquish IP (and in some circumstances to use the flexibility already available through the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPs agreement) may be necessary. Yet IP is central to innovation and important to vertical transfer as it provides a competitive advantage to technology developers.’

At present a significant portion of the research and investment in the low-carbon sector is being carried out or funded by traditional energy companies. Acting on their behalf, Mathys & Squire is currently processing many applications for green technologies, including biofuels, solar cells, water treatment and green solvents. As a result of its expertise in the field, it will advise the Environmental Investment Network, which unites technology companies with investors and has government support.

Mathys & Squire LLP advises world leaders in innovation in relation to low-carbon technology. It understands the issues involved in commercialisation of this technology and the role that IP rights have to play in securing the investment funding, while at the same time allowing the technology transfer that will accelerate the adoption of cleaner technology across the globe.

IIya Kazi is a partner and patent attorney at Mathys & Squire LLP. He is a member of the judging panel for The Engineer Technology & Innovation Awards 2009