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Atlas Copco

Atlas Copco exudes innovation. Research is paramount, as this is the only way they can remain the market leader in the world of compressor technology. Ewan Van Minnebruggen leads a strong IP team: ‘IP is always at the back of engineers’ minds here.’

When he applied for a vacancy at a patent office as a graduate engineer, he barely knew what the profession involved. However, Van Minnebruggen has since become fascinated by the field of patents. He heads up the Intellectual Property Department at Atlas Copco in Antwerp for the Compressor Technique and Power Technique business areas. He leads a ten-strong patent team that is active throughout the world. ‘Our company is a world leader when it comes to compressor technology. Everything we do here involves innovation, which is one of our core values. We are also known as the “university of compressed air”. Of the 700 engineers at the Belgian site in Wilrijk, around 480 work in research and development.’

IP involved from the beginning

In this research-driven environment, almost everyone is convinced of the importance of IP. Van Minnebruggen: ‘We’re visible and known to everyone who is involved with IP. For instance, we provide training courses and lectures on patents. These can range from patentability to how to avoid infringement of patents belonging to others. We are ever more frequently sitting around the table at the earliest stage of the development path so we can then advise on IP and investigate the technology we and others have protected and what has fallen outside of this scope. Also our team is now in a lot stronger position because we have been joined by an engineer from product development.’

‘We consciously choose for this mixed setup where we let external experts participate.’

Ewan Van Minnebruggen – Atlas Copco

Remaining a market leader

Atlas Copco makes complex products of the highest quality. Nevertheless, we do find that our inventions are copied. ‘You need to take action against this, for your reputation. This is because purchasers of the illegal imitation also have to deal with lower quality, while thinking they have purchased an original product.’ The company is growing, it is a market leader and wants to remain one. ‘At first we had three people in our IP team, now we have twelve people. In the meantime, we have been working hard as a company with industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. This means, among other things, that we can monitor our machines remotely and determine whether maintenance is required, for example. This is where innovation will occur in the coming years. I also see a lot of growth emerging in licencing and cross-licencing. These are new forms of collaboration where IP plays an important role.’

External expertise

In spite of the large IP team, Van Minnebruggen enjoys working with firms such as V.O. ‘They have experience in matters such as handling procedures at the European Patent Office. We made a conscious choice for this mixed setup, in which we can link up with external experts. It also makes sense, as everything has become more complicated over recent years. We work internally and externally with many parties throughout the entire product development process. Sometimes, an innovation is created in conjunction with a university and with our people in India, China and Belgium. However, then the question of ‘who should do what and where’ becomes complicated. So we should not aspire to want to do everything in house either. We are involved with around two thousand patents.’

Images: © Atlas Copco

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Herman Witmans

Herman Witmans

  • European and Dutch Patent Attorney, European Patent Litigator
  • Partner
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