Innovative entrepreneurship requires a strategic approach to Intellectual Property (IP). It not only offers protection against infringement, it strengthens competitiveness, creates value and, moreover, makes the company attractive to partners. The significance of using IP is diverse and depends on business goals. Read below a number of inspiring examples from our clients:
out as a unit of the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center, AIMM
Therapeutics originally developed antibodies against infectious diseases such
as CMV, HRSV, influenza and MRSA. Currently, AIMM develops antibodies for
oncological indications. They discovered a specific antibody in the blood of a
patient who had recovered from a stage-4 melanoma; an advanced form of skin
cancer with metastases in the brain. The patient had previously been
successfully treated with an experimental T cell-based immunotherapy. So-called
B cells, the immune cells producing antibodies against the cancer cells, were
selected from this patient’s blood. In doing so AIMM found an antibody, named
AT1412, capable of inhibiting tumor growth.
helping each other
Because of their special AIMM-Select technique, AIMM was able to isolate B cells. “The problem here was that human B cells were incapable of surviving for long in culture. Our technique made it possible to allow the delicate but highly valuable immune cells to survive and to obtain the antibody AT1412 from them,” says John Womelsdorf, CEO at AIMM Therapeutics. “To see whether the antibody could indeed have an effect against tumor cells, we placed it in contact with those cells. It turned out that we were able to inhibit the growth of the tumor cells, in any case for melanoma. We’ve meanwhile found that this technique can also be effective against cancer cells of intestinal, lung and breast tumors. The beauty of it all is that patients can help each other this way.”
When it comes to treating many types of cancer, this discovery is a golden opportunity for AIMM. Womelsdorf says, “Getting our therapeutic antibodies into the clinic requires hundreds of millions of euros. We can only obtain such funds if investors have the certainty that our invention is properly protected and cannot be copied. Without protection of our intellectual property, no money; without money, no science; without science, no cancer treatment.” Saskia van Doorn, patent attorney at V.O., has been working together with AIMM on their patent portfolio for years. “Previously, the main goal used to be the selling and licensing of the antibodies against infectious diseases. The patent strategy now focuses on the protection of AIMM’s own products that are active against tumors.”
says, “Saskia can be found regularly at our company, which is a good thing.
That is how she knows what makes us tick.” Saskia van Doorn elucidates, “AIMM
uses human, natural material. The challenge then is to claim such a product
from nature. In the United States, for instance, this is not permitted. By
zooming in on an artificial aspect of the therapeutic antibody, we have
nonetheless managed to protect the product by a patent.” Womelsdorf adds, “This
was only possible through intensive collaboration. I consider Saskia a virtual
AIMM employee. She helps us generate the highest income for research at a low
In the early 1970s, Nedap developed a system for electronic shoplifting detection. Detection strips with an electronic resonance circuit (tags) are attached to retail products and can only be removed using special equipment at the cash register. If an article is stolen, the tag triggers an alarm.
Nowadays, Nedap RFID tags are being used worldwide in all kinds of sectors. Examples are building access control, recognition of farm animals, registration of library books or detection of underground pipes. One notable aspect of the technology patented by Nedap is that the tags do not require batteries, because the required supply voltage is taken from a magnetic detection field. In combination with new developments, such as printable RFID tags, this innovation meant that the bar code gained a formidable competitor.
Hightech & Electronics
‘I fully expect us to see strong growth over the next few years.’
“We developed a unique process to manufacture plastic lenses in a 3D printer. The traditional processes involve building them up in layers or cutting them from a block of plastic. Instead, we form them using droplets and UV light. The raw material used is liquid polymer. The lens is formed using a single droplet, with a second drop then neatly spread out on top of this. This creates a smooth surface that is cured immediately under the UV light.”
What applications are possible?
“Lenses have an infinite number of applications, from photo and security cameras, smart phones, LED lights and cars to the eyewear industry. Part of our aim is to at least match the quality level of existing technologies, but we’re also looking at developing unique applications. An example could be the integration of sensors in lenses for eyewear.”
What stage is the company at now?
“With around 30 staff, we currently generate an annual turnover of less than one million euros. Our main focus is still on investment. Developing a completely new technology requires a lot of time and money. I fully expect us to see strong growth over the next few years. With investors having recently pumped 7.5 million euros into the company, the confidence is definitely there.”
What about patents?
“We hold a considerable number of patents that protect all aspects of our manufacturing process. We bring in external partners to help us with existing technologies, but will manage all unique aspects of our technology ourselves. Our aim is to maintain a pivotal role in the technology, focussing only on those aspects that make us unique. In businesses that are centred around innovation as much as ours, patents are an essential part of the business plan. Time and again, patents are the first thing any potential investor or partner will ask about. Patents don’t just offer comprehensive protection, they also fulfil a key role as a first line of defence.”
And what about the future?
“Soon, it will be possible to print lenses for glasses that will match traditional lenses in quality, with the difference being that they will be available immediately. In the future, I expect that lenses for our glasses will be printed while we wait.”
‘We consciously choose for this mixed setup where we let external experts participate.’
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.’
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.’
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.’
Born in Haarlem, Steinar Henskes is the founder and director of the Bird Control Group, a company that uses intelligent laser technology to scare unwanted birds away from places such as airports, farms and factory sites.
Steinar Henskes has always been fascinated by laser technology. Until a few years before, he ran a small company specialising in developing applications using laser light, including for the alignment of specific materials. One night, whilst tinkering with a laser lamp in a field, he noted that birds would simply fly off. ‘The cogs in my head began to turn’, says Steinar. ‘I saw an opportunity straight away and delved into literature to find out what had already been published on the subject. There are of course many places imaginable where birds are unwelcome. I realised that if it was possible to use a laser as a modern, animal-friendly bird scarer, I’d found a gap in the market.’
Bundled light particles
It was none other than Albert Einstein who established the foundations for laser light. Modern applications include pointers that are used during presentations and lasers to play CDs and even cut steel. Steinar explains: ‘Lasers consist of nothing more than a beam of light particles.’ ‘Birds see this as a threat to their comfort zone, so they are frightened by it. It is similar to the way in which people respond when they see a car approaching at great speed. Your whole body will tell you you’re in danger. We have developed a laser that is safe for humans and animals but that has a maximum impact on birds.’ And only a few years later, this idea has proved to be a winner.
Facing market scepticism
Steinar first developed a device suitable for the agricultural sector. This took a form similar to that of a torch, which farmers could use to scare birds away from a distance. ‘I then embarked on a search for partners such as production companies. In addition, I needed a network of distributors who could sell this manually operated laser for me. Only then did I realise how much effort it takes to bring an innovative product onto the market. People were somewhat sceptical at first. But through the use of short videos and product demonstrations I was able to prove that the concept really works. The fact that the product is easy to use and a little publicity did the rest.’ Read the five innovation tips1. Your invention does not have to be completely new to be an innovation. Solving an existing problem with an existing product could result in a significant breakthrough. 2. Henry Ford once said: ‘If I had asked people what they wanted – they would have said faster horses.’ Don’t allow yourself to be put off by initial scepticism from the market. And always think big. Your market could be as big as the whole world. 3. Find the right partners. Tap into existing networks, for example where the distribution of your products is concerned. It could give your company a big push in the right direction. 4. Bring knowledge and experience into your company, so that you can continue to innovate and grow quickly. I personally did not obtain a degree from a technical university, but my staff now include graduate engineers. And my investors’ contribution to the company is not limited to funds either, they also bring knowledge and contacts with them. 5. Arrange your intellectual property, both for your product and your brand. This helps to create added value for your company and it works in your favour during discussions with financiers and investors. It is proof that you have a professional approach. Sure, your product is unique, but is it protected? from Henskes.
A new standard in bird deterrents had been set. The Bird Control Group’s products quickly found their way to markets abroad. Besides this, other market sectors quickly began to take note too. According to Steinar, the leisure industry was next in line to jump on the bandwagon. ‘And then, before long, I was invited to a meeting at Schiphol. These discussions meant a significant boost for our company. Schiphol naturally wanted an automatic laser, a kind of robot that could keep a whole zone bird-free.’ Bird Control Group’s client portfolio now includes numerous airports around the world.
The growth of Henskes’ company also resulted in an increased need to arrange proper protection with regard to their intellectual property. ‘I realised that we had a truly unique approach,’ Steinar enthuses. To have Bird Control Group’s technology and products set the standard in their market, is his ultimate goal. ‘We now have three patents on the technology and a number of registered brand names. They not only give us an advantage over our competitors, but more importantly, they provide ample opportunity to expand the company further.’ The commercial value offered by the trademarks and patents provide additional security, as a result of which three informal investors decided to join him. V.O. Patents & Trademarks is the regular advisor of the Bird Control Group.
Relevant for society
The Bird Control Group now sells laser solutions to approximately 70 countries around the world. The number of sectors that make use of them is also still growing, with the farming, aerospace, leisure and manufacturing industries serving as just a few examples. ‘But the fishing industry could benefit too. The by-catch of line fishing includes birds and no less than 300,000 of them are killed for this reason every year. We are therefore now also installing our lasers on boats. When it comes to commercial activities, birds are now kept at a distance. That’s another problem solved and society benefits yet again!’
Johannes van Melle, partner at V.O. Patents & Trademarks
‘Innovation is all about strategic partnerships, growth, development and improvement. Businesses will look for financing so they can invest further. Are you, as a business, making the right choices? In each of those stages, it is important to have proper arrangements in place when it comes to your intellectual property. Established companies follow the same approach. They are well aware of how these things work. It is key for innovators to recognise these economic imperatives. It is what I would call patent reality. The solid economic basis provided by patents offers businesses the opportunity to progress to the next level.’
Credits Steinar Henskens image: Mats van Soolingen
“The solution we are offering is relevant in the Netherlands”, explained Breedveld, “but it’s even more relevant in the United States and in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In those countries, if you go to see your family doctor, vaguely referring to the fact that you’re “having problems with your lungs”, it won’t be long before you’re prescribed antibiotics. The doctor assumes that you’re suffering from a bacterial infection, but if your infection is viral, all the antibiotics will do is make you even more sick than you were before. Using this test, however, the doctor will immediately know what type of infection you have. Something that is worthy of note and forms the most important challenge is the question whether family doctors will accept this innovation. Are they ready to make changes to their routine?”
“While studying for my Chemistry degree, I took a specialist option in Science-Based Business. For me, running a business feels really great and was something that I wanted to do after completing my studies. My main interest lay in translating scientific insights into products. After setting up an ideas competition amongst students, I got to know about all sorts of good ideas for start-ups. That was the most interesting aspect of the competition and I also got to know the students themselves in person. What appealed to me most was that this initiative truly represents a fresh perspective on an existing problem. More importantly, it’s also a key issue. Simply Google it and you can see for yourself.”
“But first of all, it was a case of determining whether our new approach was genuinely novel and whether it would work. So we held confidential discussions with university professors and are currently making arrangements to obtain the necessary financing. The reason for this is that in the first instance, we had only invested a bit of money we had won during competitions, together with some money of our own. With the extra money, we will soon be able to start to examine the aspects that will enable us to generate the value and to establish whether our marker is precise enough.”
Funding and market research
“This is something that I am working on for 1.5 days a week, alongside my other job as a business developer. At the moment, one of the things I am doing is to apply for funding and I am approaching doctors’ practices and hospitals. Our goal is to put the test on the market and, of course, make a patent application. I very quickly learned that putting together a patent is not something that a layman can do for himself – I have come across patents that run to 140 pages. At the same time, you need someone with a scientific background. Via a contact at the Bio Science Park in Leiden, we were introduced to V.O., and they do have the necessary knowledge and experience. Look, if we don’t do this and if, a short while from now, our competitors dismantle our chip and find out how it is constructed, we will have lost everything. So it’s important for us that we obtain a patent for the solution we have developed.
Would you like to follow this start-up? If so, simply like their page on Facebook!
Trademarks & Designs
‘Once it has been established that it is a case of trademark infringement, the products are destroyed on site.’
Sanrio, the Japanese company behind Hello Kitty, grants licences to companies all over the world to use the name and image of the girl with the pink bow around her ear. The market is simultaneously being flooded with counterfeit products, explains Noëlle Wolfs of V.O., which represents Sanrio for the trademarks in the Benelux. ‘To keep the trademark licence-worthy, action must be taken against the counterfeit products. Otherwise licence holders will start to ask themselves why they should pay for them. That is why Sanrio is so active in customs-related matters, among other things.’
Customs have a system for tracing infringement of trademarks and designs. If customs find suspect shipments at airports or in ports, the trademark holder (or the office looking after their interests) is notified of this. Photographic materials are used to check whether the products are counterfeit. Almost every day, Sanrio receives reports from customs authorities all over the world. Once it has been established that it is a case of trademark infringement, the products are destroyed on site.
‘Intellectual property is in the interest of the patient.’
The Dutch Heart Foundation invests tens of millions of euros each year in pioneering scientific research into heart and vascular diseases. This enables researchers to work quickly and efficiently on innovative and effective treatments for heart and vascular diseases. The Dutch Heart Foundation promotes collaboration between researchers and medical specialists in the Netherlands and ensures that research results can be used by patients as quickly as possible.
Increasing importance of IP
Intellectual Property Rights (IP) are playing an increasingly larger role in scientific research thus also in subsidy agreements. Research is becoming more complex and more diverse parties concerned. This increases the need for making good agreements about IP rights to research results and confirming these agreements in contracts.
Under the motto ‘Heart for the Cause’, V.O. has been providing financial support to the Dutch Heart Foundation since 2006. Moreover, we became a knowledge partner in 2018. We provide strategic advice on intellectual property rights and help with drawing up contractual terms. The Dutch Heart Foundation is able to rely on the expertise of V.O. whenever necessary to further develop its positions and policy on IP rights.
Speed and return
By taking a strategic approach to IP, the Dutch Heart Foundation is able to increase revenues, which can then be reinvested into scientific research. Furthermore, proper agreements about IP contribute to speeding up research, which allows new solutions for heart and vascular diseases to become available to patients as soon as possible.
‘With a patent we can license our technology to manufacturers.’
‘At that time, we were working on a study assignment that involved investigating whether you could commercialise a university patent’, Blomaard explains. ‘We investigated whether a composite technology from the aerospace industry had possible applications in other sectors. First of all, we approached companies in the offshore and automotive industries, among others, to find out if they were interested in this innovation. The standard approach is to design something first and then hit the road with it. But we entered into discussions with the end users first, also on the advice of the tech incubator YesDelft.’
A change of direction
In those early years, Blomaard and his partners realised that their original approach to licensing wasn’t working. ‘We wanted to license our technology to manufacturers. But we soon discovered that producers didn’t have the machines and knowledge to use our technology. So we developed user-friendly software to make this knowledge available, as well as robots, which enabled us to automate large parts of the process. Ultimately, we deliver everything turnkey, including customised software and the training of employees to operate the robots.’ The possibilities offered by an in-house finite element analysis (FEA) model assist this process: ‘This enables us to test a digital prototype in all sorts of load conditions. This means that we don’t have to make as many expensive, physical prototypes. This saves all parties time and a lot of money.’
A focus on innovation
One of the best projects was a robot designed to make large fibre-reinforced rubber hoses up to 1.5 metres in diameter for the dredging and mining industries. This is traditionally a highly manual and work-intensive process that’s often outsourced to Asia. Taniq designed software and a robot to automate the concept and design process. Blomaard explains, ‘Our robot is up to 80% faster and always delivers the same high quality. This allows us to provide Western manufacturers with a solution to manufacture their products locally (again).’ Everything patented? ‘In some instances, we don’t patent an invention. In those cases, it’s so well hidden in the process that we make a conscious decision not to make it public. In other instances, we work together with V.O. They know how you can get good cover for your patent and how to write it down.’ Blomaard is still enthusiastic about Taniq: ‘What we offer makes sense, and means that we get to work on great projects too.’
Hightech & Electronics
‘Securing our know how ensures a better collaboration.’
In the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, cars drive south from Darwin to Adelaide, which is some 3,000 kilometres away, by using solar energy. There are three classes that together represent the diversity of solar vehicles and various design philosophies. The aim of the biannual design competition is to inspire young people throughout the world to contribute towards sustainable transport in the future. In the years that the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is not organised, the Sasol Solar Challenge takes place in South Africa.
Vattenfall Solar Team’s solar car is redesigned every two years and built by hand. This means that the students from Delft University of Technology are continuously innovating. They work with the latest technologies and materials and therefore get an overview of cars of the future. By participating in the competitions in Australia and South Africa they investment in both their personal development and making transport more sustainable.
V.O. has been a sponsor of the Vattenfall Solar Team since 2015. We make the team aware of the value of their innovations and show how the team can make these most profitable. Intellectual property can offer possibilities, for instance, to secure new sources of funding. We also support them with drawing up clear agreements with partners which contributes to a good and professional relationship. By sponsoring the team, we are supporting sustainable technology and investing in young and enthusiastic students.
‘Good property protection ensures that we remain in control.’
In 2012, the Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat designed a system of floating barriers that use ocean currents to intercept plastic. The waste can then be collected and discarded with tankers. He has further refined his technology with his organisation The Ocean Cleanup. The system makes intelligent use of natural forces such as wind, waves and sea current. These forces ensure that the catch arm flows with the wind and currents, so that he hunts behind the plastic like a gigantic pac-man.
The Ocean Cleanup is working on high-quality, innovative technology. The company is a strong advocate of the open source approach for the development of this. A patent helps the organisation to keep control: it prevents other companies from copying an invention and claiming rights of use. Good IP protection enables The Ocean Cleanup to have a say in the use of its innovation and enable it to achieve maximum effect.
V.O. has been an official supplier to The Ocean Cleanup since 2017. That was the year in which the organisation applied for its first patent. We helped with the drafting and submission of the application. We also support Boyan Slat and his team with future innovations in the area of intellectual property. In this way, the organisation’s innovative ideas remain available without restrictions for combatting worldwide plastic pollution.
Testing with a prototype
The Ocean Cleanup is carring out its first large-scale practical tests since the end of 2018. The organisation is first focusing on the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is an area located between Hawaii and California where a lot of waste accumulates. The company expects to have removed half of the plastic pollution by 2023. This is an important step in an ambitious plan, namely the realisation of the largest clean-up operation in history - large-scale, efficient and environmentally friendly.
Credits top image: Kyler Badten / The Ocean Cleanup Credits Boyan Slat image: Yuri van Geenen.
‘A single point of contact for our patents, brands and legal matters is very efficient.’
Coldenhove has been supplying large-scale industrial consumers for many years. Not only have they been producing the well-known blue envelopes from the Tax Authority in the Netherlands for years, Coldenhove has also enjoyed great success with its Jetcol® sublimation transfer paper. This paper consists of regular paper equipped with a special coating. It is used to print clothing and sports uniforms, but also home textiles and signage such as flags and banners.
Sublimation and transferring
“The transfer paper is used in a sublimation printer. The printer prints the image or text onto the paper using sublimation ink. Next, a heat press or ‘calender’ – a rolling press – presses the design into the textile at a temperature of around 190 degrees Celsius. In the process of sublimation, the heat from the press causes the inks on the paper to change from a solid to a gaseous state. This allows the ink to penetrate the substrate – the polyester that is supposed to be printed,” says Reshma Bhansing, product manager at Neenah Coldenhove.
The best alternative for screen printing
“Jetcol paper has a single limitation: in order to use it, the textile being printed must consist of at least 65% polyester. That’s why, following the success of Jetcol, we started looking for a solution that would enable us to print on textile made from natural fibers like cotton and linen as well,” Bhansing explains. “Until now, this was either done using the traditional silkscreen method and pigment ink, or with the current digital solutions – but in the latter case, the quality was never sufficient. With Texcol, we’ve found a method that lets us deliver the quality the market demands.”
Limited investment and environmentally-friendly
“Texcol is a digital pigment transfer paper that makes it possible to use industrial printing methods on natural-fiber substrates. Applying various kinds of coating to the paper results in a high printing quality and other benefits. Moreover, the pigment ink ensures the design stays colorfast, even when exposed to UV light. Another major advantage to using Texcol is that it is a dry process. Because no water is used, there is no need to treat the textile before and after printing. That shortens the production process and is better for the environment,” Bhansing says. “For our clients, it requires only a relatively minor investment, as they can use the same paper and pigment ink in their current sublimation printers as well. Our discovery might just be the very tool our clients need to be able to switch to new digital printing applications. This is enabling them to tap into new markets.”
V.O. has been assisting Neenah Coldenhove with patent applications, registration of brand names such as Jetcol and Texcol, and additional legal services for years. According to Bhansing: “By now, V.O. knows our company through and through. That makes it extra pleasant to work with a partner who offers all the services you need under one roof. V.O. regularly lends a hand when we are drawing up contracts or terms of sale, too.”
Aware of the value of intellectual property
At Neenah Coldenhove, innovation is clearly in their blood. According to Bhansing: “New ideas are first presented in our Innovation Board. Henri van Kalkeren, patent attorney at V.O., is proud to serve Neenah Coldenhove. “The paper business may be quite old, but what they’re doing is absolutely innovative. They are looking past their own limitations and are aware of the value of their intellectual property. As a result, we are always informed of new developments within the company at an early stage. This allows us to take quick decisions and always stay one step ahead of the market.”
BioBTX has a mission. “In our vision of the perfect world, there is no waste plastic anymore and there is a solution to everything,” says Pieter Imhof, CEO of BioBTX B.V. “Over fifty percent of all plastic waste is difficult to separate and is now mostly incinerated or dumped. These are mostly mixed plastic materials composed of different layers such as crisp bags or composites,” explains Imhof. “BioBTX has a solution which enables us to reuse this waste stream.”
Fewer plastics made of oil
In essence, the technology combines two processes for the raw materials: pyrolysis and catalysis. In a standard pyrolysis process, plastics are heated in an oxygen-free reactor to between 400 and 600 degrees Celsius. This breaks down the large organic molecules (both natural and carbonaceous materials) into smaller organic molecules. The end product, such as bio oil, can be used as fuel for motor vehicles or ships. However, this oil is not directly suitable as diesel or petrol.
Imhof explains that “An additional step is needed, catalysis, to ensure that the small organic molecules are converted selectively. This results in valuable chemical building blocks. The outcome of combining pyrolysis and catalysis in our case is BTX. This is composed of the aromatics benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX). These are important raw materials in producing, you guessed it, plastic. The circle is complete and no more plastics need to be made from oil.”
It’s all in the details
BioBTX has started the patenting process for its finding. “We are a research company. We want to protect promising findings as best we can,” explains Imhof. V.O. is providing advisory services in having the technology included in various patent applications. Annemiek Tepper, patent agent at V.O. in Groningen says that “There are a lot of developments in the sustainability and waste market at the moment. This means that it’s all in the details if you want to succeed.” As a research company, BioBTX has accumulated a lot of knowledge about patents and claims. Imhof says that “We supply the information about the technology, the outcomes and the literature. After that, V.O. is fully equipped to translate this to a patent application.” It also generates good discussions. Tepper explains, “It is a great exchange. Our critical questions help us assess the areas where BioBTX stands out. This collaboration and level of detail is important in protecting this type of intellectual property (IP).”
Scaling up using licences
BioBTX is currently piloting the technology, but the company wants it to be used around the world. “We are ready to scale up from our pilot unit in the Netherlands to larger plants worldwide.” BioBTX wants to issue licenses to existing and new waste processing plants. “A strong IP position is essential in this,” says Imhof.
‘The patent translates into more efficient production for our clients.’
“Engineer Werner Stengel, the rollercoaster guru, began his career designing bumper cars. He was later the first to design a rollercoaster with a safe ridable loop,” says Christian Stelzl, CEO of Stengel. “The idea behind a new rollercoaster originates with the builder, our client or the owner. We then do all the necessary calculations for the construction design to ensure that the rollercoaster meets all requirements and desires and can be manufactured. We are always looking for innovations that make production more cost-efficient.”
Rollercoaster with a backbone
One such innovation is a better attachment method with the use of ‘backbone rail tracks’. The construction of this type of rollercoaster comprises of two steel tubes: the basic track over which the coaster travels and a thick tube, the backbone, which gives the track stability and absorbs the forces. This construction is used for large rollercoasters with loops (inversions). Stelzl explains, “The challenge lies in connecting the backbone of the rollercoaster to the track, especially in a twisted track design. Until now, this has always been done with hollow steel forms that had to be custom-made. But we’ve come up with a smarter solution.”
More efficient production thanks to smarter design
The new construction replaces the connecting tubes with simple plates. Stelzl continues, “We now only need one type of plate and expensive customization is no longer necessary. Even if there’s a loop in the track, the plates can always be easily attached to the backbone. That’s because they consist of fewer materials, making them lighter and cheaper to produce. At the same time, the stability of the track construction remains the same. This is particularly beneficial for our client, the builder of the rollercoaster.”
A patent has already been obtained for the design in Germany. The patent application for Europe, China and the United States is currently under consideration. Stelzl says, “The design is already used for new rollercoasters. Thanks to the patent, our client has an immediate competitive advantage because the production process is much more efficient.”
Patent process is iterative
The preparation for the patent application was carried out in close dialogue. Stelzl says, “The best part about working with V.O. is that we speak the same technical language. No explanations are needed. The patent attorney was able to word the application in highly technical language down to the very last detail.” Lutz Keydel, the application attorney for V.O. Munich, comments, “We’re both civil engineers, which is a tremendous advantage. The process was iterative. We were in very close contact and dialogue, which enabled us to fine-tune the text until perfect.”
‘We don’t put anything on the market that does not have the potential to be patented.’
MCi MCi started in 1935 as Industrial Koot Utrecht (IKU) and in the 70s began to focus on the production of actuators for car mirrors. Anton Koot was the first inventor of a mirror actuator and has been delivering to BMW since 1967. designs and manufactures actuators for car mirrors. These are electromechanical components that adjust the position of the mirror and allows the mirror to retract. Worldwide, MCi annually produces more than 80 million mirror actuators. With a market share of 35%, it is the market leader in its field. MCi supplies mainly to mirror manufacturers, who deliver their mirrors for many car brands, ranging from the A of Audi to the Z of Pagani Zonda. Moreover, in the area of product development, the company often directly cooperates with design departments of leading car manufacturers.
Innovation in the DNA
innovation is embedded in the DNA. Protecting intellectual property through
patents is therefore integrated into the company’s designing process. “We don’t
put anything on the market that does not have the potential to be patented.
With a patent, we want to prevent the forgery of our products, thereby
safeguarding our market position and margin as much as possible."
of the mechanical and electronic products that MCi produces are placed under 80
‘patent families’. “We have been working together with V.O. since 1963. They
know us inside out,” says Brewer. “Our cooperation is seamless. MCi is very
active in monitoring their patents,” Bernard Ledeboer, Patent Attorney with
Powerful patent strategy
in the competitive market where MCi operates, a powerful patent strategy can
make a difference. “Of course, we protect our new products. But when we are
improving an existing product, we also look very sharply at the ways in which a
competitor could improve its products. We then try a possible solution by
blocking with our own patent,” says Brewer.
Patent infringement litigation
its patent strategy and portfolio well in order. It was one of the first
(Dutch) companies to have a patent in China. In 2014, MCi noticed an
infringement of one of its patents by a Chinese competitor. We decided to start
a legal case with the Chinese patent court. “For us, this is worth the trouble.
What we can profit from this case is many times more than the costs of the case
itself. Besides, we stem the growth of our competition," explains Brouwer.
The V.O. lead us in this legal process. Ledeboer elaborates, “We have learned a
great deal together. Although everything in the legal system in China works in
a very different way from that in the Netherlands, we have already succeeded in
proving that we are right.”
A look at the future
Car manufacturers are making more and more use of cameras that look forward and backward. MCi looks toward the future. Brouwer explains, “We anticipate new market needs by taking strategic patent positions.” Ledeboer elaborates, “Actively and flexibly handling the protection of our intellectual property for new applications will pay off in the future.”
‘If we hadn’t been able to patent our technology, it would never have got off the ground.’
In 2011, Solynta’s Director Pim Lindhout was almost ridiculed in the sector. The plan for a hybrid breed of potato was considered doomed to fail. His new breeding technology enables high-quality potato varieties to be grown faster, greatly reducing the use of pesticides during cultivation. Because the company, based in Wageningen, works with potato seeds as the stock material rather than the voluminous seed potato, there are also major logistical benefits to be gained. The company has now made such great strides that, this autumn, hybrid potatoes are being commercially trialled for the first time.
Now, in 2015, there’s plenty of respect for Solynta. The company is a split-off from De Ruiter Seeds and, last year, was named a “National Icon” by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, an official recognition for the most impressive new innovations. Lindhout explained: “Following this recognition, we drove straight to the studio of Dutch television programme De Wereld Draait Door.” He has deliberately courted the media in recent years: “Investors from the market are always looking for signs that the invention really does work and has potential. You can’t convince them of that if you spend all your time tinkering away quietly in your shed.” Various investors are now on board.
The potato is one of the most important food crops in the world. The economic potential of Solynta’s invention is huge. Lindhout added: “This invention will improve global food security. If everything goes to plan then, in two years, we will be able, for instance, to incorporate double resistance against potato blight – something which would normally take thirty years.” There is now a great deal of interest in the product from the professional potato sector, including breeding companies, processing companies and global biotech players.
“I’m the father of the hybrid potato”, explains Lindhout, “so I’m in a good position to explain what the technology involves. But the language I use is far from ideal for a patent application, so I’m happy to leave that to V.O. It was a tough process. You have to explain the novelty and provide convincing evidence. One of the ways we did this was to get specialists around the world to explain that our technology is revolutionary. It was crucial to obtain a patent; if we hadn’t been able to patent our technology, it would never have got off the ground.”
‘This technology will develop further especially through sharing research and working collaboratively’
Kitepower has had the wind in its sails in recent years. In 2014, it received millions in funding from the European Commission and last year they won the Ministry of Defence’s Dutch Innovation Competition (DIC) – an initiative sponsored by V.O. The company is currently also in the final round of the 2017 edition of the Accenture Innovation Awards. Originally from Berlin, Johannes Peschel is mad about kites and kite-surfing, and recognised the opportunities for wind power using kites years ago. ‘I found out that there was a lot of expertise in this field at Delft University of Technology, partly thanks to a research group led by Wubbo Ockels.’ He moved to Delft and fully engaged in the project. Together with his professor, he then founded the start-up Kitepower, which operates from the university’s campus.
How does it work?
Wind turbines are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. Peschel: ‘The potential of our approach really is a no-brainer for me. You need only half the material costs for our kites and just ten percent of the maintenance costs, while the energy yield is higher.’ It works as follows: a robot flies a large kite on a cable. The kite powers a dynamo on the ground until the cable is fully unwound. At that point the robot steers the kite out of the wind and the dynamo becomes a motor that reels the kite back in. The technique makes it possible to use the strong winds at up to several hundred metres altitude.
MoD wants to become more sustainable
One of the dream customers is the Dutch Ministry of Defence. Peschel explains: ‘In remote locations, the MoD depends on diesel as a source of energy. That costs a lot of money, and they want to shift to more sustainable energy. This makes Kitepower an interesting and simple alternative. But you can obviously come up with many more applications. More and more remote villages in China are being electrified, and this can naturally be ideal for that as well. Or for music festivals, or more seriously – in disaster areas. Anywhere people currently use diesel.’
Patent and knowledge sharing
Together with V.O., he manages all patent-related matters. ‘We have invested a lot, and in the future we also want to market our invention and profit from it. I should point out that we also share a lot of the results of our research. This technology is still in its infancy and the market potential is huge; it will develop further especially through sharing research and working collaboratively.’
Groningen University, the Groningen University Medical Centre and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen have patented the VoiceMint through the V.O. patent agency. They are now hard at work exploring the market further.
The VoiceMint is the brainchild of Ward van der Houwen, part-time Lecturer of Design Engineering at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, independent designer and innovation supervisor. The VoiceMint is similar in size and shape to a peppermint and uses telecommunications technology. It is a wireless disk with a loudspeaker, processor, sensor and battery. “You place it in your mouth against your cheek. When the sensor’s light detects when you open your mouth, it produces a humming sonar sound. The positioning of the mouth, tongue and jaw turn sound into understandable words,” explains Van der Houwen.
Van der Houwen is not new to the medical field. He earned his PhD in 2012 at the RUG/UMCG (Graduate School of Medical Sciences at the University of Groningen) with an improved version of a speech valve for laryngectomy patients. Until now, this has been the only option for people who no longer have a larynx – and, consequently, no vocal chords – due to surgery. “The VoiceMint is a further development of this idea and is user-friendlier than a speech valve. For example, it eliminates the need to install a valve in the throat and the patient does not have to take it into consideration when showering.”
Medical device and toy
A prototype has been made of the VoiceMint because Van der Houwen wants to protect his idea. Karel de Jong, Patent Attorney at V.O., provided assistance. “It was a challenge to patent the invention. We needed, for instance, to consider the patent on an already known intraoral voice prosthesis that is attached to the teeth. What also makes the VoiceMint so interesting is that it not only serves a medical purpose, but can also be used as a toy since you can make voices with it. So, we needed to be inventive in drafting the patent claims.” RUG/UMCG ultimately received the patent for the VoiceMint in February 2019.
Joint further development
The patent is licensed for use by the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Assen. Heinrich Johannes Wörtche, ICT & Sensor Technology Lecturer and Researcher, is enthusiastic. “It is quite unique to have the opportunity to work with this fantastic technology. We even got to write the business plan for the project, a great learning project for our students. In our innovation studio in Assen, teams of students from ‘Hanze’ work on various learning projects and will also be further developing the VoiceMint.”
Research universities and universities of applied sciences as entrepreneurs
The Hanze University of Applied Sciences hopes that a successful startup will ultimately arouse the interest of the healthcare and care sector in the region. De Jong of V.O. comments, “Experience shows that an invention does not achieve commercial success unless an entrepreneurial team is fully devoted to it. It’s great to see knowledge institutes like knowledge centers and universities of applied sciences making more and more progress in the field of entrepreneurship. By considering at an early stage the possible market value that the intellectual property of an invention may have, innovations can also generate better returns.”
‘Active IP management has certainly contributed to the success.’
Arjan van der Plaats was conducting his doctoral research at the UMCG in Groningen back in 1999 when he had the idea for a machine that could flush removed organs with blood: organ perfusion. Together with his professor, he founded the company Organ Assist. When they were ready to apply for their first patent for a liver perfusion system, they called in the assistance of the V.O. patent experts.
“An important component of the described method is the use of two pumps: one that continuously pumps and the other that pulses,” explains Van der Plaats. “That’s how we mimic the heartbeat.” The pair also filed a patent application for a second machine for flushing kidneys. This time the patent applied to clever innovations in the design. “Surgeons no longer need to manually connect the blood vessels to the pump.”
Clever patent strategy
The third step is an application that can perfuse the organs while
still inside the deceased donor. “What is special is that we were also
able to patent the treatment. This is usually not allowed: each patient
must have access to medical treatment. But the V.O. consultants noted
that we are in fact treating the organ and not the patient. Our company
is not well-versed in this type of legal knowledge.”
Van der Plaats is regularly impressed with the recommendations made
by V.O. “I often file for a very specific patent. But the consultants
don’t simply accept this application. They will ask questions and dig
deeper to explore more patent options. By doing so they also ensure that
the patent covers possible future developments of the concept.”
More innovations and patents followed. Active management of its intellectual property now plays a key role in Organ Assist’s organisational management. “We are an R&D company at heart: our knowledge and expertise are the foundation of our company. We must protect these to extract value. The very first question investors usually ask is: did you patent your technique? Otherwise our competitors can just copy it. No investor would be interested in such an endeavour.”
Thanks to its patents, Organ Assist is in great shape. Offering a series of unique products, the company plays a leading international role in organ perfusionPeople are living longer and the rates of diabetes and obesity are increasing. This reduces the quality of the available organs. By flushing an organ with the perfusion machine, we nourish and oxygenate the organ, preserving its quality. In addition, doctors can use this machine to test the organs outside of the body. As a result, many organs that would have been rejected in the past can now be tested and still be used. Thanks to organ perfusion more organs are available for transplantation, in 2018 the number increased by 15%.This also brings new challenges, “After two and a half years, the worldwide patent application must be followed up with a national application. We only do this for the countries where we have enough clients. Once again, V.O. plays a leading role here. We sometimes say: V.O is our patent department.”
“If we enter into a partnership agreement, then V.O. makes sure that valorisation is always guaranteed,” explains CEO of Lead Pharma, Ad van Gorp.
Van Gorp asks, “How can we demonstrate and therefore valorise the knowledge that we contribute to the innovation as a whole? That is the key question we ask for each partnership, which in turn forms a crucial part of a partnership agreement. Within a partnership, you need to deal with concerns, but also emotions. What starts off as enthusiasm can sometimes turn into disappointment if there is an obstacle or difference of opinion. In our experience, if you do not make firm agreements on intellectual property (IP) at the outset, then it will be almost impossible to rectify the issue further down the line. Without our patent attorneys and lawyers at V.O., we would be unable to consistently define and monitor this properly.”
Frits Michiels is the V.O. patent attorney for firms including Lead Pharma, and echoes Van Gorp’s sentiments: “You wouldn’t really think much of setting out a partnership in a well thought-out agreement. I often see companies entering into partnerships with each other, assuming they will remain on good terms. Then they get a standard agreement from a website and that’s that. But not every partnership runs so smoothly and if there is disagreement, then a solid agreement is of huge importance. You will often find that the standard agreement that you used offers no solution to the problems encountered. Of course, we also find ourselves in a similar situation with our customers. But our advice is, above all, to create a customised agreement for every partnership. This ensures to the fullest extent possible that everything is in good order, even if nothing ever comes of it.”
A well thought-out strategy
“You need people familiar with the intricacies of the law and who at the same time are able to properly look after your IP interests,” concludes Van Gorp. “The combination of legal and IP expertise that V.O. offers is the determining factor for us. A lawyer with a general background may be able to help improve the quality of contracts, but what is then lacking is a purposeful, thought-out strategy for your IP. That determines whether you will ultimately succeed in translating your ideas, technology and patents into value.”