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:
The bottles, containers or bags we use every day are made of different types of plastic, such as PP, HDPE and PET. So in order to make the same products from these again, the types of plastic must first be separated. This is done through a complex and costly process. This involves the use of hydrostatic magnetic separation. With the help of several innovations, Umincorp has managed to make this process much cheaper.
Hydrostatic magnetic separation works as follows: pieces of plastic float through a container containing a special liquid. At the top and/or bottom of the container are magnets. As a result, the liquid becomes magnetic. This causes pieces of different density to flow through the water at different heights. At the end of the container are baffles at different heights. In this way, various types of plastic can be separated into separate channels.
Renewal of process
Umincorp was able to innovate the separation process and thereby reduce costs. Engineer Jesper Wijnja of Umincorp: "One of our innovations is that we have made the magnets in the container stronger. This means less liquid is needed, which ultimately saves costs. In addition, Umincorp developed its own liquid and devised a way to recover the liquid that remains on the plastic for reuse.
Thinking along technically and strategically
"When we were busy with the technical design of the magnet, V.O. was already looking along with our research," says Wijnja. "That's nice, that way they could identify the innovations early on and make a good estimate of patentability." The strategic importance is also considered. "Ultimately, the technical description in a patent determines the scope of protection and the market potential of the innovation. Based on their business strategy, we choose the right wording and highlight specific components of the innovation. So a patent requires both a technical and a strategic analysis," believes Bernard Ledeboer, patent attorney at V.O. "It's great when a company eventually comes up with a new application. But you have to ask yourself early on: if I can pull off this innovation, what could I do with it commercially?"
Ultimately, V.O. was involved in all the innovations Umicorp did around hydrostatic magnetic separation. Ledeboer: "We always look at who within V.O. has the best technical expertise to match a new idea. For example, our colleagues from the chemical department were involved in the development of the liquid and I myself in the development of the machines themselves."
‘'V.O. speaks our language and comprehends our business.'’
Traditionally, mostly synthetic pesticides are used to control diseases or pests in plants. Ceradis develops alternative pesticides of biological or natural origin or ways to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides. The company originated as a spin-off from research institute Plant Research International (PRI) of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and now has about 30 employees.
Founder and IP manager of Ceradis is biologist Wim van der Krieken: "We are constantly looking for new, environmentally friendly solutions that are more effective. In doing so, we are already contributing to the Green Deal for the agricultural sector. Its goal is to reduce the amount of chemicals in crop protection by 50% in 2030."
Nature as the basis
Natural products such as sulfur, phosphite and natamycin, are the basis for the products Ceradis makes. Elemental sulfur is one of the oldest fungicides. Among other things, it is used in grape growing to control white disease on leaves, also known as powdery mildew. In the product CeraSulfur®, Ceradis uses bio-sulfur. This is obtained from agricultural waste streams through a bacterial desulfurization process. This not only makes the agent biological and circular, it works even better than conventional elemental sulfur.
Novelty not easy to prove
Finding a unique active, biological substance is the daily work of the phytopathologists (plant pathologists) and chemists in Ceradis' lab. The team sets high standards for this. With the search, Ceradis wants to find an alternative that is more effective than the conventional product. The innovation team therefore always compares the alternative with a product that is leading in the market. Patent manager - and originally a phytopathologist - Emilie Van Dijk-Fradin is the link between internal research and the registration and protection of new inventions. "There are strict rules for the registration and authorization of (bio)plant protection products. That process can take an average of seven years in Europe. With many large competitors around us, it is crucial to build up a patent position," says Van Dijk-Fradin.
Proving novelty, especially for crop protection products, is essential for filing a patent. Frits Michiels, patent attorney at V.O.: "Especially when using raw natural ingredients, which thus already exist, proving the novelty of an invention is not easy. It is important to precisely describe the synergy between different substances in order to obtain a patent."
Patent portfolio is the foundation for success
For Ceradis, V.O. is a partner that is involved in product development at an early stage. Van der Krieken: "They help us to understand the prior art of patents and always advise us adequately on the strategy to follow. My experience is that V.O. understands our business well and is always reachable for us. Half a word is enough for us." That experience is mutual. Michiels of V.O.: "By frequently discussing ideas with each other, we are ultimately able to formulate the patent application distinctively and more sharply. And because I've also been in a lab as a biologist, we speak the same language." A strong patent portfolio is critical to the protection and commercial success of Ceradis' brands. Van der Krieken: "Without a patent portfolio, we would never have been in the picture with major partners selling our product under license."
Hightech & Electronics
‘V.O. got us thinking. That's how we came up with new ideas.’
DigitalAlerts emerged in 2017 from Amsterdam-based Studio Sophisti, which was founded by industrial designers Tijn Kooijmans and Wouter Reeskamp. Kooijmans is now at the helm of the company as Chief Technical Officer. Kooijmans: "We focus on interactive IOT applications (internet-of-things), with the aim of unburdening the end user in their daily lives."
Reminder for paid parking
ParkAlert is DigitalAlerts' first and most mature product. It is a device - a button - on the dashboard of the car that is connected via Bluetooth to a mobile app. When the driver gets out of the car, the phone switches to the app. Based on the location data, the app checks whether the vehicle is in a paid parking zone. If that is the case, ParkAlert warns the driver to switch on his parking app. The moment the driver gets back into the car, the phone restores the Bluetooth connection between the button and the phone. The button then beeps, reminding the driver to turn off their parking app.
DigitalAlerts is ambitious. Kooijmans: "ParkAlert now has a link to the YellowBrick app, so our button can make direct contact with that app to start and stop parking actions on time. That is more convenient and safer. We want to add that functionality to other parking app providers as well." Still, ParkAlert works primarily in large cities and its operation is primarily geographic. This is because paid parking via a parking app is not possible everywhere and in countries outside the Netherlands and Belgium, paid parking is regulated very differently. Kooijmans: "The growth in this will stop eventually." That is why DigitalAlerts has several solutions on the shelf. In addition to ParkAlert, the product portfolio has been expanded to include alerts such as BikeAlert, a solution to prevent bicycle theft, among others, and BellAlert, which uses an app to report, for example, when a parcel delivery driver rings the doorbell. Kooijmans: "BellAlert (formerly Zipp Labs) has the potential to become big, because it is not geographically bound. It contributes to a more efficient and sustainable logistical process, because parcel deliverers are less likely to stand in front of a closed door and have to offer the package again."
All of the products that DigitalAlerts develops will eventually be housed in independent companies. In doing so, it is essential that each of the innovations is protected from competition and counterfeiting. This also gives investors more confidence. Kooijmans: "When we developed ParkAlert, my assumption was that it would not be new enough to patent. After all, a so-called Bluetooth beacon and a smartphone already existed. V.O. made us realize that it was the combination of the alert with Bluetooth and parking that made the invention new. We wouldn't have found that out otherwise."
Leo Jessen, patent attorney at V.O., supervised the patent process for ParkAlert. Jessen: "With IOT inventions like DigitalAlerts, the trick is always to take into account possible other applications of the technology when drafting the patent application. This gives the customer growth opportunities for the future." As a patent expert in the development of BellAlert, Jessen was involved early in the creative development process. Kooijmans: "For us, this was very valuable. Sparring with someone who is up to date with the 'state of the art' got us thinking. That's how we came up with new ideas."
Kooijmans: “Thinking about intellectual property protection is often seen by product developers as a brake on innovation. I see it primarily as an inspiration and an opportunity to develop products further. Through V.O's involvement in this, they make a good contribution to our business.”
‘The license negotiation has led to more synergy in our IP portfolio.’
The Eindhoven company is active in 75 countries and has a clear philosophy. Director Frank van de Ven is its figurehead: “We make clients think of cleaning in another way. We do it by informing, innovating and inspiring.” You can trace this philosophy back to everything within the company. For example, the office has an exact replica of a fast-food restaurant, a bus and a childcare center. “Everything reflects the goal of experiencing the product on location and the working environment. With about 300 people, we work together as a team to find the most suitable cleaning solution for our client. We want to be the Apple and the Google of the cleaning market,” Van de Ven proudly says.
Innovation is in our genes
i-team Global offers a large palette of innovative cleaning solutions from scrubber dryers, vacuum cleaners and chewing gum removers to window and air cleaning products and accessories. Innovation lies in the genes of i-team. Each innovation must contribute to the five icons: faster, cleaner, greener, safer and better. The showpiece is the i-mop: a scrubbing machine which scrubs and mops intelligently and conveniently. i-mop machines clean up to 60 percent more rapidly than conventional wet mops and up to 30 percent more rapidly than automatic conventional scrubbing. In addition, the i-mop is much more maneuverable in small spaces due to its slimmer design and therefore more practical and pleasant to use. The unique hinge movement allows the machine to turn on its own axis. As a result, the i-mop can access edges and under obstacles, so these areas do not need to be checked by hand.
New license agreement
The basis technic of i-mop is protected by a German patent. According to Van de Ven: “i-team enjoys an exclusive license agreement with the patent holder. At the time, we drew up this agreement ourselves. At a certain moment, the agreements that we had made in this license problematic. In the meantime, we bolstered marketing and distribution activities and developed our own innovations as well.” Van de Ven asked for help from V.O. for the renegotiation of the license agreement. Annelies de Bosch Kemper-de Hilster, lawyer with V.O.: “You often see that the focus is shifting thanks to an ongoing longer-term license agreement. First it is logical that the one who has invested in invention profits most, but as time goes by, the party who has invested in commercialization should receive more in return. In this case, i-team has generated much more value for the patent holder who realized that too. In close cooperation, we negotiated a better license agreement.”
Creating more synergy
The license for the i-mop is a part of the IP portfolio of the cleaning innovator. V.O. helps i-team as well by safeguarding its own brand and license. “Where we make our clients think about cleaning, V.O. does that for us in terms of intellectual property. We were primarily focused on product development for our clients. V.O. lets us see how to manage intellectual property in a more strategic way and that you create synergy by combining protection. So not one or the other but the protection of brands, models as well technical inventions.”
According to Van de Ven, there is a nice collaboration between i-team Global and V.O.: “It’s great that V.O. does not wait but thinks with us. They also regularly come to visit us. I think this is also important to be able to physically show what we’re working on. Therefore, I involve them in our strategy and company events. I see them as partners.”
‘By patenting our invention, we have the development and execution under our control.’
A few years ago, while he was still working at Nedstaal, he became aware of the problem of scrap metal that was contaminated with hazardous asbestos. “We established that there was no solution to this environmental problem. The contaminated scrap metal was simply dumped with all the resulting environmental consequences.” That was when he and Nathalie van de Poel started developing the idea. Bert Bult joined them soon after. Step one was assessing the business opportunities. They saw that money could be made from cleaning contaminated scrap metal and then melting it again. With that premise, Wijma studied the technology to do that. On the PMC site, they clearly state how this works, including a glimpse into the process that will soon take place in the factory: “Because the temperature reaches 1,500°C during steel smelting, the hazardous asbestos fibers are broken down to sand, glass and magnesium oxide. The entire sealed off factory was specially designed to guarantee the safety of people and the environment during processing and transport.”
“We don’t have a background as inventors,” explains Wijma. “Once we calculated that we could earn money with this, we also discovered that no one had thought of this before. We found that incredible, it seemed so logical to us. Laying down a patent as soon as possible was the clear next step. Because the goal was and is to develop this ourselves and, therefore, also execute it. V.O. has guided us through all aspects of intellectual property. We went through everything with the patent attorney and their lawyers and applied for patents in various countries. We also tackled the business structure, so that everything is covered contractually.”
We have since signed contracts with builders and users, and the permits have been arranged. “The factory will be built in Delfzijl and with turnkey and operational delivery in 2020. Renewi (formerly Van Gansewinkel) is doing the collection. Jansen Recycling is participating in the business and guarantees the purchase of Purified Metal Blocks, in short PMBs. Once the factory has been built and proven itself, our invention will have even more value. Then conceivably we could sell our expertise on license in other places in the world. It’s a childhood dream that has come true. It was once an idea on an A4, and now we are going to build it. And we are going to contribute to the circular economy. Instead of dumping, the cleaned steel scrap will be reused.”
‘We have invented a new application for existing technology.’
In autumn 2017, with Cyclomics they won the Venture Challenge, a competition for startups in life sciences. At the start of that same year, they discussed the idea for the business during a lunchtime walk. Kloosterman is a research group leader and molecular biologist. He studied the DNA of tumors based on DNS sequencing technology at the Genetics department. De Ridder has a background in bioinformatics: “With the arrival of the nanopore sequencer, we asked ourselves whether we could do more with it.” With that technology, a machine pulls a DNA molecule through a microscopic hole – a nanopore – and reads the DNA sequence at the same time. “We came up with the idea to identify DNA molecules in blood tumors. Then we could see whether someone has a tumor by looking at their blood. That is one of the major questions in oncology: how can we identify tumors early and non-invasively?” Kloosterman: “We are dealing with tiny amounts, of only a dozen molecules. You need an excellent sniffer dog for that and that’s the nanopore sequencer. We have conceived a new application for existing technology.”
After the initial experiments, it appeared the invention had potential. Then, by chance, they received a request from the UMC: think about which invention could be marketable. They got to work pitching their idea that, logically, gave them lots of constructive criticism enabling then to fine tune their story. At the time, they also contacted a patent attorney at V.O. Kloosterman: “He understood the essence very quickly, which meant he could readily conclude on its patentability. He forced us to separate the main issues from the side issues and helped us to define what the true invention was.”
“As a scientist, you spread your knowledge through articles,” says De Ridder. “Really you are handing it over to someone else. But most of the time, not much happens after that. Therefore, you have to do it yourself if you want to have an impact, for instance with a business.” Kloosterman: “The Venture Challenge was a pressure cooker of two 3-day sessions when all kinds of questions popped up. Where can you create value for society? Who will the customer be? The doctor or patient? How can you earn money with it? What is your actual product? It was a coaching process with a competition. Here, you mainly learn about pitching to investors.”
Now it starts
The first investors have come forward. De Ridder: “We now have to build a business that attracts investors. We need a lot of money to make a solid product that also works in a clinical environment. There is an incubator environment at the UMC, where we will be working one day a week, and a fulltime postdoc. After that, we’ll need additional staff for more validation work. Now we have to show it to the world.”
‘We now have a technology that we have patented in both Europe and the US, which is crucial.’
The estimate is that by 2050, ten million people will die annually as a result of infections with resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance is a massive global health problem. The momentum is perfect for Bastian’s young business AGILeBiotics to get investors: “I am really busy pitching our business idea everywhere. The first money is already in. Three local investors joined us in February 2018, and their money is financing our initial research.” The scientists know that massive financial interests are at stake: “The profit potential of our invention is enormous. My team, our investors and I believe in the idea and are prepared to take on the risk of a startup. There are now five of us, all with a scientific background and some with business experience. We are in a perfect environment with small innovative businesses that seek each other out, support and help each other.”
Enormous cost savings
The patented technology called OxaSelect was developed by Bastian during his doctorate in Groningen. The major benefit is that this technology makes it possible to develop new antibiotics based on old antibiotics much easier and faster. “We can reduce the number of steps in the synthesis process by 50%. That makes a massive difference in production costs and the accessibility of new antibiotics. This route has a greater chance of success because this type of antibiotic has been used successfully since the forties before resistance emerged. I expect that we can do the first tests on mice with a candidate antibiotic in the coming years.”
Next round of investment
Money is crucial in this stage for every startup. We have the patent, but a market launch is still far away. Bastian: “‘I am thinking in the long term for our business, but I have to act in the short term and attract as much money as possible. It’s all rather uncertain, but it gives me energy, which is the challenge. There have been very few developments in this field these past decades. Later if we have one successful substance, we will have enough income and opportunities to attract more investors. Moreover, we need innovative startups more than ever.” In recent decades, there has been little progress in the field of antibiotics. While there is an urgent need for new antibiotics to keep up with the constantly increasing bacterial resistance.
Communication is key
“Communication is key for us,” says Bastian, “only then will we get the attention of relevant market parties. They need to know what we can do.” As such, in early November 2017, he spoke at the annual BIO-Europe event in Berlin, the largest global event for the biotech industry. “We received a lot of positive responses there. There is confidence in our idea,” concludes Bastian, who graduated with the group of Professor Andreas Hermann, co-founder of the business.
‘With the recently acquired CE-IVD registration, we can sell the MMprofiler on the European market, an important step.’
Business development manager Nicky Vogels: “With the recently acquired CE-IVD registration, we can now sell the MMprofiler on the European market, an important step.” SkylineDx is located on the 18th floor of the Erasmus MC Incubator, a place where startups can develop. Vogels: “Since then, we have grown fast. We now have over 25 scientific, commercial and support staff.” The breakthrough product, the MMprofiler, is a diagnostics test that can predict the genetic profile of a patient over the course of their illness by establishing whether this patient has a high- or standard-risk profile. A high risk profile is coupled with a poorer prognosis. It involves the life-threatening disease Multiple Myeloma (MM), a form of blood cancer. “We are working closely with the Hematology department at Erasmus MC.”
When investor Van Herk Investments joined the restart, the focus shifted to the MMprofiler. With success. In autumn of 2015, they followed the important European approval process (CE-IVD Marking) to sell the test on the European market. “We use a so-called decentralized business model, which means we supply complete diagnostic kits so local labs can run the tests on their standard equipment. The patient’s tissue sample, in this case bone marrow, doesn’t have to leave the lab and the hospitals see that as a major advantage.”
The company is also working hard on expanding their product portfolio by developing tests for other disease groups. “We are focused on oncology but we are also exploring areas beyond that. In principle, we have everything we need to develop diagnostic tests for other diseases. There is a dire need for new biomarkers and diagnostic tests which contribute to the concept of personalized medicine. This market has high potential and yet relatively few diagnostic tests are marketed. We have since opened a branch on the west coast of the United States with the goal to also enter the market there with the MMprofiler.” Vogels is working with V.O. on the patent strategy they will pursue: “What will we do in each country in relation to applying for and managing our patents?”
Hightech & Electronics
‘Our partners expect us to have a patent portfolio.’
A few years ago, manufacturers in the solar energy sector started demanding more innovation and research. To meet this demand, Solliance was set up in 2010, with ECN, TNO and IMEC as its main partners. The province of Noord-Brabant provided multi-million backing to ensure that the research site would actually come to fruition at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. Toonssen explains: ‘We present ourselves as a real business, but we are actually more of a partnership. We develop equipment for the industry, who in turn commercialise our innovations.’
‘The challenge we face with flexible, super-thin solar cells is developing a semi-finished product that’s easy to integrate’, Toonssen continues. ‘And that’s my responsibility. We’ve only just started work on this, and we’re currently getting parties from the construction, infrastructure and transport sectors on board with our ideas. Looking at construction, for example, roofs are the obvious solution. But buildings will never become zero-energy if we only use roof surfaces, so we have to start thinking about their facades: that’s where our solutions must be incorporated in the future.’
‘There is so much inefficiency in current working methods: so many businesses in the construction chain are working in a linear way, instead of coming together. We would like builders, insulation specialists and lighting experts to work together to integrate our solutions. I believe there is real momentum right now for process breakthroughs of this type. We’re currently developing the technology, and soon this will be realised through cooperation in the construction process.’
Solliance insists that it is not a business: ‘We want to enable businesses to innovate, and of course, our budget is sound. Our solutions are scalable and can be produced in high volumes – and that’s where we differ from a lot of other research initiatives. I’ve got complete confidence that this is the right approach to adopt. We’re currently barely scratching the surface of solar energy, and I believe the key to unlocking its future potential is integration in buildings, among other places. The only thing holding this back is the moderate level of technical complexity, and that’s why Solliance was set up.’
We asked Toonssen whether patents are necessary for Solliance, and he agreed: ‘Thanks to our patents, we receive a percentage of each device sold, if our innovations are commercialised. That income is then reinvested in knowledge development. Without patents, we would face a funding problem at a later stage: research subsidies are already being cut. Our partners also expect us to have a patent portfolio. If we haven’t got that sorted, they simply won’t work with us.’
The innovation is perfectly in keeping with the philosophy and entrepreneurial spirit of Van Wijngaarden: ‘We always check the market demand first of all. The recorder is primarily aimed at the fire service and the police. During our consultancy work, we noticed that police officers witness all manner of things, but the means of recording was poor. For example, during the riots in the Hook of Holland, audio recordings were made but the recorders failed whenever shots were fired. We felt that needed to improve.
Police and the fire service
‘This innovation is completely tailored to the situation in practice. Imagine that an armed robbery takes place somewhere in the city, and there are a number of police offers in the vicinity with a PDR. The recorder records everything clearly: audio, video and GPS. After the event, you can use Google Maps to synchronise all data and reconstruct the events. Then you soon find out all about what happened. Previously, we had only worked with sound, so a camera was something new. But we dared to make that jump because we know what is needed when it comes to security. As far as our IP is concerned, the voucher that we received from V.O. for winning the VIC came in very handy.’
From TNO to start-up
Van Wijngaarden studied applied physics in Delft, specialising in acoustics: ‘In that specialisation, you are also concerned with how people perceive sound and not just with hard-core technology.’ It was from there that he made the logical step to TNO, but there was little scope there to translate research into specific products. While at TNO, he also met his current business partner, Jan Verhave: ‘We often said to one another, why don’t we start our own company? It was only when I found myself in a management position and was no longer involved with the subject matter, that the time had come to take that step.’
Embedded Acoustics has not only enjoyed success with the PDR. The company is also a global market leader with a product for measuring the clarity of speech, something that is crucial in building evacuation procedures: ‘When an alarm sounds, people often stay sitting where they are, whereas they take action when they hear a spoken message. But it does need to be understandable in that case. We have enjoyed success primarily in the USA and in Australia, where they are very stringent as far as inspections and standards are concerned. Our device is simple and easy to use. What makes it all worth the effort? Our products truly make a difference, whether for a police officer or for a safe building’.
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.
‘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 infringing 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 infringing 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
‘They understand the dynamics of our team very well: they think with us and are flexible. This allows us to fully focus on the competition.’
No less than seven times this TU Delft student team won the world title with their self-built solar car. V.O. has sponsored the team since 2015 and assists them with legal advice around intellectual property protection.
Innovate to win
In the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, student teams from universities around the world race from Darwin to Adelaide. They must design and hand-build the fastest solar-powered car. The team pushes the limits of what is currently feasible and works with the latest techniques and materials. Lennart Hessels, team leader of the Brunel Solar Team: "We are a high performance team and innovate continuously. We do this together with our partners. We are thus taking a pioneering role in the development of the passenger cars of the future."
Activate your ideas
V.O. makes students aware of the importance of protecting their innovations. "The enthusiasm and challenge they bring to every race aligns very well with our slogan 'Activate your ideas!'. They are full of good ideas and know how to turn them into new innovations that help win the race. And for a better world of course!" said Annelies de Bosch Kemper.
"For the Brunel Solar Team, the secrecy of their innovations is essential. We help by scrutinizing the agreements the team enters into with their partners, for example, and based on those findings we assist them in further steps of negotiation or renegotiation."
Lennart Hessels: "It's nice that V.O. assists us legally. We don't have that expertise in the team. They understand the dynamics of our team very well: they think along with us and are flexible. It really is a cooperation based on mutual trust. We can really rely on V.O. That way we can concentrate on the competition."
Legal Quick Scan
The service to the Brunel Solar Team is similar to the Legal Quick Scan offered by V.O.: the attorneys-at-law of V.O. check whether various IP issues are contractually well organized. The Quick Scan thus reveals whether there are documents that need extra attention.
V.O. offers the Quick Scan at an attractive rate. More information about the Legal Quick Scan can be found here.
‘A single point of contact for our patents, trademarks 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 the 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, the company 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.”