A patent is much more than the legal protection of a product. It can expand your financial perspectives and help make a business attractive to investors. Patent Attorney Johannes van Melle explains, and two businesses talk about their motives.
‘Fundamentally, a patent is a right of prohibition that you can use to protect your product, but in practice it’s more than that’, explains Johannes van Melle, European patent attorney and partner at V.O. Patents & Trademarks. ‘You hold an extra trump card that you can use to trade in a different way in the practice of doing business with technology. As a result, you can attract partners you wouldn’t be able to attract otherwise, or you can unlock investment money that would otherwise be unobtainable.’
He refers to The Ocean Cleanup as an example. The non-profit institution has a patent on its innovation to clean up the oceans. Van Melle: ‘The patent allows The Ocean Cleanup to safeguard the value of the technology, as well as to retain control over the application of its innovation. It is a valuable possession that you can sell and that has intrinsic value because, in a certain sense, it gives you a position of power in the market. Generally speaking, this is dominated by supply and demand, but the patent holder has the right to prohibit someone else from selling their product and is therefore temporarily exempt from the competition. The patent lapses after twenty years.’
Ellen Hoogland, general counsel at The Ocean Cleanup: ‘We applied for a patent because we really wanted to maintain freedom to operate.’ For them, the term ‘freedom to operate’ implies that they have freedom to work on the innovation without there being a risk of another party applying for patent rights. ‘We wanted to prevent elements of our technology from being patented by anyone else, which would mean we wouldn’t be able to develop it freely and our opportunities would be limited.’
The organisation also decided to apply for a patent because it did not want to publish anything while it was in the midst of developing this innovation. Hoogland: ‘This way, we can use our technology without being impeded by other parties. Furthermore, it is important to maintain our reputation. It would be very harmful to us if our technology were to be used for environmentally damaging purposes or for the fishing industry. The patent allows us to stay in control.’
Partners and patents
An important advantage of a patent is that it also offers security to investors. A patent establishes beyond any doubt that the idea really is innovative and that it is, and remains, property. In this way, a patent can win over financiers. Van Melle: ‘They regard it very clearly as something extra, which increases the potential returns in certain situations.’
Being able to offer security to investors was a reason for the company Bambi Medical to turn to V.O. for a patent application. Bambi Medical is designing the Bambi Belt, a soft, skin-friendly wireless strap that is attached to the chest of a premature baby, containing numerous sensors. These sensors carry out the same role as the current electrode systems that are attached to babies with stickers. A small sensor module sends the recorded data to a handheld monitor. According to Bambi Medical, the belt reduces pain and stress in babies, and the wireless nature of the belt enables mothers to carry their premature babies on their front.
The founder and chief medical officer of the company is retired neonatologist Sidarto Bambang Oetomo. ‘For the last ten years of my career, I was a part-time professor of industrial design and made a number of prototypes to reduce pain and stress in babies in incubators. We now hope to bring the Bambi Belt to the market.’ With the patent, the company wants to give security to investors. ‘I notice that it really helps with investors now we’ve made a patent application. The question we were asked most often was: ‘Why doesn’t this solution already exist?’ After all, the Bambi Belt is an obvious solution, but you just need to come up with the idea. Investors also want to be covered against the risk of it being copied. Without a patent, investors are much less inclined to invest in the company.’ The first round of investment was realized through crowdfunding. Bambi Medical is now busy with the second round, with its aim being to actually bring the product to the market. A functional prototype is now available, and the first clinical tests will take place in the Netherlands and Sweden in the second half of 2018. Once they have been carried out, the Bambi Belt can make its entrance in hospitals all over the world.
This article was published in extended form in Technisch Weekblad.