In the search to find more sustainable alternatives, innovators are shifting their focus towards algae-powered innovations. However, as interest around this specific area of research grows, securing patent protection on route to market is more important than ever.
The role of patent protection
Patent filings in this field of R&D have increased significantly in the last 20 years, as has the need for businesses to ensure the commercial value of their innovations is fully protected before seeking funding.
Intellectual property (IP) rights can play a vital role in securing the confidence of funders, by protecting an innovation’s commercial potential. However, it’s important to seek patent protection at the right time and in the right way, to avoid pitfalls.
Filing a patent application
A patent will only be granted by the UK Intellectual Patent Office (UKIPO) or European Patent Office (EPO) for an idea that is new, so patent applications must be filed before the idea is disclosed to third parties. To ensure the right to file is retained, innovative businesses may need to develop key messaging for potential investors that focuses on the advantages of the product, without disclosing how they are achieved.
In the event a funder is seriously considering investing in the business, signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) will allow them to find out more about the product in order to assess the likely success of the venture and test its claims.
To ensure that ownership of the original idea is clearly established, businesses should file a patent application before entering negotiations with potential funders or other third parties. An initial patent filing is all that is needed at this stage; further applications can follow later as the technology is developed and prepared for market.
Meeting the eligibility criteria
When applying for patent protection, the business will need to illustrate the advantages claimed clearly, and in many countries a worked example is required at the time of filing. In Europe, at least, the advantages must also be plausible, with the application containing enough experimental data to substantiate the purported claims.
It is not always easy for innovators to know how much data is required to meet patent eligibility criteria – which can differ hugely from field to field, even within the algae sector. Seeking professional advice can help the business to balance the need to file early against the need to ensure that the proper criteria are met.
Understanding the market
Having market knowledge and an appreciation of how it might evolve over time is key to a successful IP strategy. Decisions will need to be made early on about where in the world patent protection is required and where the invention is likely to be implemented.
In Europe, much algae-powered research activity is being carried out in Spain and the Netherlands. Further afield, India, South East Asia, Israel, Australia and the US host numerous research and development programmes in this space. Patent filing trends also show China, Japan and Korea to be focussing on the area.
Innovators may also find it useful to monitor the activity of competitors. Not only could this provide valuable insight into applications that could hinder their own activities, it could also indicate which geographical markets they are targeting.
As this field of innovation becomes increasingly competitive, the case for securing a robust IP portfolio grows stronger. Without patent protection, innovators could find it harder to attract investment and risk undermining any commercial value they might have attained.
Justin Wilson is a partner and patent attorney at European intellectual property firm,Withers & Rogers