Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

Water innovation in Australia: Pipeline to Profit? by Griffith Hack

As a country which has continually had to deal with the scarcity of water, Australia is ideally placed to become a leader in the US$400 billion global water market.  But a detailed analysis of our water innovation patents by Griffith Hack in the report ‘Pipeline to Profit?’ has found Australian companies are failing to leverage their valuable intellectual property (IP) into global markets.

The paper finds: “Few applicants are developing a critical mass of patented technology to support their export ambitions. Australian applicants are filing more patents in the water technology area than in most other areas, but the majority of these patents are for domestically oriented inventions.”

“It has been estimated that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, which is recognised as an unsustainable rate,” notes Griffith Hack Senior Associate, Dr Mary Turonek.

“Australia has built up significant expertise in managing demand for water using technologies – and there is a potential for Australia to export this expertise to the world. But we are not securing our innovative ideas and products for the multi-billion-dollar export market.”

Click here for the full report.


Massive solar deal in China by Justin Blows
January 13, 2010, 7:44 am
Filed under: Feature | Tags: , , , ,

According to this report the solar thermal company eSolar has made a deal to licence its technology into China.  The plans are to build 2 GW (!) of solar thermal power generation capacity over 10 years.  eSolar specialises in solar tower technology in which multiple mirrors on the ground concentrate sunlight on a boiler at the top of a tower.

Once again, this demonstrates the phenomenal plans that are in place in China to beef up renewable power generation.  The centre for clean and sustainable technologies is moving rapidly towards China.

A solar field by eSolar who has sealed an IP licensing deal into China

The licensing deal is no doubt centered on eSolar’s patent portfolio.  I had a very quick look for their patents / applications and I found these.  Interestingly, eSolar has sealed an astonishing deal with only around 10 patent applications – although there may be more that I have not found.  It just goes to show how powerful patents are. 

Another interesting point to note that is that the deal was not for the supply of hardware but intellectual property.  This makes a lot of sense when dealing with China because they can manufacturer very competitively, but need the ideas to drive their manufacturing.  This is a continuation of  thought of in the west but made in China – think Apple (TM) for another example.  The Chinese government is, I understand, very generous to companies setting up manufacturing in China, which can turn out a product cheaply in any case.

Justin Blows

29 patent applications filed for Li-ion battery that does not explode by Justin Blows
November 16, 2009, 7:30 am
Filed under: Feature | Tags: , , ,

According to this report, the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), Taiwan’s national research organization has applied for 29 patents in the United States, Taiwan, Korea, China and Japan for a new technology to prevent lithium-ion batteries from catching fire or exploding.

This problem is seen by many a reason not to use the technology in electric vehicles, for example.

Apparently, from 2003 to 2005 more than 300 incidents occurred involving lithium-ion laptop and cell-phone batteries overheating or catching fire. Many of the incidents involved personal injury.

This potential problem with lithium-ion batteries is multiplied by the thousands in vehicles. In the case of Tesla Motors’ car, for example, almost 7,000 batteries are packed behind the passenger compartment to power the car.

When lithium-ion batteries develop internal shorts they can quickly heat up to as much as 500 degrees centigrade (932 degrees Fahrenheit) and catch fire or explode.

The invention sits between the positive and negative sides of the battery and when the battery hits 130 degrees centigrade (266 degrees Fahrenheit), it transforms from a porous material to a film and shuts down the reaction.

Justin Blows

Patents & lithium based batteries by Justin Blows

Some people project that the market for lithium ion batteries will grow 11% per annum to US$6.9 billion per annum by 2012.  But I think this is too conservative.

Why?  Because that projection does not account for one of the biggest growth opportunity yet – powering electric and hybrid cars.  The CEO of NISSAN says that the electric cars – let alone hybrid cars – could make up 10%  of the market by 2020.  

Neither does that projection account for lithium ion batteries storing energy from alternative energy sources such as wind and solar – which is expected to be a $1 billion dollar industry by 2018.

The prospects for the technology are so great that this article describes lithium based car batteries as becoming a “major disruptive force”, dictating the fate of the world’s largest vehicle makers, and reshaping the electronics industry.

The Toyota Prius is just one example of a hybrid car that has a very big battery in it.   Sales of the Prius – and the battery packs in them – grew by about 500% when the Japanese government introduced inducements worth around US$4,000 per purchased car.  In fact, the Prius recently became the most sold car of any type in Japan.

Expect this to be repeated across the globe.  Other governments are now introducing strong measures to increase the fuel efficiency of their countries’ car fleet to improve energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  United States President Obama wants national fuel efficiency to increase by 5% each year from 2012 to 2016.  The United Kingdom government has confirmed it will offer from ₤2,000 to 5,000 to purchasers of electric and hybrid cars.  Highly efficient hybrid and electric cars are expected to flourish under the new measures – and the sales of Li-ion batteries will boom.

Tech-savvy readers may point out that the Prius does not use lithium ion batteries. But Toyota’s Prius is the exception. Lithium ion batteries are, in fact, the prefered choice by vehicle manufacturers. Volvo, Subaru, GM, and VW are all developing hybrids with Li-ion batteries. The Nissan Leaf, Tesla Volt and concept cars by Audi, Ford all use lithium ion batteries. 

Graph 1 shows the number of published International Patent Applications (PCT) by year describing a secondary cell (that is, a rechargeable battery) having lithium as a component – including lithium ion and lithium air cells.  Since year 2000, the number of published International Patent Applications has nearly quadrupled.


Graph 1 - Published International Patent Applications by year

In fact, there are many more patent applications because not all patent applicants go down the International Application route.  Our searches indicate that there are about 10 times as many patent applications per year as shown in Graph 1-  around 2,500 per year!

Graph 2 shows the breakdown for the country of origin of the International Applications.

Li - Country of Origin

Graph 2 - International Patent Application Country of Origin

If we look at country of origin for all patent applications, not just International Applications, the slices of the pie change but the top five countries remain.  They become China 13.4%, Korea 11.7%, Japan 11.2%, US 6.3% and Germany 1.3%. 

Clearly China’s IP position in battery technology is becoming very strong and it is challenging  Japan and Korea in this area. 

According to this report, Japan currently meets half of world demand for lithium batteries, Korea is the second-largest manufacturer with a market share of 27 percent, with China standing at third place with a 23 percent market share.

Already fortunes are being made in China.  According to this report, Wang Chuanfu, the founder of car and lithium ion battery maker BYD has become China’s richest man.

The US has recently injected $1.5 Billion in grants to US-based manufacturers to produce batteries and their components and to expand battery recycling capacity.   A123 Systems, a manufacturer of nano-iron phosphate lithium ion batteries was awarded $249 Million, presumably in an attempt to bolster the US industry.  We found 10 published international patent applications by A123.

Given the dominant patent position of Asia, howver, it may be difficult for US manufactures to make a big impact. 

We found that the top industry players had roughly somewhere from 10 to 102 published International Patent applications.  In no particular order, the companies that have strong patent positions include SAMSUNG SDI CO. LTD, SANYO ELECTRIC CO LTD, MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC IND CO LTD, SONY CORP, MITSUBISHI CHEMICALS CORP, LG CHEM LTD, PANASONIC CORPORATION, 3M INNOVATIVE PROPERTIES COMPANY, and BYD COMPANY LIMITED.

According to this report, SANYO and SAMSUNG SDI Co. are the worlds first and second largest markers of lithium ion batteries.  This is reflected in their patent positions with the second most and most patent applications respectively.  SAMSUNG SDI just reported its biggest profit in 5 years, aided by its commanding patent position. 

Breakthroughs in alternative lithium based battery technologies are being regularly reported by many groups.  These typically have vastly superior storage capacity than today’s commercial lithium ion batteries. Recent breakthroughs have occurred in lithium air batteries, lithium sulfur batteries,  and nanotechnology based batteries, for example.  With so many alternatives it is hard to know which technologies and companies are going to be the long term winners.  However, the patent filing rate will accelerate and the winners will have well protected technology.

While for sure there are great opportunities, the secondary cell patent landscape is rapidly becoming a mine field that needs careful mapping before being traversed. 

The patent landscape will undoubtably shape the direction the various industry players will take – depending on what options they can secure.  For example, some may license or cross license patents or try to work around existing patents to ensure they are free to operate. 

Those that don’t have patents to bargin with may find themselves locked out of this growing clean technology market. 

Justin Blows

Ocean Energy – the wave of the future? by Griffith Hack

Although solar, wind and clean coal continue to attract the majority of the attention as clean energy options for the future, wave and tidal power may also play a major part in future energy production.

A recent visit to the All Energy Conference  showed that there are at least three Australian companies developing wave technology. Namely: Biopower, Oceanlinx and CETCO, who are all developing alternative means of capturing wave or tidal energy. 

New Zealand is also at the forefront of investing in wave power, with 14 different projects considered, ranging from capturing the deep sea energy in the Cook Strait that separates Wellington from the South Island; to capturing the energy in the strong tides in one of New Zealand’s largest harbours.

Wave power has tremendous potential as base load power as it is pretty reliable and available twenty four hours a day.  However, there are also likely to be significant engineering challenges such as maintenance in some extreme environments.  The combination of economic potential and engineering challenges is leading inventors to come up with a whole range of quite different solutions.

No one solution has started to dominate yet.  From an IP viewpoint, this makes wave power perhaps more interesting than some other clean technologies, where the engineering is now starting to mature.

Another important question that developers need to consider is the breadth of the claims of their patents and their competitor’s patents.  A smart innovator might find that while their patented invention did not succeed in its own right, their patents do claim a more successful invention developed by another company.  Or vice-versa.

I for one will be watching this space with much interest in the future.

Mike Lloyd

Who Holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies by Griffith Hack

Griffith Hack is pleased to announce the launch of the report: ‘Who holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies.’

Australian companies and developers looking to benefit from the upcoming clean technology boom have been warned to think carefully about how they protect their ideas, following analysis of global patents in the rapidly expanding hybrid car market.

The report found that the market leader in hybrid technology has filed so many patents ahead of its rivals, that other major manufacturers are now being forced to use the technology ‘under licence’ or develop very different types of vehicles. This has very real implications for Australian innovators, including companies and researchers hoping to receive funding from the federal government’s $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund.

As the report warns: “Failure to understand how companies compare to their competitors, may lead to wasted investment, infringement and a lack of commercial success.” “Growing concerns about energy security, climate change and pollution are motivating governments everywhere to introduce strong measures that favour innovation in clean technologies, such as hybrid cars,” notes co-author, Dr Justin Blows. “Our report shows that clean technology innovators are massively investing in IP, to ensure they remain competitive as the world moves into a new age of clean technology.”

Report co-author Mike Lloyd adds: “Hybrid car sales were non-existent until Toyota made a commitment to this sector after 1994, at a time when oil prices were low. The company’s initiative and aggressive patent filing strategy have, in turn, forced other motor companies to respond in a variety of ways. There are lessons here for all innovative companies, including those Australian organisations and individuals looking to make their mark on our motoring future.”

For the full report click here.

For further information on the report, please contact:

Mike Lloyd IP Portfolio Management Consultant Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group Griffith Hack
Tel: 03 9243 8315

Dr Justin Blows Patent Attorney Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group Griffith Hack
Tel: 02 9925 5938
Mob: 0425 215 470

Open innovation vs IP ownership in the clean IP space – are they necessarily opposed? by Griffith Hack
October 12, 2009, 11:31 am
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , , ,

The need for the world to develop new technologies to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment has led to calls by some to reduce the role of patents and other forms of IP in clean technologies. Patents and other IP provide a monopoly to their owners, which according to some pundits potentially reduces the spread and adoption of these planet saving technologies, potentially leaving us all worse off.

There are of course a wealth of reasons why IP ownership can help drive innovation by providing an incentive to invest in research and development. But maybe open innovation and IP ownership are not necessarily opposite approaches to development.

There is an argument being promoted by Marshall Phelps, IP Tsar for Microsoft, that clear IP ownership can actively help drive collaboration. Clear IP ownership gives IP owners and innovators the confidence take their ideas to market and look for collaborators and partners to help take these ideas forward.

The alternative to clear IP ownership in many cases is protecting new ideas as trade secrets or confidential information – which by its very nature will prevent the spread and likely slow the adoption of these ideas. In other words, IP ownership may actually assist open innovation….a radical thought for many, I know.

Mike Lloyd