Can innovative clean tech companies save the world…and still be profitable?

Well, as we all know, innovation and research and development usually cost a lot of money, and the simplest incentive for innovations is often to earn more, or alternatively to save, money.

Facing the threat of global warming, i.e. climate change, many new ideas have developed to make us less dependent on fossil fuels, to provide more efficient re-cycling of materials etc.. The development of electrical vehicles and fuel cell cars, as well as the collection of food waste for producing biogas are all good examples of this.

Environmental goals, set out by governments all around the world, are also believed to be a driving force for many companies in being more innovative within the clean tech sector. In Sweden, for instance some municipalities have a goal to become carbon dioxide neutral by 2025. For certain technology sectors stricter environmental goals have been vital for innovations; one example is the pulp and paper industry; which has meet very tough environmental regulations by becoming increasingly innovative.

One way of looking at the climate challenge for many companies is through the question “how much would it cost us to not change”, but it could of course be equally important to ask the question “how much could we earn by changing and becoming more innovative”.

The Nordic countries have for a long time been innovative and successful in creating strong industries. Now these industries face the challenge of climate change, and the fact that in the development countries the technical development is going faster right now, than it is in the industrial world. One example is China, which has encouraged innovation, and also patenting over the past decade. One way of keeping track of the technical developments in your own field is of course through monitoring of published patent applications, which is an excellent way of finding out what is going on, and an excellent way of getting new ideas of your own, and to get into the forefront of technology development.

Clean tech companies will also inevitably develop technologies that can be used by other companies, and this should of course be an incentive to protect the innovations made, for instance trough filing patent applications, for instance for use in licensing and joint ventures.

This brings us back to the main question, is it possible to save the world and still be profitable?

My answer is yes!

The fact is, if you are an innovative clean tech company, you should tell the world, and not be afraid to actively use this in your branding, in your marketing and in your business relationships with partners and competitors. By using IPR as a tool, you can also easily find and work with investors, find joint ventures, and partners, and thereby grow your company and become more profitable.

New hope for trademark owners in China

In China, the trademark system is based on the “first-to-file” system, which means that the first company or person to file owns the legal right to the trademark. There is no requirement for the intention to actually use the mark as we know it from a.o. the US system.

Up until now the so called “Trademark Squatters” have been a huge problem in China. These Trademark Squatters file hundreds of names with the Chinese authorities long before the brand owners enter the Chinese market and then they try to extort the owners in settlements, forcing them to “pay up” if they wish to be able to use their trademark in China.

Revised rules to prohibit trademarks registered in bad faith
China has recently implemented a new revised set of rules that among other things prohibits registering trademarks in bad faith. This is a step towards the system we know from Europe.

Until this point, trademark owners have been left with the options of either creating an entire new trademark for the Chinese market, expensive settlements or taking legal actions and spending huge amounts on legal fees in the hope of gaining legal right to their own trademark. Tesla, Apple, Sothesby’s and Michael Jordan are only some of the many trademark owners that have fought battles with these Chinese Trademark Squatters. Many of these battles have proven unsuccessful up until now.

Recently, the American brand Michael Bastian has fought for their trademark and won the case against a Trademark Squatter before the Chinese Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (TRAB). A Chinese company had registered the trademark Michael Bastian’s English name and the Chinese transliteration in 2007. The TRAB found that the Trademark Squatter had abused the trademark registration, use and administration process in China even though there was insufficient evidence of Michael Bastian’s use of the trademark or publicity in China prior to the date of filing by the defendant. Further the TRAB found that the defendant violated the principle of Honest and Good Faith. According to his principal counsel Foley & Lardner, Michael Bastian is the first non-Chinese individual or entity to win a case under the principle of honest and good faith despite little evidence of prior use.

A step in the “right” direction, but…
So does this mean that all troubles are solved in China and that trademark owners can feel home safe? Definitely not! It is important that trademark owners are aware that there are distinguishing features in this decision and uncertainty as to how much weight the TRAB will give to this decision in the future. In the Michael Bastian case, the TRAB cited that the defendant had engaged in similar conduct and attempted to file many trademarks identical or similar to other prior trademarks. Therefore in this case it was rather clear that the defendant actually was a Trademark Squatter. It is therefore uncertain whether the TRAB would have reached the same decision had the defendant not clearly just registered trademarks to put pressure on right holders and make money from this.

However, the decision is a step in the “right” direction so to speak. Moreover, this decision is important in the sense that it will send a signal of increased confidence to foreign companies entering the Chinese market, and to use their name and IP to build their brand in China. Hopefully, this decision will set precedent and make it easier for trademark owners to regain and protect their IP rights in China.

It is still uncertain what line the TRAB will take against these Trademark Squatters, and we at Awapatent will definitely advice right holders to still consider the previous cases in China as a warning to get their trademarks registered early in China, at least if at some point in the future China is considered a market of interest.

Maria Dam Jensen, Legal Counsel

The Global Patent Prosecution Highway expands in the heat of summer

As summer, at least here in Denmark, finally heats up, so does the PPH thus giving both Danish and Swedish patent applicants new possibilities of speeding up and simplifying examination of their patent applications. In the following the AWA IP Blog sums up these new possibilities.

To recall, for a given PPH-agreement the PPH allows for requesting accelerated examination at the one office participating in this agreement based on the search results and a set of claims accepted for grant in an analogous application at the other participating office. For the Global PPH this principle applies for any combination of two participating offices.

Effective 6 July 2015, the German and Estonian IP offices join the Global PPH network, thus bringing the number of participants in the Global PPH up to 21. The Global PPH network already counts inter alia the IP offices of Sweden and Denmark as well as the Nordic Patent Institute as members. Hence, the IP offices of Sweden and Denmark as well as the Nordic Patent Institute now all have PPH agreements with the German and Estonian IP offices. Also, the Estonian IP office is new in the PPH altogether.

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that also the Egyptian and Romanian IP offices have entered the PPH-network, by signing an agreement with the Japanese patent office, JPO, and the US patent and trademark office, USPTO, respectively.

Thereby, Egypt has become the first African country to join the PPH family, while the total number of countries in the PPH family has reached 37.

Troels Peter Rørdam, European Patent Attorney & Certified Danish Patent Agent