Clean technology is our path to a healthier planet. Recycling, renewable energy (wind power, solar power, hydropower, biofuels, biomass), electric motors, etc. will all contribute to growth in our economy in the coming years. The innovations behind these technologies are building companies and opening new markets. RPL’s attorneys are excited to be involved with the cutting edge companies working to improve our ecosystem.
A clean tech business typically has intellectual property needs across all four IP regimes: patents for securing the exclusive rights to the inventions; trade secrets for protecting the confidential know-how underlying the processes and techniques that can’t be reverse engineered from the customer facing products; copyrights for your written protocols, as well as the creative manner in which you present your innovation to the world through your website, videos, and other marketing materials; and trademarks protecting the branding (e.g., the names, logos, and taglines) that ties each of the previous assets into a valuable business.
In clean technology innovation, it is important to assess the patent landscape early in the R&D process. Patent searching can be a valuable tool at this stage; a patentability search or patent landscape search can be used to evaluate whether there is white space to innovate a protectable invention in the space; a freedom to operate search can help identify potential infringement issues and help guide the design process to avoid patent infringement.
Once a promising course is set, the R&D process can lead to the invention of patentable innovations. Preparing and filing patent applications then helps to claim ownership to those innovations. When the patents issue, they provide the owner the ability to prevent others from making, using, or selling the patented invention by granting the exclusive rights to the invention to the patent owner. This can be especially important in technologies for which the path to market is long and expensive. The innovator has a tough path to market and, without patent protection securing the rights when the innovation finally starts to pay off, there may not be adequate incentive to bring the innovation to market at all.
When used correctly, the patents provide exclusive rights in the innovation that help to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. As discussed more below, that competitive advantage is used to help build the value in the trademarks.
For inventions that are based on, or that incorporate subject matter that is difficult to reverse engineer, trade secret protection is an alternative, and sometimes preferred, mechanism for IP protection. Like patents above, the protection offered by trade secret protection can provide exclusive rights in the innovation that help to provide a competitive advantage and build the value in the trademarks.
There is no registration process for trade secrets, you simply need to maintain the confidentiality of the secret. Using non-disclosure agreements and other confidentiality measures can be helpful in demonstrating the efforts you’ve taken to maintain the confidentiality of a trade secret, but the real key is that trade secret protection is only effective for inventions that competitors won’t be able to figure out based on the public facing aspects of your product and business. And that’s your competitive advantage; if they can’t figure it out, they can’t copy it.
In the clean tech space, trade secrets are most often as important as the patents. Particularly in instances in which your software is not patentable, trade secret protection may be the best protection for the innovation.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in tangible media. In the clean technology industry, copyrights are most often used to protect the licensable protocols you have developed for implementing your technology and processes. Copyrights are also important in protecting your original works of authorship, including your videos, websites, marketing copy, etc.
Although the registration process is not nearly as complex as either the patent or trademark registration processes, it can be helpful to work with an experienced IP attorney to protect your copyrightable materials.
Branding is important anytime a business is selling differentiated goods and services. In the clean technology space, the company’s name is often its most important IP asset, as the name is how the brand will be recognized and the asset that will hold the value of the trust and admiration earned from the customers and the public. But trademarks are implicated in each name, logo, and tagline you bring to market. With each of those marks, it is important to avoid infringing others’ trademark rights through trademark searches and opinions and developing rights in distinctive marks yourself by registering trademarks.
In the long run, the business’s trademarks are often their most valuable IP assets. However, trademarks take time and effort to develop recognition and goodwill in the marketplace. In order to have the space in the marketplace to build that goodwill, the patents and trade secrets need to hold competitors from copying your unique offerings and enable you to build your brand. This is one of many reasons it is important to strategically build a coordinated and thoughtful trademark strategy from the outset of the business or product launch.
RPL’s attorneys have a strong background in the science and engineering underlying clean tech. We have degrees in civil engineering, environmental engineering, chemistry, and molecular and cellular biology. We have written patents in the fields of recycling, solar power, wind power, hydropower, green roofs, and more.
We believe clean tech companies will continue to be increasingly important to our economy and our planet. We are excited to work in this field and are excited to help you grow your business.