This year, World Intellectual Property Day (26 April 2020) celebrates innovation for a greener future and seeks to put IP at the heart of efforts to build a sustainable future.

Here at UDL, green is more than just a colour.

Green innovation is a key focus for our team as we work to protect the brands and technological advances that are addressing the challenges we face as a planet. Our attorneys regularly comment on sustainability issues and developments across a variety of industry sectors from automotive to fashion.

Here, we look back at some of our recent content in some of the key areas of focus in green innovation and brand strategy and examine how the world is moving forward to build a better planet.

Battery Technology

Much of the focus in battery technology is on the materials and the endless pursuit of better cathodes, anodes and electrolytes, ones which are safer and last longer. However, there are other challenges associated with battery technology such as the management of the heat they generate and their packaging.

The wide-ranging opportunity to innovate in this area has created a vibrant patent landscape with Tesla, Toyota Motor Company and LG Chemical leading the way. The continued development of materials and battery management technology means that the patent landscape can be seen as prohibitive, but Tesla and Toyota have taken some steps to create a more fertile innovation landscape by making some of their patented technology available under some prescribed conditions.

This is one of the most exciting areas of technology and we only expect greater innovation in the years to come.

Clean Fuel

Closely related to the development of battery technology is that of clean fuel, as we seek to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and explore other fuel sources such as wind , biofuel and solar power.

Other exciting developments include hydrogen fuel cells and associated systems for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) within the automotive sector and hydrogen energy storage systems for grid power and specific local energy storage for wind and solar energy harvesting plants.

However, one of the key challenges related to cleaner, more sustainable fuels is not so much the generation of the fuel itself but the delivery of the fuel and the enabling infrastructure. It is predicted that if the UK government’s Road to Zero target of 34 million electric vehicles by 2040 is met, we will require an additional 60 TWh of electricity every year – equivalent to powering an additional 15 million UK homes. This means there are considerable opportunities for innovation in the distribution of energy and managing the energy infrastructure.

It is highly likely that the coming years will see major changes in how we source our energy and we look forward to exploring these innovations for years to come.

Fashion

From cradle to grave, the fashion industry reportedly creates 92 million tons of textile waste per year, which is more than international flights and fishing combined. Although it is a secretive and fragmented industry, making collaborative and wide-reaching changes difficult, the industry has a growing commitment to work toward a more ethical and sustainable future.

The innovations include more environmentally-friendly materials such as econyl® (used by Adidas amongst others) and Piñatex® (a leather-alternative made from pineapple leaves), recycling existing materials by brands such as Elvis & Kresse® (who use decommissioned fire brigade hoses to make bags), GroundTruth® (who are using 120 plastic bottles to make each backpack) and Stella McCartney® (who uses recycled polyester for handbag linings).

There are also fascinating developments in the digital sphere for tracking, tracing and transparency of source materials, as well as 3D body imaging, 3D printed clothing and accessories and digital-only clothing.

The development of new materials, new methods of recycling and new ways of sourcing and delivering fashion will no doubt be key in the realisation of a more sustainable future for the fashion industry and we look forward to being a part of it.

Packaging and Plastics

Packaging and plastics are another key focus area for improving our sustainability and driving us toward a green future. The statistics associated with packaging provide a staggering picture. For example, over 173kg of packaging waste was generated per EU inhabitant in 2017.

However, it is a key area of innovation in that many manufacturers are now looking at ways to reduce their packaging. For example, beer producers Carlsberg and Heineken have recently made headlines by promising to replace plastic can-rings with glue and eco-friendly cardboard toppers. UDL has worked with Water Unite® which has created a scheme for encouraging and facilitating safe, sustainable water services for the people who need them most, as well as making improvements to recycling schemes globally. This is in conjunction with our long-standing relationship with The One Foundation, a charity providing clean water and sanitation across the developing world.

Composite packaging can provide a serious headache for recycling plants and black packaging can be particularly difficult as it absorbs infra-red radiation. UDL client ColourTone Masterbatch have recently formulated and patented a new black colourant which achieves both a high-quality black appearance in a target plastic and is capable of being sorted by infra-red technology.

Our client Floreon-Transforming Packaging Ltd, has developed a range of bioplastics as possible solutions to the current global plastics problem, including an innovative biodegradable and biocompostable polymer material, based exclusively on green materials, in particular naturally occurring starch-derived polylactic acid (PLA) and its blends with other biocompatible materials. These environmentally friendly materials offer significant advantages over conventional oil-based plastics, including: i) a manufacturing process which emits fewer greenhouse gases, based on a feed stock derived from abundant renewable sources; ii) a fully recyclable and compostable system and iii) the sourcing of materials from plants, rather than oil, which are 100% renewable.

Even if the innovation itself can’t be protected, we have helped clients identify other elements that can be protected in order to benefit from the goodwill they build up from doing good things. Switch Packaging’s product ERIC® is a prime example of that. Their moulded, recycled pulp replaces polystyrene packaging. Since the technology itself wasn’t new, securing patent protection was unlikely. Also, since its product can look different depending on each client’s tailored solution, registered design protection was unfeasible, however the distinctive brand ERIC® was definitely worth protecting as it is what enables clients to return to them.

Sustainable Construction

We are on the brink of a new generation of greener and smarter ‘Living Buildings’ that are responsive to the environment in generating energy, processing waste and reducing pollution providing for surroundings that are beneficial to health.

In construction, UDL client Alumasc has made significant headway in the development of sustainable building products, systems and solutions with brand names such as SLOTDRAIN®, BluRoof® and the tag line “Rain To Drain”tm to designate their belief that surface water from both roof and ground level is a valuable natural resource and should be properly managed. The direct construction industry supplier part of the company, TIMLOC® has been ISO 14001-certified since 2010, meaning that they are recognised as having effective environmental management systems in place. The majority of materials used to manufacture and package their materials are recycled from other products and processes.

UDL also work closely with Beattie Passive, which has gained IP protection for innovative low-energy housing design, certified by Passivhaus – the gold standard for energy efficient design.

Environmental Accreditation

When businesses do good things, they need a way of conveying this to the consumer. We work with The Green Accord to protect their self-assessment scheme for all sizes and types of businesses document and improve their environmental performance.

The need for an industrial response to climate change has led to a surge in innovative sustainable solutions across all technologies. From photovoltaics in glass building blocks and energy recovery in vehicle exhaust systems to improved methods of recycling rubber tyres and self-healing concrete structures – we are truly witnessing a collective effort in utilising technology to better care for our environment and the planet.

Brands are used to identify, build and retain trust and loyalty in products or services, but they are also used to hold brand owners to account for their business practices and entire supply chain. UDL is helping clients identify and protect their brands so that they can be used to drive demand for sustainable and environmentally-friendly goods and services.