The value of IP for high growth businesses
By Crowdcube. 22nd Jan 2018
In this guest Q&A article, Powervault (PV), interviewed by their Patent Attorneys, Mathys & Squire (M&S), discuss their journey and the value of intellectual property (IP) for high growth businesses.
Powervault manufactures and sells home electricity storage systems which can charge up with low cost electricity from solar panels, or the grid and use that electricity to reduce people’s electricity bills. Powervault has raised multiple rounds of funding via Crowdcube since 2014, including securing one of the fastest cleantech crowdfunding rounds ever – closing its first round in just eight hours. Mathys & Squire have been helping Powervault to secure patent protection since 2013.
M&S: It is sometimes said that younger tech businesses succeed because they canbe more agile than larger companies who might recognise the need to innovate butsee technical innovation as a risk. Do you think that’s true in your experience?
PV:Agility is often important in the very beginning stages of a market it is not always clearwhat the value proposition is or how customers will react to a product. We often have theflexibility to move quickly and to adjust our plans to deal with changing market conditions.While larger companies may not have the same agility as earlier stage companies they dohave a number of things that smaller companies don’t – for example, they usually have moreresources and often a strong brand behind them. A more process driven approach is usefulas a company grows from start-up to established phase. Larger organisations quite oftenacquire earlier stage technology companies who have established a new product ortechnology.
M&S: How should technology innovators, and their early stage investors, putthemselves on this path?
PV: I think there are a couple of different ways but they ultimately both centre around findingcommercial value from technical innovation. One of our venture capital investors once saidto me that he thought start-up organisations fall into broadly two categories:the first categoryare those that do relatively early stage pure technology research to develop technologiesand then seek to commercialise by finding a number of different applications for thosetechnologies. Alternatively innovators can start with the customer problem and work backtowards a solution using innovation as a tool to create technology which will be important tosolving the specific customer problem. Powervault has always put the customer first,starting with their problem – of not being able to use low cost electricity because it isgenerated at the wrong time – and working out innovative ways to solve this problem.
M&S: Why is protecting your intellectual property important?
PV: Our intellectual property (IP) is a key asset and it exists in all sorts of forms. Thisincludes the many years of hard won knowledge and the skills that our engineers havedeveloped as we brought our product to market and in more tangible forms such as thecopyright in our firmware and software running our cloud-based systems. Registering our IPallows us to demonstrate its tangible value to investors and allows us to protect theintellectual property from competitors.
M&S: What IP protection does Powervault have in place?
PV: Mathys & Squire collaborated with us to work out a sensible patent filing strategy in theearly stages of the business. This has led to Powervault obtaining two granted GB patents,with additional patent applications pending in Europe and the USA. Powervault also has aregistered trademark and is continually growing its intellectual property portfolio.Mathys’ attorneys have considerable technical expertise as they all have science degrees orPhDs. They were able to sit with our engineers to delve into the finer details of what set ourproduct apart from the competition and drove value in our business. By understanding notonly the technology but also the commercial aspects of our business, Mathys helpedPowervault to target and protect the technology with the greatest commercial relevance. Thisapproach has allowed us to demonstrate greater value from our IP as our business grows.
M&S:Why did Powervault decide to protect their IP with patents?
PV:Not only did we want to be able to point to something and be able to say “that’s ours”,but we also wanted to be able to reassure investors that the technical ideas behind thebusiness were protected. Having granted patents adds weight to this credibility as it meansthat an outside body (i.e. the UK Intellectual Property Office) has examined these ideas andconsiders them to be novel and inventive. Patents also provide a solid basis for investmentand demonstrable control over the technology which will generate future revenue.In applying for patent protection, the patent searching process also provided insight intocompetitor activities and existing systems to allow us to shape our product offering.Finally, in a field such as ours, a lot of the technology exists in both hardware and firmwareor software. Having patent protection in place can increase confidence that know-how andsource code can be shared safely with partners as part of any future licensing deal becausethe underlying functionality in this ‘softer’, unregistered IP, is protected.
M&S:Were Crowdcube interested in your IP?
PV:Absolutely. Before each crowdfunding exercise, Crowdcube thoroughly reviewed allaspects of our business including the status of our intellectual property portfolio.
M&S: Why did Powervault choose to work with Mathys & Squire?
PV: We picked Mathys & Squire because of their excellent reputation and history. They areone of the larger patent attorney firms. Mathys provide pragmatic advice and transparentapproach to costs. We’ve really enjoyed working with them too, because they understandour technology and have been able to offer useful advice which has helped to get our firstpatents granted.
Authors:Mathys & Squire LLP, Joe Warren, Powervault Limited
Mathys & Squire is a Tier 1 Legal 500 firm, and their teams of attorneys have considerableexperience representing and advising businesses develop an IP strategy that aligns with andadds value to their business plans. Sean Leach has been personally recognised by Legal 500 for knowledge of patent portfolio management and advice. Annabel Hector is experienced in litigation and has successfully defended high profile opposition proceedings at the EPO with corresponding infringement and validity proceedings at the UK High Court. Andrew White has particular experience managing patent portfolios and has been commended by clients for his proactive approach and legal and technical knowledge.
Powervault’s intelligent home battery system enables users to live smarter, by optimisingtheir ability to store and use freely-generated solar energy and off-peak electricity from thegrid, whenever they need it. Founded in 2012 with a mission to design and manufacture theUK’s most practical and affordable home energy storage system, Powervault turnshomeowners into energy providers, makes smart tariffs smarter, cuts electricity bills by up to35%, and makes homes more sustainable and self-sufficient. Joe Warren has spent tenyears working in the smart grid sector having previously worked for Open Energi, helping tobring their smart grid dynamic demand product from concept to commercial reality, creatinga new market in which Open Energi arrived first. Joe joined Powervault in 2014 as ManagingDirector.