SME case studies

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The EPO has produced a series of case studies on European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which are leveraging the power of patents and other IP rights to achieve business success.

SMEs from different countries, operating in different industries and technology sectors, were interviewed about their IP strategies and underlying business models. The resulting case studies illustrate how new and established SMEs have developed the IP management capabilities they need, and how they are using IP to their advantage.

Case studies

Click on a company name to access more information and downloadable materials.

Aerogen (medical technology - Ireland)

Breathing new life into aerosol drug delivery

  • Customers, investors and partners consider it very important for a young company to have strong IP.
  • Company scale-up must go hand in hand with IP portfolio-building.
  • To successfully commercialise innovative technologies, IP strategy must be clearly laid out and closely aligned with other key business functions.
  • Competitor watches and patent searches are essential components of IP management.
Technical field Country
Main product
Business model
Medical technology Ireland Nebulisers Product sales, technology licensing

Aerogen_sWhen a company transforms from a small start-up to a global leader in aerosol technology for drug delivery in acute care, its strategic partners must be able to rely on the quality and protection of the products on offer. Key to addressing this challenge is a strong patent portfolio protecting both the core technology as well as a diverse range of product applications.

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Cosmed (medical technology - Italy)

At the cutting edge of cardiopulmonary diagnostics

  • It is essential to take both internal and external influences on the patent portfolio into account.
  • In-depth prior art searches must be conducted early in the creative process and then professionally verified during the patenting procedures.
  • External expertise and support is important for obtaining feedback on IP strategy and implementing strategic choices.
  • When creating and maintaining an IP portfolio, it is vital to keep costs down without sacrificing quality.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Medical technology Italy Biomedical measuring devices Product sales

Cosmed_sThis medical device company is founded on sound IP. Sound IP increases visibility and recognition, facilitates co-operation with partners and justifies premium prices. Establishing IP early in the process safeguards investment in R&D and offers protection from imitation until compliance with regulatory standards is achieved.




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Micrel Medical Devices (medical technology - Greece)

Smart infusion pumps for treating patients at home

  • Continuous innovation supported by patents allows technology-based SMEs to compete with large companies.
  • Patent protection can help safeguard investments and reduce risk when introducing new products to the market.
  • Well-thought-out filing strategies enable companies not only to speed up the granting process but also to postpone decisions where needed.
  • Regular searches in patent databases allow companies to monitor competitors and reveal opportunities for future innovations.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Medical technology Greece Infusion system Product sales

MicrelAs a medical technology company, Micrel uses patents and patent information strategically to safeguard future product lines, ensure freedom to operate and find inspiration for new technical developments.




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Marinomed (biotechnology - Austria)

Using red algae to fight the flu

  • Flexible licensing models increase the chances of creating win-win situations.
  • Involving an IP specialist early in the R&D stage can improve patent protection for subsequent commercial applications.
  • Negotiation is the preferred way to solve potential infringement issues; litigation is regarded as a last resort.
  • Trade marks can add value to patents and extend protection beyond the life of the patent.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Biotechnology Austria Anti-viral technologies Technology licensing

MarinomedAs a drug discovery company, Marinomed relies heavily on patents. Its inventions are validated in almost 100 countries. The company actively manages and enforces its IP portfolio, which also includes some trade marks. Exploitation of its IP is based on two main licensing models.



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Webdyn (digital communication - France)

Integrating ICT creates solutions for the Internet of Things

  • Patents can be used to secure freedom to operate, for example by means of cross-licensing agreements.
  • They can contribute value when developing a marketing strategy.
  • Options to postpone decisions in the patenting process can be used strategically in order to gain time or to optimise procedural and validation costs.
  • Even pending patents can contribute a significant business value.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Digital communication France IP gateways Product sales

WebdynWorking on the Internet of Things, the company profited from a pending patent application, using it as an asset when negotiating freedom to operate for some of its business.




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Fractus (telecommunications - Spain)

Snowflake pattern precipitates a new application for antennae

  • A proactive, long-term IP strategy which is consistent with the overall corporate vision is essential.
  • A patent portfolio based on continuing R&D allows companies to focus on technology licensing and helps secure financing.
  • Litigation is a last but important resort when it comes to fighting wilful infringement.
  • The Unified Patent Court (UPC) has the potential to remove the disadvantages of the current fragmented European litigation system.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Telecommunications Spain Fractal antennae
Technology licensing

Fractus_sFractus, a producer of antennae, has built its business success on licensing its patented technology. Its robust IP portfolio and its commitment to enforcing its rights strengthen its position in licensing negotiations and safeguard further R&D investments.


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Ekspla (Optics - Lithuania)

Leveraging IP: from research tools to industry applications

  • IP strategy and management skills can help overcome the challenges presented by business model changes.
  • Patents can be used to shape a company´s technology competency profile.
  • Combining trade secrets and patents can be a cost-efficient and effective way to protect IP.
  • Joint ownership of a patent is an acceptable option if there is a clear agreement benefiting both parties.
Industry
Country
Main product
Business model
Optics Lithuania Lasers Product sales

EksplaIP protection helped Ekspla to enter the market for industrial laser applications and take part in publicly funded international projects. Ekspla engages in joint patenting with its partners and combines patents with trade secrets where appropriate.




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Orcan (electrical machinery, apparatus, energy - Germany)

Recycling waste heat to cool down the planet

  • University spin-offs need access to the relevant IP early on.
  • Patent attorneys must understand the invention and the company's business case.
  • Patents help to communicate a company's technical advantage and innovation skills.
  • Access to joint inventions without joint patent ownership can be achieved using cross-licensing agreements.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy Germany Waste heat power generators Product sales

Orcan EnegeryThis former university spin-off sells standard components for heat power generators that recycle waste heat by turning it into electricity. Early acquisition of university patents was vital in order to attract funding. Orcan co-operates with other companies, but simplifies its patent management by avoiding joint ownership.



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Skeleton (electrical machinery, apparatus, energy - Estonia)

Graphene draws on capacity for energy storage

  • It is important from the outset for IP strategy to evolve together with business strategy.
  • Providing all innovation team members with up-to-date IP knowledge and bringing in external expertise will contribute to the quality of a company's IP portfolio and improve efficiency.
  • Intelligence from patent information can be used for R&D and IP creation purposes.
Industry
Country
Main product
Business model
Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy Estonia Ultracapacitor Product sales

Skeleton_sAs a producer of advanced materials for energy storage, Skeleton knows that it needs a strong patent portfolio if it is to keep on improving its technology and expanding its market. Employees at Skeleton are cross-trained so that everyone can support the IP strategy and its alignment with the company's R&D efforts.




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Voltea (electrical machinery, apparatus, energy - The Netherlands)

Capacitance creates a watershed in purification

  • Strong patents aligned with a company's products help secure exclusivity in core markets.
  • IP strategy should evolve with company development, with IPRs contributing in different ways at different stages.
  • Patents can help establish commercial partnerships which provide additional funding, R&D support and new business networks.
  • A holistic approach to IP management means constantly developing new and advanced skills and tools.
Industry
Country
Main product
Business model
Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy The Netherlands Water deionization module Product sales, technology licensing

VolteaObtaining patents for its water-softening and deionisation technology enabled Voltea to spin out from a larger company. The patents helped it to attract investors, set up co-operation with partners, and ultimately establish itself as a leader in the field.




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Lithoz (machine tools - Austria)

3D printing opens a new chapter for ceramics

  • A university's IP strategy can have a big impact on the success of any spin-off.
  • It is good practice to have dedicated IP managers who take IP issues into account in the course of the company's day-to-day business.
  • An open climate can foster employees' creative ideas and channel them into successful projects.
  • Even minor technical improvements can meet a market need and be worth patenting.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Machine tools Austria Machines for manufacturing ceramics Product sales

Lithoz_sUniversity-owned patents created the springboard for this spin-off to enter the market for 3D-printed ceramics in industrial applications. Measures stimulating the creativity of staff and research partners yield new and patentable ideas, supporting the build-up of the company’s patent portfolio and strengthening its market position.




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Picote (machine tools, Finland)

Pipe repairs that break the rules but not the walls

  • Patents can help expand a service company's business model to include high-value products.
  • Customers and resellers can provide important information about infringement which can be used to enforce patent rights.
  • Integrating IP experts into the core team can help to streamline IP management processes and make them more efficient.
  • Customers inputs and IP landscaping can provide vital stimulus for future innovation.
Technical field
Country
Main product
Business model
Machine tools Finland Tool for cleaning and repairing pipes Product sales

Picote_sThis traditional construction and renovation contractor expanded its activities to include the development of mechanical solutions. The decision to patent these solutions meant that sales of the resulting products, which are in part easy to copy, now play a major role in the company’s success.




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About the programme

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PowerPoint presentation introducing the EPO SME case studies

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