IP protection for battery, hydrogen fuel cell & energy storage technology

Chemical innovation is fundamental to clean energy storage and mobility within the global energy, consumer electronic and automotive sectors. Potential market-leading developments include hydrogen fuel cell technology and advanced materials for batteries — fundamental to delivering the economic and environmental benefits of electric vehicles. Chemistry and materials are key to battery and hydrogen sustainable solutions.

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“Martin Neilson has proven himself reliable and effective in helping us identify and protect our intellectual property. His advice is insightful, clear and focussed on client priorities.”

Sheffield Hallam University

Achieve competitive advantage with IP protection

Developments in battery technology involve innovations at the anode, cathode and electrolyte in the form of new material compositions, coatings and separators. With consideration given to costs, energy and power density, safety, lifetime, second life applications, sustainability and running/charging times, next generation materials are continually being developed for new solvent electrolyte additives, solid-state battery systems, high-conductivity carbons and organic carbonates, as well as organic and inorganic polymers for insulating and separating materials.

Hydrogen fuel is considered one of the two fundamental sustainable power sources required to meet global demand. Electrolysis is one of the most promising options for hydrogen production from renewable resources, with chemistry playing a critical role using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Our chemistry and materials IP attorenys have the experience to protect polymer electrolyte membranes within electrolysers and the technical background to secure solid IP protection for alkaline and solid oxide electrolysers.

Our chemistry and materials IP attorneys are knowledgeable about a wide range of chemical and electrochemical systems which, combined with extensive patent expertise, enables us to obtain the maximum possible legal protection for your chemistry-led solutions. We work closely with our electronics and software sector teams to provide a technically superior service.

Find out more about our specialisms and read our FAQs below.

Specialisms and FAQs

Our specialisms

Battery technology innovation

Battery technology for use in vehicles is progressing and gaining momentum, but at present still can’t match the performance of vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Chemical innovation leads the development of new materials and we have a wealth of experience in patenting across the automotive, consumer electronics (handheld electronic devices), energy storage and medical devices fields — especially for the following:

— Battery pack components including modular cases and connectors, thermal management systems, battery management systems, hardware and software.

— Cell components including anode and cathode films, slurry mixings and coatings, electrolyte materials and solutions, separators and laminate structures.

— Cell component materials including foils, anode and cathode materials, formulations for coatings and films, insulating and conducting materials for positioning between electrodes and electrolytes.

— Fundamental materials and alloys including copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, aluminium and other metal alloys and oxides, graphite and other high-conductivity carbon materials, organic and inorganic carbonates, sulphates and phosphates, ceramics, polymers (particularly as solid-state electrolytes).

Battery technology has seen intensive patent activity in recent years, with over 30,000 patent families published worldwide in 2017. Our team is perfectly placed to help you create effective patent portfolios which protect your cutting-edge technologies and developments.

Active areas of research in which we have experience include the process- and chemical-based solutions to the problem of upscaling battery technology from the laboratory to general production. Our team not only includes chemists but also electronics and software specialists, enabling us to assist you with battery management systems and optimisation software.

Patent protection is vital for new, innovative cathode- and anode-active materials, as well as electrolyte systems including solution and solid-state electrolytes. Anode and cathode intermediate foils, together with binders, solvents and additives are all areas of intensive patent activity in which we have experience.

Hydrogen fuel cell and energy storage

There are many IP opportunities for those developing hydrogen fuel cells and associated systems for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) within the automotive sector. Patent protection naturally plays an important role in securing a strong market position.

Fields of wind turbines and solar-harvesting mirrors and lenses are already generating gigawatts of electricity. This is often coupled with a significant mismatch in grid-power demand. This has given rise to innovations for a number of different energy management and storage systems that aim to allow wind and solar energy to seamlessly feed into the grid, all of which can potentially secure patent protection.

Opportunities also exist with the use of Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysers for green and sustainable chemical processes. The number of patent filings in this sector is on the rise, as companies move to develop and optimise equipment and processes.

We advise on all aspects of IP and patent protection, portfolio creation and management. We work closely with you to obtain and maintain an effective commercial position.


Can I patent my new rechargeable lithium-ion battery cell?

When assessing patentability, it’s often better to look at the means to achieve an effect. Here, the effect is the increased energy density and dissociated advantages with operational lifetime. The task is then to identify those components or features of your new cell that are fundamental to this result. This could be a change in the electrolyte, electrodes, coatings, ions, additives or species within the electrolyte that contribute to improved charge transfer. Also, other conducting or insulating components within the cells or even the battery management system software/hardware could be the focus of a patent.

If you’ve developed one or more of these types of aspects, it would be wise to consider obtaining multiple patents that focus on the different specific concepts.

We’ve developed a new electrolyte for a battery cell in collaboration with another company. How can we protect ourselves?

To obtain a valid patent, the technology must be new and inventive. If there’s at least one component or aspect of the electrolyte that enables this low-temperature operation, the patent should be focused to this specific development/modification. The difference between existing electrolytes doesn’t need to be significant with regard to component parts and could be as ‘minor’ as a different concentration of known components that provide this improved performance.

As you’ve collaborated with third parties during development, this raises the question of who owns any patent rights. If the development has been completely collaborative, with technical contributions from both sides, there’s a strong chance that the IP is jointly owned. However, collaborations are often covered by agreements that include IP ownership clauses. If there was no such written agreement, there are many options for resolving this. For example, you may agree to commercialise as joint owners, one party may sell all rights to the other or you may agree to license or sell your part of the rights to other third parties. However, it’s always important to define and secure your commercial positions and the best way to achieve this is by obtaining one or more patents.

Our new battery is very different to current technology. What's the best way to protect this?

To assess your options, firstly compare your new battery with existing technology and identify all the new components and features. If you’ve developed ten new aspects to the battery, each one could form the basis of a separate patent. Filing multiple applications is naturally more expensive and often there’s a balance to be found between maximising protection and keeping costs low.

If your developments have massive commercial potential, it would be wise to make the most of your position by filing multiple patent applications. One application could focus on the battery pack components, while others could be directed towards the cell components (e.g. cathode or anode films, electrolyte solutions, cell component materials such as metallic or polymer films or even the cell materials themselves that form the electrolyte, ionic additives or the electrode and cathode).

A strong patent would generally include one or more technical effects associated with each new feature. For example, a new metallic film or coating applied to an anode that provides better charge transfer and extends cell operational lifetimes would be a helpful guide that strong patent rights could be available.

We’ve used an off-the-shelf battery cell from a well-known supplier within a new electric vehicle (EV) drive chain that we’ve developed. Can we patent this?

Today, patents are rarely granted for completely new devices, apparatuses, methods and systems, and are more likely to focus on improvements to existing technologies. Here, the patent should probably be focused on an EV drive chain that would list the essential and fundamental components, one of which would be the ‘off-the-shelf battery cell’. It’s important that the collection/assembly of these components is new.

It would also be wise to identify whether the battery cell that you’re using has patent rights associated with it. This would simply mean that you couldn’t source the cell independently of an authorised supplier. However, once the patent for the battery cell expires (after the 20-year term), this would open the market for you to access different suppliers and potentially lower your fixed costs, increasing profits.

We’ve designed a new battery management system for an existing battery cell array for one of our customers, who will launch the new system with a car manufacturer. We expect this will be very successful. How can we maximise the return for our effort and hard work?

It’s important to identify whether the development work you undertook for your customer was under a supply agreement that included IP ownership clauses and development. For example, if a supply agreement includes a clause that would mean any developments to the technology are owned by your customer, it would potentially be more difficult for you to maximise your commercial position, as patent rights may be owned by your customer, or you could be joint owners.

If there are no IP ownership clauses or supply agreements, filing a patent for your development would be wise. To obtain a valid patent, you must apply before the technology is placed in the public domain. If your customer has already disclosed the concept publicly, it may be too late.

If you successfully obtain a patent, your customer and the car manufacturer would be unable to commercially exploit your new battery management system independently of you. The likely outcome would be to license the technology to them in exchange for a royalty. The value of this could be significant if the system is integral to the commercially successful system/car.

We’ve modified an existing battery cell cooling system as part of battery management hardware. Is this worth patenting?

Any improvement to existing technology can be patentable, providing that it’s new and inventive. One way to assess inventiveness is to identify a technical effect or solution to a particular problem. For example, if your modification provides better cooling performance, this would be a good guide that strong patent protection should be possible. It’s important to identify the features, aspects or components that provide improved performance and focus the patent on these (or the new combination of known features).

We’ve found that an existing metal coating used for preventing corrosion in another industry is very effective as a battery electrode coating. Could we patent our discovery?

It’s possible to obtain valid patent protection for a new use of an existing product, device or component. A part of the assessment involves looking at how different the earlier original use is, relative to the new use. Here, corrosion resistance in another industry is arguably very different to promoting electrical charge transfer between component parts within a battery cell.

The patent could be focused to the battery cell incorporating the new coating, the method of operation and/or to the new use of this particular coating (metal layer) as a component part within a battery cell.

We’ve been developing a hydrogen fuel cell and have just discovered that by controlling the operation of an existing proton exchange membrane (PEM) cell, we can generate much more electricity. Could we secure patent protection for this?

Patents can be obtained for new devices, apparatuses, methods of manufacture, methods of operation and new uses of existing products and components. Here, it may be possible to obtain a patent for the method of operating a PEM cell if there’s at least one new or different step within the operation.

This could be the way in which the hydrogen or oxygen flows through the cell, the flow velocity, direction or the amount of surface-area contact with the anode or cathode. Also, the means by which the cell temperature is regulated could be part of the control parameters and operational steps.

Importantly, you must start the patent application process before publicly disclosing your new PEM control system. This would include discussions with any customers, suppliers or other third parties.

We designed a set of new electrolysers some years ago. These have been running with a handful of solar and wind turbine fields for hydrogen gas storage. Is it too late to patent our technology?

Firstly, consider whether the installation and use on-site represents a public disclosure. If access to the sites is restricted and all personnel who’ve installed and maintained the electrolysers are company personnel under contractual confidentiality agreements, then there’s a chance that the use is still not in the public domain, meaning that patent protection is possible.

You must then identify at least one new feature or aspect with the electrolyser which is different from existing devices in the public domain. This could be new components or physical aspects of the electrolysis device including the anode, cathode, coatings, cell housing, electrolyte or additives. Also, it may be possible to patent aspects of the electrolysis process if there’s at least one new step or a different step involved as the water is split into hydrogen and oxygen via the supply of electricity. It may also be possible to protect aspects of the use of the electrolyser for storing electrical energy as hydrogen gas as part of green power generation and storage.

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