New materials, chemical production and waste management

The design of new molecules, formulations and manufacturing methods means there are a whole host of IP opportunities for innovators in the new materials sector. We advise on all aspects of chemical production with a focus on protecting sustainable materials delivered to a wide-range of end markets. Particular examples include the production of sustainable and bio-based, low-carbon raw materials used within detergents, cleaners, agricultural products, coatings and cosmetics; and advanced composite materials such as graphene to support large industrial sectors such as aerospace, automotive and construction.

Client Testimonial
“We're always very pleased with UDL, having worked with Martin Neilson for many years. Martin has been very effective in helping us protect our biodegradable polymer blend worldwide. He's a trusted adviser and always responds punctually to any queries. A great service all-round and highly recommended.”

CEO and Technical Director, Floreon: Transforming Packaging Limited

Our experience is vast

Our expertise in graphene is substantial — and with a market predicted to be more than $390 million by 2024, we’re set to see a significant amount of patent activity.

Chemical innovations play a critical role in waste management including recycling, the design of degradable and compostable materials, and efficient manufacturing processes for raw materials, intermediates and end products. Further green chemical developments that are being protected by patent applications include processes for minimising volumes of reagents and solvents, energy consumption and the use of toxic, harmful and environmentally-damaging chemicals.

Our team works across all levels of the manufacturing supply-chain in which raw materials such as biosources, ores and salts are used to create intermediates like detergents, toiletries, paints, coatings, plastics, resins, fibres and composites. These might be for use in a variety of different end-markets such as household and personal care, agrochemicals and fertilisers, food and drink, paper and pulp, life sciences, automotive, aerospace and construction.

Read our FAQs below.

FAQs

Can we patent our new recycling process for plastic bottles?

Probably, yes — to obtain a patent, at least one part of the recycling process would need to be new. This could be an additional step to the process, a different step within an existing recycling scheme or a completely different route to recycling. For example, if your new process uses a different pre- or post-chemical treatment to facilitate recycling, involves different heating and cooling stages or cycles, uses different pressure regimes or involves the use of new degrading agents or combustion agents, your new innovation could well be patentable. Protection may also be possible if your new process is more energy efficient.

Our company has found a new second-life use for conventional mobile phone batteries. Can we protect ourselves?

Yes. However, it would be important to assess what other second-life uses are already employed. If your new use is sufficiently different to prior uses, it may be possible to obtain a patent. When considering patent protection, it’s important to start the application process before publicly disclosing your new idea.

We’ve been working with a local supplier to develop a new biodegradable plastic. It wants to launch the product next week. Is patent protection recommended?

Firstly, the situation should be assessed before the new plastic material is released into the public domain. As part of the assessment, it’s important to identify who owns any potential patent rights to the degradable material. Relevant is the existence of any collaboration agreements between you and your supplier. These usually include an IP ownership clause that establishes who owns any arising IP.

One outcome could be that the potential patent rights are jointly-owned by you both. This isn’t necessarily a problem and one or both of you could still proceed with patent protection. However, it’s important for you to reach an agreement on how best to proceed.

A patent can be filed in joint names. Alternatively, your supplier may decide to transfer all rights to you at the start, during or even after the patent application process. The important point is that you secure your commercial position by filing. As part of any assessment of ownership, it’s common to evaluate those individuals/employees that have made an active contribution to the invention. This is often fundamental and decisive for IP/patent ownership.

Some years ago, we designed a new manufacturing process for a well-known chemical solvent. We’re now thinking of selling the business. Is it too late to secure a patent?

If you’ve managed to keep your manufacturing process confidential internally, it may be possible to obtain a patent for it even at this stage. Any patent for a method of manufacture or process would need to include at least one new step. Even if this was developed and implemented years ago it could still be regarded as ‘new’ at the time of filing.

We have a new method of making a certain type of plastic, based on PVA used for food packaging. Is there any point in patenting it? How can we tell whether a competitor’s using our new process even if we obtain a patent?

Obtaining a patent for a new product or process generally is helpful to strengthen your commercial and competitive position. In a simplified situation, a patent allows you to stop all competitors from using your process. This may be more energy efficient (and therefore profitable), use more sustainable raw materials or is in other ways more environmentally-friendly. A patent is a way of maximising your assets by legally defining the process or product. The value in a patent can take many forms — it could serve as a deterrent to your competitors who may be unwilling to knowingly adopt an infringing process. Knowingly infringing patent rights does affect due diligent assessment and company valuations. Most company shareholders don’t like to be in a liability position — it’s an uneasy board decision to knowingly infringe patent rights.

It can be difficult to ‘police’ a patented process. One strategy could be to make the industry aware of your process (for example, via your website and marketing materials) and to actively associate your patent with this process. Again, competitors would be unwise to knowingly infringe a process patent, as potential damages would accrue over years.

We’re using a well-known plant variety as part of a system for waste water and sewage treatment. We want to discuss this with large utility companies. How should we go about this?

It may be possible to obtain patent protection for your waste water/effluent treatment. The question would be: is it known to use this particular plant variety for this specific purpose? If the plant hasn’t been used before in this type of water/waste treatment, it should be possible to obtain a patent for the system (for example, a reed bed incorporating this type of plant and a method of waste water or sewage treatment using the plant). You‘d then be in a position to control the manufacture, assembly and installation of these systems and all waste water and sewage treatment processes via your patent.

It would be important to start the patent application process before you discuss your concept with utilities companies. The reason for this is that patents must be filed for ‘new’ technologies and this could be considered a public disclosure. In addition, there’s the risk that a third-party could inadvertently disclose your concept without your consent or even exploit your concept without any commercial benefit to you.

Filing a patent preserves your position and all options going forward. You could then approach different companies to negotiate the best deal without risk of them running away with your idea. A patent is a powerful negotiating tool as a company asset and can be sold or even licensed to multiple companies — with all royalties paid out to you.

Case studies

Case Study

Colour Tone Masterbatch Ltd

A masterstroke in plastic recycling

We secured global patent protection for a new black colourant for plastics which will enable more to be recycled using infrared sorting technology.

Case Study

SIG

Safer, more efficient external cladding

Our technical knowledge of the science behind the invention helped us to secure patent protection for SIG’s cladding.

Case Study

Floreon

A solution to the world’s packaging problem?

Plastic pollution is a major problem. Floreon might just have the solution. We secured European protection for its innovative degradable plastics.

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Meet our team

Dr Garry Stuttard

Partner - Leeds

Mark Green

Partner - London

Dr Martin Neilson

Partner - Leeds

Tom Baker

Partner - Cardiff

Dr Clair Curran

Senior Patent Attorney - Leeds

Dr Philip Groves

Patent Assistant - Leeds

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+44 330 107 5077

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