Corcel IP founder Patrick Van Berlo came to James & Wells Intellectual Property with an energy efficient invention.
He wanted to protect and commercialise the technology in New Zealand and Australia, but felt he didn't have the resources or inclination to set up subsidiaries in other foreign countries.
James & Wells partner Ceri Wells explained to Patrick the concept of licensing intellectual property. Licensing involves granting rights to exploit technology protected by intellectual property in return for a royalty payment, usually a small percentage of the sale of protected products. Patrick quickly realised that the value of the right to license his technology was significant. and that ultimately he may earn more from royalties than he would earn from operating the technology in New Zealand and Australia - and with less risk.
The first challenge resolved by James & Wells was determining what elemens of the technology to protect. Provisional patent applications were filed covering the overall process Corcel uses to make corrugated cardboard without any heat. Corrugated cardboard is typically made in production lines that are up to 100 metres long, and involve steam boilers to heat starch based adhesives to set quickly enough to hold the paper corrugations in place. Corcel's technology uses no heat, which is revolutionary for the industry. It allows far less energy per square metre of cardboard, no specialised boiler engineers are required to run the steam boilers, and it is the size of a small car.
In addition to protecting the overall process, there were some clever solutions to practical problems involved in the process, including slitting cardboard very thinly in straight lines. Normal cutting blades tended to cause "tracking" making straight lines difficult, and also tended to crush the corrugations. Patrick designed special cutting blades, which James & Wells protected for cutting cardboard but also for cutting any other medium which may have similar issues.
By protecting individual components of the machine, as well as the overall process, James & Wells ring-fenced the technology, making it hard for competitors to design around the patents.
In addition to protecting the process and individual components, James & Wells covered the unique features of the end products made from the coreboard. For example, Corcel's fruit boxes will be strong enough to permit additional vertical ventilation slits, which allow boxes in the middle of a palletised load to be cooled uniformly in a cool store prior to shipment. This reduces the amount of fruit lost to over-ripening during transit.
In addition to patents, the appearance of certain products were protected using registered designs, and the CORCEL brand was protected using trade mark registrations.
The end result is a significant portfolio of rights that can be commercialised by Patrick's company in New Zealand and Australia and licensed out to international packaging companies, in return for a passive royalty income.
This article first appeared in Element Magazine and was written by Simon Rowell, a partner in the Auckland office.
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James and Wells is the 2010 New Zealand Law Awards winner of the Intellectual Property Law Award for excellence in client service.