Sunday April 26th, 2020

“Digitalisation and computer technology are enablers for green innovations”

Zacco joins the virtual celebrations of the 2020’s World IP Day on April 26! This year’s focus lies on green innovation. Zacco’s Henrik Aurell and Tomas Wässingbo both have many years of experience as patent consultants working with GreenTech/CleanTech and related inventions, so we invited them to a joint interview and asked them to share their ideas. The interview was conducted in the beginning of April.

 

How would you define a green innovation?

Tomas: – To me, a green innovation should not leave a negative footprint on the environment. It is not enough to turn a product less harmful, the innovation should add more than that for being sustainable, a real change in the way an industry works today looking forward. E.g. in the automotive industry, it should go beyond just changing to a more renewable fuel, but also utilizing the vehicle in a more efficient way.

Henrik: – In the past, you called it an environmentally friendly invention when you created a new type of fuel or something within Biotech. But now, when I come into contact with GreenTech, it means that you involve new technologies like digitalisation to develop new products in a way that adds environmental benefits.

Tomas: – I agree, you can actually see the positive impact information and data generation have in this context. If you can enhance information, you will be able to optimize e.g. the logistics, the production planning or a production method and improve their footprint and energy consumption.

Does the patent system foster sustainable innovation? In what way?

Tomas: – In my opinion, the system works and fosters innovation in general and this includes sustainable innovation. It is a field that you have to be innovative in, it is “hot” and the system encourages companies to make fast developments.

Henrik: – The demand for sustainable inventions arises more from the markets and the consumers, not from the system.

Tomas: – Some years ago, sustainability was a positive word, and you had someone in the company responsible for it and you could use it to position your company or product. Today, it is a necessity and one would require sustainability in a product or service that a company wants to market. And this requirement is handed down the supply chain to your suppliers. Also, the whole lifecycle has become more important and how to use and re-use material in terms of a circular economy approach.

Henrik: – On a daily basis, sustainability plays a bigger part in my practice now than it did before. We actually use sustainability as an argument when drafting patents. Five years ago, we did not mention these kinds of benefits in the claims. Today, you can use them as an argument for the inventive step and thus patentability.

Tomas: – That is right; it is no longer only about cost- and time-cutting effects, you will find a common understanding of the value of environmental arguments even at the PTOs and their examiners.

Henrik: – If you e.g. argue that some material is easier to recycle or that the energy consumption is lower, that is a much stronger point nowadays than it was before.

Have you noticed any trends during the last two years, is there for example a “Greta effect” on green innovation?

Henrik: – I can see a general trend towards more sustainability that has been notable for a number of years now, so I am not sure you could call it a “Greta effect”.

Tomas: – I agree that this trend is obvious. In this very moment I work on a patent application which is purely focusing on sustainability. Sorry, I can’t disclose it, but here the sustainability effect is not just a side effect but rather the focus of the invention.

In your opinion, in what technical fields and what type of company can you find the majority of green inventions?

Henrik: – There have always been certain companies with a business focusing on green technology. But the new thing here is that green innovation now also applies to traditional industries. They use green innovation to become more sustainable and this is no longer restricted to a niche.

Tomas: – And it ensures you stay competitive! It is a necessity if you want to stay in the market.

Do you also come across sustainable inventions within the fastest-growing patenting fields: digital communication, computer technology and transport?

Henrik: – Definitely. You use these technologies and combine them and the result is green innovations.

Tomas: – I would say, digital communication and computer technology are enablers to make traditional industries more sustainable. Digitalisation as such enters new industries with positive outcome for their environmental footprint. With the right information, you can transform your current business and service offerings and make them greener.

Henrik: – I really like to call them enablers. That is completely accurate in my opinion.

How will the outbreak and aftermath of the corona crisis affect the intensity of green innovation activities?

Henrik: – We will see more advanced technology and better tools for digital meetings and AR meetings. The green effect of this is of course less travelling. At Zacco, the majority of staff has seamlessly switched to working remotely; we have a reliable infrastructure that supports e.g. online meetings. As this also is in line with our environmental policy, I think we will try to keep and develop our behaviour, our tools and processes in that direction. I also think that the wish and demand for being in control of your supply chain might increase and if this results in relocating production steps, they need to comply with the local requirements and environmental laws. That is my very personal view on how vulnerable supply chains turned out to be and the consequences.

Tomas: – Many people who have been reluctant to use digital tools are forced to do so and for the majority that has proven to work well. Maybe they got new “greener” habits. The corona crisis has brought short-term positive effects on e.g. air pollution, but we want that together with a functioning economy. I think you can see a lot of creativity arising from the severely changed situation. It is everywhere: Hackathons initiated to solve the crisis, advanced AR shopping tours, online dinners with friends and family. It will be interesting to look back on this period later and assess its importance for digitalisation and green innovation.

Thank you for sharing these insights into your practice!

If you have any questions on the topic, please reach out to Henrik or Tomas.

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