In this guest Q&A article, Powervault (PV), interviewed by their Patent Attorneys, Mathys & Squire (M&S), discuss their journey and the value of intellectual property (IP) for high growth businesses.
Powervault manufactures and sells home electricity storage systems which can charge up with low cost electricity from solar panels, or the grid and use that electricity to reduce people’s electricity bills. Powervault has raised multiple rounds of funding via Crowdcube since 2014, including securing one of the fastest cleantech crowdfunding rounds ever – closing its first round in just eight hours. Mathys & Squire have been helping Powervault to secure patent protection since 2013.
M&S: It is sometimes said that younger tech businesses succeed because they can be more agile than larger companies who might recognise the need to innovate but see technical innovation as a risk. Do you think that’s true in your experience?
PV: Agility is often important in the very beginning stages of a market when it is not always clear what the value proposition is or how customers will react to a product. We often have the flexibility to move quickly and to adjust our plans to deal with changing market conditions. While larger companies may not have the same agility as earlier stage companies they do have a number of things that smaller companies don’t – for example, they usually have more resources and often a strong brand behind them. A more process driven approach is useful as a company grows from start-up to established phase. Larger organisations quite often acquire earlier stage technology companies who have established a new product or technology.
M&S: How should technology innovators, and their early stage investors, put themselves on this path?
PV: I think there are a couple of different ways but they ultimately both centre around finding commercial value from technical innovation. One of our venture capital investors once said to me that he thought start-up organisations fall into broadly two categories: the first category are those that do relatively early stage pure technology research to develop technologies and then seek to commercialise by finding a number of different applications for those technologies. Alternatively innovators can start with the customer problem and work back towards a solution using innovation as a tool to create technology which will be important to solving the specific customer problem. Powervault has always put the customer first, starting with their problem – of not being able to use low cost electricity because it is generated at the wrong time – and working out innovative ways to solve this problem.
M&S: Why is protecting your intellectual property important?
PV: Our intellectual property (IP) is a key asset and it exists in all sorts of forms. This includes the many years of hard won knowledge and the skills that our engineers have developed as we brought our product to market and in more tangible forms such as the copyright in our firmware and software running our cloud-based systems. Registering our IP allows us to demonstrate its tangible value to investors and allows us to protect the intellectual property from competitors.
M&S: What IP protection does Powervault have in place?
PV: Mathys & Squire collaborated with us to work out a sensible patent filing strategy in the early stages of the business. This has led to Powervault obtaining two granted GB patents, with additional patent applications pending in Europe and the USA. Powervault also has a registered trademark and is continually growing its intellectual property portfolio. Mathys’ attorneys have considerable technical expertise as they all have science degrees or PhDs. They were able to sit with our engineers to delve into the finer details of what set our product apart from the competition and drove value in our business. By understanding not only the technology but also the commercial aspects of our business, Mathys helped Powervault to target and protect the technology with the greatest commercial relevance. This approach has allowed us to demonstrate greater value from our IP as our business grows.
M&S: Why did Powervault decide to protect their IP with patents?
PV: Not only did we want to be able to point to something and be able to say “that’s ours”, but we also wanted to be able to reassure investors that the technical ideas behind the business were protected. Having granted patents adds weight to this credibility as it means that an outside body (i.e. the UK Intellectual Property Office) has examined these ideas and considers them to be novel and inventive. Patents also provide a solid basis for investment and demonstrable control over the technology which will generate future revenue. In applying for patent protection, the patent searching process also provided insight into competitor activities and existing systems to allow us to shape our product offering. Finally, in a field such as ours, a lot of the technology exists in both hardware and firmware or software. Having patent protection in place can increase confidence that know-how and source code can be shared safely with partners as part of any future licensing deal because the underlying functionality in this ‘softer’, unregistered IP, is protected.
M&S: Were Crowdcube interested in your IP?
PV: Absolutely. Before each crowdfunding exercise, Crowdcube thoroughly reviewed all aspects of our business including the status of our intellectual property portfolio.
M&S: Why did Powervault choose to work with Mathys & Squire?
PV: We picked Mathys & Squire because of their excellent reputation and history. They are one of the larger patent attorney firms. Mathys provide pragmatic advice and transparent approach to costs. We’ve really enjoyed working with them too, because they understand our technology and have been able to offer useful advice which has helped to get our first patents granted.
Authors: Mathys & Squire LLP, Joe Warren, Powervault Limited
Mathys & Squire is a Tier 1 Legal 500 firm, and their teams of attorneys have considerable experience representing and advising businesses develop an IP strategy that aligns with and adds value to their business plans. Sean Leach has been personally recognised by Legal 500 for knowledge of patent portfolio management and advice. Annabel Hector is experienced in litigation and has successfully defended high profile opposition proceedings at the EPO with corresponding infringement and validity proceedings at the UK High Court. Andrew White has particular experience managing patent portfolios and has been commended by clients for his proactive approach and legal and technical knowledge.
Powervault’s intelligent home battery system enables users to live smarter, by optimising their ability to store and use freely-generated solar energy and off-peak electricity from the grid, whenever they need it. Founded in 2012 with a mission to design and manufacture the UK’s most practical and affordable home energy storage system, Powervault turns homeowners into energy providers, makes smart tariffs smarter, cuts electricity bills by up to 35%, and makes homes more sustainable and self-sufficient. Joe Warren has spent ten years working in the smart grid sector having previously worked for Open Energi, helping to bring their smart grid dynamic demand product from concept to commercial reality, creating a new market in which Open Energi arrived first. Joe joined Powervault in 2014 as Managing Director.