COMMENTARY: Trends in IP - Burgeoning electric vehicle market creates innovation opportunities along the battery supply chain

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By Andrea Arndt

Despite multiple challenges to the auto industry during the pandemic, from temporarily closed or reduced capacity manufacturing plants and low vehicle inventory to a global semiconductor chip shortage, the industry continues to push forward with plans for next generation vehicles. The swift move toward electric vehicles, in particular, means opportunities for entrepreneurial companies and inventors who can devise products intended to safely store and transport Lithium-ion batteries or provide other types of product development or support along the battery supply chain. I am currently working with a Michigan-based inventor team that has filed multiple patent applications on products that enhance the safety of storing and transporting batteries. They are onto something.

I anticipate a variety of additional patents being filed in the battery space, spawned in large part by the auto industry's rush to equip vehicles with Lithium-ion batteries in lieu of the combustion engine. Much of the current patent inventory surrounding technology for safely storing and transporting batteries is outdated or not in active use, so the market is ripe for innovation.

The attraction to invest in battery-related innovation includes the need for solutions to safely store and transport large quantities of batteries, which presents opportunities in a variety of areas beyond the battery itself. Whether batteries are being transported in a shipping container by air or sea, or being delivered through a traditional delivery service, there needs to be assurances that the batteries are safely stored and pose no fire hazard during transport. And once the batteries arrive at their destination, additional safety measures must be in place while the batteries are warehoused. Depending on the battery's size and purpose, that could be in a traditional warehouse, in offsite storage, or even in a retail outlet store like Home Depot. Even if OEMs plan to manufacture their own Lithium-ion batteries, the underlying safety and storage issues are the same, whether it be in the manufacturing plant or in the vehicle itself.

My aforementioned client company is an inventor duo of a college director/engineer and a retired fireman who worked with Dickinson Wright to form their battery business, and who have patents pending for technology relating to battery storage and safe transportation of various batteries, including Lithium-ion batteries. In an event that a battery begins to overheat or start on fire, their products have systems to prevent a full-scale fire that could damage not only the battery but surrounding items and the system itself. These newbie inventors were smart to approach an attorney about intellectual property protection before they took their products to market, and others conducting research and development in the battery space should do the same.

Because patent applications need to be filed within one year of offering an invention for sale or selling it in the U.S., inventors often miss out on patent protection by introducing their product to potential users or investors before they have secured the rights to their invention. A patent application filed within the applicable time frame secures the ability for the patent owner to license and sell the technology and creates an exclusive marketplace for the patent owner.

Staying on the topic of battery storage, but moving beyond electric vehicles, it is important to consider the many other uses for batteries. For example, as large public utilities move to clean energy, batteries will increasingly be used for additional energy output as a bridge between traditional energy and renewable energy adoption. Some large U.S. cities are using ½ million to a million + watt portable batteries in off hours to supplement their energy grids. To manage the fluctuating energy demands, batteries the approximate size of a large shipping container must be moved and stored. Consider such a scenario as battery usage expands to other industries as well what ancillary products will be needed to support such an expansion?

With the future of batteries strong, so too is the need for innovation that will enhance battery accessibility, safety, storage, and transport options. For those who see opportunity in the battery business, be sure to protect your proprietary research investment or risk losing it to someone that does.
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Andrea L. Arndt is a Member Partner at Dickinson Wright PLLC and has more than fifteen years of experience developing and managing domestic and international patent, trademark, and copyright portfolios for startup, midsized, and Fortune 500 companies.