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Current IPR issues and articles by an International expert


Game changer-Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries

R Saha


Storage of renewable energy like solar and wind in the form of electric energy, for long duration say, 24 hours, is both essential and crucial for fullest and effective utilization of renewable energy on 24X7 basis through-out a year. Such systems are reasonably independent of weather, climate and other factors which may reduce the availability of renewable energy. Vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB) are large scale chargeable stationery battery systems and are a competitive alternative to the present lead acid and lithium ion batteries. VRFB are capable of providing much better solution for on demand power supply and stable frequency.

Vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB)   

VRFB seems to have many advantages over the lithium ion batteries which are being used for many applications including electrical vehicles. VRFB has not reached a maturity level for generating hundreds of mega-watt and hence will have many teething problems. At present lithium-ion dominates the electrochemical energy storage applications. There are other non-vanadium RFB under development but have not reached the level of VRFB. In fact, lithium ion or other systems including other RFB systems don’t appear to be competitors to VRFB when it comes to large power requirement. The literature on the subject suggests that VRFB will have a life 20 to 25 years as compared to about 10 years for lithium ion battery. It is easily recyclable, least non-polluting, capable of large-scale generation (grid level), charging and discharging over 10,000 times, excellent charge retention (up to 1 year) and many others.  Large scale storage may have some strategic applications such as battery backup for submarines. Maximum advantage will be harnessed through a vanadium-vanadium system which was first developed at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Global patent scenario and leadership

The best indicator for VRFB technology leadership at this stage would be the patent holdings by companies and institutions in various countries. As this technology may be key to the large-scale utilization of renewable energy in time to come, one can expect severe competition and even technology denials in time to come. A global patent analysis of various aspects of the VRFB technology reveal some interesting facts. These can help in formulating long term energy strategies and technology options through collaborations.

In all 411 patent applications were published in various jurisdictions (countries) from January 2008 to December 2017 according to Patentscope, the patent database of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It shows that most patent filings took place in China (202), South Korea (54), USA (29), Japan (26), EPO (21), Australia (13) and India (10). All filings in India were by foreigners indicating limited and non-patent driven R&D. The filings increased almost by 75% from 2015 to 2017 from 66 applications in 2015 to 116 in 2017.  

VRFB represents a complex technology. The important specific areas are electrolytes, electrodes, membranes, temperature control within the cell, energy efficiency, stability of the cell and the battery, ease and effectiveness of charging and discharging, additives and impurities, voltage efficiency, in situ monitoring, integrity of stacks and many other parameters. The four most important areas of R&D in the VRFB system are electrolytes, electrodes   energy management systems and membranes with 280, 219, 203 and 199 applications respectively.   The complexity of the technology increases manifold with large scale systems.

Major Players

The top ten players, who have five or more patent applications are Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Science, China, Shaanxi Wuzhan Mining Co., China, Sumitomo Electric Industries, Japan, ,Panzhihua Iron and Steel Research Institute, China, Battelle Memorial Institute, USA, Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Science, China, Wuhan Nari Ltd., State Grid Electrical Power Institute, China, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA under US Department of Energy, USA , Dalian Rongke Power Co. Ltd, China and Tsingua University, China.

Major filers in India

Presently, Japanese, Korean and US companies and institutes have filed applications in India. Chinese institutions and companies have not shown interest.  It is evident that not enough research is happening in India which could lead to patentable inventions. It is however, known that small VRFB systems are being imported in India. It is reported that 10kW systems are at the R&D stage in India.

Availability Of vanadium

India will have to depend for its vanadium supply on China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil like it depends for lithium and cobalt supply on imports.  At least a third of the cost of a vanadium flow battery is vanadium pentoxide which makes up the liquid electrolyte which may have to be imported directly. Making raw material available in the country is likely to be challenge and to meet it successfully we need to have a long term strategy.

China’s leadership

China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a State planner, has called for lots of 100 megawatt VRFB to be built to help the fluctuations of solar and wind energy. A 200 megawatt and 800 MWH system is being built in north-eastern China (Liaoning Province) which is twice the size of lithium ion battery installed in Australia by Tesla. China’s 13th five-year plan for power sector development aims to revitalize the electrical infrastructure to allow integration of over 300GW of wind and solar power by 2020. It cites energy storage as a key technology and specifically recommends the scaling of VRFB. We don’t seem to have such large-scale plans in India.


Setting up of large solar energy and wind energy farms provide only a partial solution to the energy needs in absence of a long duration and an efficient storage system. This usually leads to a percentage of energy going unused. Large stationery energy storage systems would ensure seamless and more efficient utilization of solar and wind energy. There is an urgent need to undertake large scale patent driven and technology-based R&D in order to be competitive and able to meet national energy demands.   A strong patent portfolio would go a long way in developing collaborations in R&D and useable technologies with other countries and industries to counter challenges posed by climate change and global warming. An affirmative action is called for defeating the future.





Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for children

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are about creations of mind which are new and original in the global context and are granted to creators of intellectual property by the government. Creativity and inventiveness have been the central source and theme of human existence and development; and most things that are interesting, important, and useful for humans are the result of human creativity. Our ancestors travelled millions of years, overcoming unimaginable difficulties through grit, hard work, unceasing perseverance and inventive skills, to come to the stage where we find ourselves today. Otherwise how do you explain the transition from staying on trees, to the fabricating of specialized tools and dwelling units some 40 to 50 thousand years back, to practicing agriculture some 10000 years back, to travelling to other planets in the 21st century. Inventions of alphabets, zero, wheel, microscope, antibiotics, transistors and many others have helped the humans to move further which no other animal is capable of doing. Awarding right of ownership for creations and inventions help the society in advancing further for better living, health, entertainment etc. These rights in many ways are similar to the rights awarded by the government for your land, house, motor cycle, factory, hotels and so on. Whenever we think of property we think about ownership and whenever we think about ownership we know that the property cannot be used without your consent or permission. It may be noted that IPR are exclusive rights and awarded based on certain laws and these rights are available for a fixed period of time. After the expiry of this protection time anyone can use the intellectual property (IP) without the permission of the owner. In our day to day life we come across different types of IP such as new products, medicines, books, paintings, songs, dresses, motor bikes, interesting logo or slogans for companies, laptops, varieties of flowers, vegetables and fruits. Laws have been made to protect different types of IP in different ways through different forms of IPR which are given below:

Patents are linked new, non-obvious and useful inventions which may relate to products, processes, compositions etc. Patents are awarded for a period of 20 years. Copyrights are given for original literary (books, articles), artistic (paintings, photographs, drawings), musical works, computer software etc. and for literary work, for example, the rights last for a long period and that is author’s life from the date of creation of the work plus sixty years. Industrial design rights are in respect of articles having unique shapes, colour combinations, geometric patterns and ornamentation. Furniture, dresses, tumblers, textile designs, pottery, jewellery and innumerable products will qualify for design rights provided the features are new and original. Design rights are available for a period of 15 years. Trademarks are names, logos, pictures, numbers, drawings or their combinations used by companies so that customers could identify products with companies and make choices at the time of buying products. TATA, SBI, Coca Cola, McDonald and Microsoft are well known trademarks. Many a times companies may decide to use a trademark for a product such as Xerox, Lifebuoy, nylon. Trademarks can last for ever, provided the owner renews them in a block of ten years. Protection of IC lay-out designs relates to mask designs of integrated circuits and is valid for ten years. Protection of new plants varieties is in respect of new varieties of known plants. For example if someone develops a spotted variety of rose then this variety can be protected for a period of ten years. Protection of undisclosed information deals with trade secrets and confidential information like data, reports, drawings, design calculations and so on. The term of protection could be infinite provided the owner can maintain the secrecy. However, if someone else generates say, identical drawings on his own, it would not be considered infringement of the previous drawings held as trade secret by the earlier person. Coca Cola still maintains some aspect of the formulation as trade secret. Protection of geographical indications (GI) is given to names associated for a long time with products originating from a specific geographical location and reputed for their special characteristics like Darjeeling tea, Chanderi sari etc. This protection can also last for ever, provided it is renewed every ten years. It must be remembered that GI is associated with the product and there is no ownership by individuals.

IPR have very strong tie up with trade and commerce both in the domestic and international contexts. IPR stand you in good stead in the face of competition through exclusive rights in terms of patents copyrights, designs, trademarks or combination of these rights. IPR can also be used to obtain loans, license your IP to others, enter into joint ventures, find business partners and consolidate research and development to create new IP. As a result, the R&D becomes more focussed and directed towards creating IP having practical utility. It must be remembered that every IP generated may not be successful in the market because the success depends on many other factors as well. However, if all other factors are the same, IPR will certainly provide a distinct advantage and lead over other products. It is reported that to introduce a new drug into the market a company may work on many molecules say, few thousands, before arriving at one which may succeed in the market. It may take about 12-15 years to introduce a new drug in the market and cost the company about Rs. 2000- 5000 crores. Therefore, it can be seen that the journey from invention to a successful product is long and may require substantial funds.

The process of invention starts with identifying a problem quite accurately and precisely. An extensive research may be needed to find out alternative solutions which are really new and non-obvious by studying literature and products available in the market. The solutions cannot be in terms of ideas alone but, a practical way of implementing the ideas must be evolved. Do remember that an invention has to be globally new for grant of a patent along with traits of non-obviousness and utility. After determining novelty, non-obviousness and utility of the invention, an application has to be submitted to the Patent Office along with the description of the invention for the grant of a patent for the invention. As mentioned, IPR are awarded by the government and as an inventor one has to request the government (Central). Prescribed fee has to be paid for obtaining IPR and often it may be advisable to take the help of a patent attorney (lawyer) for this purpose.

Age is no bar for obtaining patents or design rights or copyrights. A young child can have copyrights over his original notes and paintings and other creative work. The youngest person to be granted a patent is a 4 year old girl from USA for an aid for grasping round knobs. In 1850 Margaret Knight, at the age of 12, invented a stop motion device to quickly stop powered textile loom in case something went wrong. She was granted a US patent. It must be kept in mind that before applying for a patent, the invention should not be made public through publishing or talks or exhibiting it in public. Maintaining records of all that has gone behind the invention including failures must be preserved in an organized manner. Do remember that while you would like to protect your IPR, you must honour the IPR of others and not steal them.

Creating something new which is not known to the world is an activity successfully undertaken by people who are brave, who can ask questions, who can admit their mistakes, who can work hard on one problem, who don’t easily give up, who are prepared to take risks and who can take failures in stride. Inventors have keen eyes and understanding to observe, analyse and integrate. They see a problem and often find a solution which many others are not able to do. Teachers must encourage students to ask questions and not dissuade them. Questions cannot be stupid or meaningless because they show a sense of inquisitiveness which is the founding block for inventions. Our inability to answer questions should not dampen the inventive spirit of students. The growth of a nation and the society is dependent on innovations, be it in the area of science, music, literature, games, handicraft, medicine, engineering or any other area. Young minds are the source of innovations and creativity and they need an encouraging environment which is open and free to thinking and provides opportunities for experimentation. Children will then become innovators and change agents leading the society and the country to a bright and prosperous future.

Intellectual Property Rights and Competition Law

The relationship between IP rights and competition has been a subject matter of debate in many countries and has undergone changes from time to time. Major changes have taken place since the WTO came into existence; some countries promulgated new laws and some made changes in their existing laws. The question which very often occupies the minds of people is - “Are IP rights anti-competitive by its very design?” The answer to this question is not a universal truth and therefore, varies from country to country and real life situations attracting attention to this question.

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Standards and patents

If your company plans to manufacture products or deliver services that are required to comply with certain standards it is advisable to become familiar with the IPR or patent policy of the relevant standard making body. Any company, large or small, that plans to adopt a standard for its products, processes or services, should first and foremost verify if there is/are any “essential” patent(s) for which a license is required and the broad terms and conditions under which the license will be granted to your company. If there is a need to obtain a license from a holder of an essential patent to meet the industry standards, it will generally be necessary to contact the patent holder directly and sign a license agreement under negotiated terms and conditions that are acceptable to both the parties. Ignorance of this knowledge may put your company in a difficult situation because you may be sued for infringement of a patent while your company thought that it was following a standard! Extending it further would also imply that you have to choose your vendors very carefully.
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Harmonization of patent systems - A global challenge

The new IPR environment has become very dynamic and complex. The harmonization of IPR systems and the success of a multilateral system depends heavily on formulation and practicing of common rules. One of the major challenges faced by companies from developing countries is the understanding of the laws of different countries, and also using them correctly to their own advantage.

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