The summer heat in Tokyo has long been a concern for the organisers of this year’s Olympics and Paralympics. During summer months the city experiences scorching temperatures, which combined with high humidity, pose a serious health risk to athletes and everyone involved in the games.
In response to these challenges the organisers have turned in part to the application of cutting edge materials, designed to mitigate the sweltering temperatures without the environmentally damaging effects of alternatives such as air conditioning units. In this article we consider the science behind these new materials and the IP considerations for innovators in this area.
Using materials to manage temperatures
Tokyo is known as a “heat island”, an urban area which has much higher temperatures than surrounding areas due to a combination of factors including blocked airflow, lack of greenery and the sun’s reflection off high rise buildings. Heat waves are a common occurrence in Tokyo leading to the hospitalisation of thousands of people each year.
One of the ways the Tokyo government has been dealing with this is through solar-blocking paint, a coating which has been applied to roads to reduce temperatures by up to eight degrees celsius. The paint, which was originally developed by NASA to keep astronauts cool in spacecraft, contains pigments which are designed to reflect UV rays and radiant heat.
In recent years the government has also experimented with water-retentive pavements to reduce road temperatures. The pavements consist of asphalt mixed with water-retaining materials which absorb rain water or water from sprinklers. The surface requires heat from the surrounding air to transform the liquid to vapour and in so doing it cools the surface and surrounding air as the water evaporates.
The heat has also been a consideration in the construction and retrofitting of many of the buildings used at the games. More than half of the 43 Olympic venues are existing facilities and these buildings have had to be retrofitted with advanced technologies to boost safety and performance. Chemical company Dow has reported that its VORANOL™ polyether polyols, which are used to produce low to high density foams as sealants, have been used to fill the gaps between the building materials to decrease the deformation risk caused by the expansion of concrete under high temperatures, thereby keeping the stadiums safe and stable in hot temperatures.
The predicted rise in temperatures over the years ahead will bring with it many challenges. Learning from the approaches taken in Tokyo, innovative materials are going to be key to managing this, both in terms of protecting us, and our infrastructure, from the heat.
The considerations for drafting a patent claim to protect a new material will differ depending on the properties of the material in question. While in some cases, it will be possible to define such innovations by reference to inorganic composition and structure, in others, the materials can only be defined by reference to either their properties or function.
Taking the example of solar-blocking paint, how might such paint be distinguished over the huge array of different paints which are already available on the market and described in the literature? While from a marketing perspective, it is its function which draws interest, in the IP world, simply describing the paint by reference to its solar-blocking function is unlikely to gain traction. Instead, it’s important to delve deeper into its properties.
A typical paint composition includes pigment, binder, solvent and additives. From a patent claim perspective, the ideal scenario is one where the invention can be defined clearly by reference to its composition or structure. Provided that the new material can be defined in chemical terms (chemical composition, structure, etc.), it is generally straightforward to formulate such claims. Alternatively, perhaps the invention lies in the ratio of the different components which are present. Again, this can be claimed in a straightforward way, provided that the importance of the particular ratios (or ranges of ratios) which are defined is clear from any data and/or technical rationale within the patent application.
Drafting patent claims for a material such as a new paint becomes more complicated where the difference(s) cannot be defined solely in chemical or structural terms and the applicant is then in the realms of the need to use parameters to define the invention. Examples of such parameters include viscosity, particle size, molecular weight, UV reflectance, etc. This is a common situation. When a patent claim includes a parameter, clarity becomes a key issue, particularly where more than one method for determining the parameter in question exists, e.g. particle size or molecular weight. Here, at least for the European Patent Office, it is of crucial importance that the complete measurement method is included in the claim (unless it either forms part of the common general knowledge or all methods give the same results). When drafting such applications, full details of any measurement techniques should be included in the application at the time of filing as such details cannot be added at a later date.
While these issues have been highlighted with respect to the example of solar-blocking paint, parallels are seen throughout the material world. Indeed, the same considerations would apply to the water-retentive pavements used in Tokyo and Dow’s VORANOLTM sealant.
While obtaining patent protection for innovative materials is not always easy, with experience, it is certainly possible to navigate the various pitfalls and challenges faced in order to successfully obtain granted patents in this area. Clear definitions of parameters and comprehensive explanation of measurement methods will make the obtaining of patent protection much easier, particularly at the European Patent Office.
The Materials team at Carpmaels & Ransford have been at the forefront of obtaining patent protection for innovative materials and have an excellent understanding of how to navigate the challenges in this area. Please get in touch for further information.