smarter alloys’ waste heat-to-energy system, a revisit

Waterloo’s Smarter Alloys recently received $4.5 million in funding from SDTC to develop their waste heat-to-energy technology.

Their concept was highlighted in an April 2018 Globe and Mail article.   As I wrote at the time, on the face of it, the article had plenty of credibility; a known author, a prominent publication, a well known government “innovation” institution.  To boot it mentioned IP.  But, there was too much marketing language.  This obscured the actual technology.  Then, at the very end came the statement “ … IP will give company a big edge …”.  This seemed a bit premature as there was limited visibility into any IP around Smarter Alloys’ technology.

It is now 22 months after the article’s publication.  This is important because any patent applications filed before, or 4 months after, April 2018 are now visible.  It is time to think about that IP comment.  It is time to look at the USPTO databases.

another look at USPTO  

Fig. 1 presents a schematic summary of the visible US patent documents in 2018 and today. Issued patent US9,183,853 (‘853) and published application 2016/0068938 (‘938) were known in 2018.  As illustrated, these both stem from the same two provisional applications.  In the broadest terms the ’853 patent and the ‘938 application relate to systems and methods associated with fabrication.  Since April 2018, the ‘938 application issued to patent US10,047,421.  So, while the final Claims are now visible the disclosed technology was known in 2018.  Published application 2019/0264664 has emerged since April 2018.  At fist glance it discloses an actuator e.g. strain gauge, which is a particular application of a Smarter Alloys metal.

has “a big edge” emerged?

A thought experiment is likely in order to approach this question.  In saying patents (IP) will give a company a big edge one might look for patents that are central to the application; patents that will protect any advantage the system might provide.  This may include particular alloys or methods of fabrication, where the resulting material system is advantageous in a waste heat-to-energy application.  There may also be patents around aspects of structure for both the alloy and system incorporating it.  That said, any patents will become more valuable if the basic technology i.e. using shape memory alloys to generate electricity, is advantageous, such as providing higher efficiency, compared to other technologies in the waste heat-to-energy space.

Today there is an emerging IP picture.  If this picture is to give Smarter Alloys “a big edge” it needs to protect aspects of the technology that differentiate or make it better than other technologies in the same space.  We will continue to monitor this and other technologies in the waste heat-to-energy space.  It is an important area and look forward to seeing what this Canadian company can bring to the table.  I will also continue to monitor patent documents for both the technology they disclose and the legal protection they might provide.