E P O S M E C A S E S T U D I E S | V O L T E A
sive approach taken in phase 1. Voltea recognised that IP could generate extra value, affording benefits that went beyond securing market shares and royalty fees from licens- ing. Co-operations and partnerships promoted Voltea’s entry into new businesses. It started developing commercial applications for the automotive industry (e. g. water recirculation in a paint line), horticulture and agriculture (recirculating water by removing excess levels of sodium), and residential areas. It began exporting its technology, servicing newmarkets in the USA, Europe, China, India, Japan and Mexico, while maintaining its presence in Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands. Margins were high- er in these European markets thanks to a pricing policy based on a premiumwhich was justified by Voltea’s unique technology. Because of this expansion across industries and countries, Voltea and its 30 employees quickly reached a limit in terms of in-house R&D capacity. It realised that large companies could provide R&D support, the necessary business net- works and distribution channels. For such multinationals, proprietary technology is important for partner selection. A typical example is the 2012 partnership with Pentair for the development of a new electronic water purification system, under which Voltea’s technology was licensed exclu- sively to Pentair for some residential and light commercial applications in the US. Collaborative IP
By 2011, Voltea had secured a solid IP position around its core technology, the membrane CDI, to protect its key com- ponents and to retain exclusivity for its products in the market. Patents helped to minimise risk when investing in innovation development, protection and exploitation in line with Voltea’s funding requirements. The company systematically reviewed new inventions from R&D and sought protection in its current and potential markets.
Growth phase 2: commercially driven
The year 2011 was a turning point for Voltea. The pace of innovation in the field of water deionisation had already doubled compared with 2006 and continued to grow fast during the following years.
E V O L V I N G I P S T R A T E G Y
The role of IP changes as a company evolves. At an early stage, it is uncertain whether patents might attract the interest of investors. However, at a later stage, investors tend to favour companies ready for higher (IP) governance. That means that patents and IP should be part of the business strategy in order to help companies mature rapidly.
Voltea had to respond swiftly to that change. It did so by securing additional funding to support the commerciali- sation of its CapDI technology. Voltea executives had a strong commitment to leveraging its IP, which proved to be instrumental at this stage. The company evaluated as yet untapped markets by looking out for niches and new busi- ness opportunities in order to develop and protect further commercial applications. Eventually, they realised that the CapDI technology could indeed be applied in industry seg- ments other than washing machines (as initially sought by Unilever R&D). In fact, it brought the same environmental benefits to a wide range of applications, all having the com- mon goal of saving water and reducing energy use. In terms of exploitation during this phase, IP played a new role as an enabler of commercial co-operation and partnerships, especially with leading players for mass market applications, and this became the largest revenue stream for Voltea. This approach differed from the defen-
P A R T N E R S H I P S A N D C O - O P E R A T I O N S
Generate extra value via co-operation and partnerships which are enabled by IP. In an integrative strategy, parties collaborate to define and reach a win-win situation by focusing on each other’s interests and developing mutually beneficial synergies.
Through co-operation agreements with its partners, Voltea also gains access to IP rights, thereby achieving and maintaining freedom to operate (FTO) for its products. Since it makes its own systems for installations in industrial and commercial markets, securing FTO for its products is important.
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