In order to produce cutting-edge technologies capable of enjoying success in an industry as competitive as the space industry, there is little room for error. The personnel involved in the technological development must be capable of operating at the highest standard. This is made so much more difficult, however, when access to facilities of an equally high standard is limited. Without cutting-edge facilities within which to develop cutting-edge space-related technologies, these technologies are unlikely to ever make it off the ground.
This is clearly a concept of which the UK Space Agency is well aware, and one which they are willing to back financially. Through the launch of their Space Clusters and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF), the UK Space Agency has pledged £50 million specifically for use in the development of R&D infrastructure necessary to produce space-related technologies, nurture these technologies to mission-readiness, and eventually to commercial application.
With the worth of the UK space industry valued at £17 billion to the UK economy, the development of such infrastructure is sure to considerably strengthen the position of the UK as one of the most attractive space economies globally.
The SCIF, aimed at supporting approximately 5 to 10 R&D infrastructure development projects of up to £10 million each, shall be awarded to UK organisations – industrial and academic alike. These organisations must be capable of delivering projects to procure, build or upgrade R&D facilities and equipment with the aim of bringing high potential, high value space technologies to market.
In order to help UK organisations assess the strength of any proposals for SCIF funding which they may be contemplating submitting, the UK Space Agency has released information regarding the criteria against which any such proposal shall be judged. These criteria include, amongst others:
- An assessment of the financial health of an organisation and any associated entities;
- An assessment of how well the proposal enables the development of mature, cutting-edge technology – relevant to today’s industry needs;
- An assessment of the future contract revenue and capital investment generated from the UK Space Agency’s investment.
One method via which a UK organisation – whether a start-up, SME, multinational or university – may neatly and convincingly match up to each of these criteria is the development of a strong intellectual property strategy and/or portfolio (in particular, a strong patent strategy and/or portfolio).
In the case of an organisation which already owns a portfolio of pending and/or granted patents, the UK Space Agency’s assessment of compliance with the above criteria would be made far easier.
Where said organisation enjoys financial income as a result of ownership of any number of granted patents – for example via royalties – this patent portfolio serves as a positive indicator of the financial health of the organisation.
Furthermore, what better way to prove that an organisation exists at the very cutting-edge of space-related technological development, than to show ownership of patents for space-related technologies deemed to be both novel and inventive over all existing technologies in the public domain?
Lastly, with proof of a profitable, existing patent portfolio - one which investors are likely to find attractive - an organisation is capable of proving that, were the same patent strategy applied to the protection of any space-related innovations supported by SCIF funding, further income and investment is likely to be generated.
In short, the announcement of the Space Clusters and Infrastructure Fund is fantastic news for operators in the UK space industry, and will allow the UK to cement its position as a global leader in the development of space-related technology.
As for the individual organisations charged with developing these innovative space-related technologies, efforts to develop a clear patent strategy, and a strong patent portfolio as a result, once again prove extremely important - especially when it comes to securing funding.