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| 1 minute read

Turning seaweed into sofas (and how patent searching can help research)

This BBC article presents yet another example of a biological material that can be used as a sustainable substitute for fossil fuel-derived polymers. A Norwegian start-up company has devised a method that converts seaweed into foam blocks for use in furniture. I couldn't immediately find any patents in the name of Agoprene to give me further details of the precise method. This is not unusual for a start-up: there is an 18-month publication lag for patents so they could easily have a number of applications not yet published, or they could be in the name of a research institute from which the team originated.

Interestingly, a bit of searching did reveal a funding award that the company received back in 2021/22. The award narrative states that the aim of the company is to develop foam rubbers from plant fibers and highlights that the company was “searching through existing patents that use similar types of raw materials, to assess whether we can gain additional knowledge about possible additives that can improve the material properties.”

Whatever its own patenting strategy, this early-stage company has obviously recognised the wealth of information that can be found in published patent documents. This information is publicly available, free to access and, used alongside academic publications, can assist companies in moving forward more quickly with their own research goals. Of course, the opportunity to build upon others' findings comes with the risk of infringing third-party rights - and careful consideration of Freedom to Operate has to be given when looking to incorporate any learning points from third-party patents. 

All the same, it is good to be reminded of the opportunity and risk offered by the patents of others. For a company about to embark on a new project, early landscaping searching can help to identify rights that might prove to be a barrier to market, but it can also provide useful insights to streamline future research.  

 

"We tried a bunch of different materials, but most of them turned out as rigid foam, not flexible," she says. But eventually Ms Sandberg hit on seaweed, which her team transformed into a powder and baked in a special oven. The process creates a foam block, soft enough to be used in seat cushions and chairs.

Tags

chemistry, patents, freedom to operate, start-ups & spin-outs, sustainability