February 28, 2017

Harnessing the Innovation of Aerospace & Defense

In this ongoing series from Harness IP, leading attorneys share their thoughts on the forces driving innovation in intellectual property. Monte Falcoff, a Principal in the firm’s Troy office, discusses the latest industry trends and challenges facing clients in aerospace and defense. 

What trends are shaping innovation in the Aerospace industry in 2017?

The aerospace and defense (A&D) industry has found itself in an increasingly challenging marketplace over the past few years.  New, large military weapons projects have decreased and commercial projects have become more price competitive.  Accordingly, many large aerospace companies are significantly investing in research and development of new product lines, evolving existing core products to new uses, and pruning back past “cash cows” that are being commoditized.  It will be interesting to see how the new U.S. President’s proposed defense budget increase will impact new weapon programs and the associated research and development in the A&D industry.

What kinds of tools or resources is Harness IP using to provide innovative service to clients?

Our attorneys are our greatest resource. We have the electrical, software, materials science, mechanical and chemical expertise to assist aerospace inventors with high quality patent preparation and prosecution, licensing and enforcement.  Harness IP draws from more than 100 patent attorneys to provide timely and high value advice and portfolio management recommendations to build asset value, protect market share, and improve the long term return on the investment needed for any serious A&D entity.

What are the driving forces behind innovation in this industry?

Some of the new industry wide product lines that are being aggressively pursued are in cybersecurity, sensors, artificial intelligence, machine automation, data management and mission software development.  For example, we are seeing a growth of innovation in autonomy based on neural networks, with real-time big data analytics and genetic learning algorithms feeding data into control and information systems.  As another example, we are also seeing noteworthy innovation in low Earth orbit inventions as a longer term play.

More specifically, trends are occurring where large aerospace companies are filing new patent applications.  We are observing significant repeated new patent filings in the following technological areas: composite materials, including fiber reinforcements or ceramic matrix composites; additive manufacturing; antennas; sound attenuation for exhaust; wireless sensors including piezoelectric sensors and RFID tags; elecromechanical actuators; shape memory alloy actuators; communication systems including laser based systems for satellites; and video and dynamic image processing.

What are the current IP risks in this industry and how is Harness IP helping clients overcome them?

The aircraft manufacturing industry has become more competitive with an increasing quantity of smaller companies participating in the supply chain as well as the usual large ones.  That makes patenting, competitive intelligence, policing of the patents, and freedom to practice investigations more important.  Also, the aerospace industry has not been very litigious regarding patents in the past few decades, but instead tends to license their patents.  And some aerospace patents can be licensed into other industries, such as for consumer automotive vehicles, land based military vehicles, etc.

Harness IP is well suited to add value in this regard because our attorneys are well rounded in all areas of intellectual property law.  Most of our attorneys write and prosecute patent applications on a worldwide basis, while also litigating, defending or filing USPTO Inter Partes Review actions, preparing freedom to practice opinions, and licensing.  Therefore, we keep our eye on the big picture when doing all of these activities — our objectives are adding asset value, improving ROI, and reducing litigation risk for our clients.

For example, we commonly prepare new aerospace patent applications with a view toward licensing the technology in differing industries and considering how different patent claim formats may support different definitions of “licensed product” as such may affect royalty rates in a license agreement.  We endeavor to strike a good balance between high quality and good value, both of which are at a premium in the current state of the aerospace intellectual property sector.

What drives you to provide innovative service?

Personally, my interest in the field began more than 25 years ago when I was an engineer, marketing manager and patent coordinator for United Technologies Corp.  While I was in their automotive unit, I routinely worked with people on the A&D side of UTC’s business.  Over the years, I’ve found many technological similarities between low volume specialty or performance automobiles and the aerospace industries, such as in composite materials, fasteners, sensors, electromechanical actuators, chemical glass coatings, and navigation systems, among other areas.  Despite this, it is interesting that so many companies in one industry are hesitant to enter the other.

My drive to provide innovative service to our clients is therefore a direct reflection of the innovation they are themselves driving.  From the unique challenges in their sector to the international scope of their work, it’s my aim — and our aim as a firm — to provide the best service and protection possible.  I have personally worked on patents for wave rotor turbines, composite materials and manufacturing processes for satellites, aircraft wing fasteners, 3D printing and additive sintering, quality checking of automated riveting control systems, aluminum sandwich structures, cargo handling latches, laser based missile targeting systems, shaped pulse fs laser identification of explosives and toxic chemicals, and ionic satellite propulsion systems, among other technologies.  Each innovation offers its own complexities and challenges, and I look forward to seeing what our aerospace and defense clients bring to us in the future.