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Flooding and Intellectual Property: Protecting Both Tangible and Intangible Assets

Flooding and Intellectual Property: Protecting Both Tangible and Intangible Assets

Industry news News 04/12/2023

As 2023 draws to a close, we again head into the season which often sees heavy rainfall and rising river levels across the UK, and when the risk of flooding becomes a real concern. Having an office nearby the river Ouse in York, we at Secerna are no stranger to the devastating effects that flooding can have on people’s lives.

Indeed, in the last 25 years, York has seen at least four severe flood events with river levels reaching an unprecedented 5.5m above their normal level in the year 2000. Flooding wreaks havoc on people’s homes, businesses, and entire communities alike.

The EU Floods Directive and UK Investment in Flood Defences

Fortunately, the EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EC) was introduced in 2007 to help reduce and manage the risks that floods pose. This Directive requires all EU countries to:

  • assess all areas where significant floods could take place.
  • map the flood extent and assets and humans at risk in these areas.
  • take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce this flood risk.

Whilst no longer part of the EU, the UK remains committed to driving investment and innovation to help develop and install flood defences across the country. This is evidenced by the UK Government making a commitment to invest more than £5 billion between 2021 and 2027 in flood and coastal defences. With global warming widely considered to be a contributing factor to the frequency of severe flood events, the investment and innovation in flood defence measures is increasingly important.

Innovation in Flood Defence Technology

In 2021, the UK Intellectual Property Office issued a report on the patenting activity taking place in technology relating to flood and coastal defences. This report summarises how innovation is ongoing in this technical field, with worldwide patenting activity increasing in recent years. However, over half of this patenting activity originates in China and patenting activity in the UK is at a relatively low level in this sector. Thus, it would seem there may be opportunities for UK businesses to establish a foothold in this market by providing innovative solutions to the flood risk problems that exist today.

With flooding having been a problem for millennia, there has naturally been different techniques used to protect against flooding such as dams, levees, weirs, sea walls and diversion canals. Below, we consider some of the more recent innovations in this technical field which have been specially designed to help reduce or manage flood risk.

Flood Barriers

A range of different companies have developed solutions which fall into the category of being a flood barrier as a replacement for the conventional use of sandbags. A flood barrier is a specific type of floodgate that is designed to prevent floodwater from passing beyond the barrier and thus entering buildings or other structures which the barrier is there to protect. Newer barriers include mobile barriers which can be efficiently deployed as well as self-raising barriers which respond to presence of a flood.

Some companies provide offerings based on prefabricated barrier structures that can be deployed when no water is present. For example, UK-based company Aquobex has designed a range of solutions including flood-proof doors, vent covers and waterproofed walls to passive and mobile flood barriers. Meanwhile, Canadian-based outfit Water-Gate has developed mobile barriers they say can be installed during a flood and remain stable irrespective of water flow and direction, or slope of terrain. A solution based on inflatable tubes has also been developed by US-based FloodBlock. These tubes, when inflated, transform into a flood barrier system that can stretch over long distances (up to 1km).

By contrast, some other companies have focussed on producing barriers which rely on the use of super-absorbent products that absorb water to create a flood barrier. For example, US-based QuickDam sells flood bags that can be stacked together and that each hold super-absorbent powder that swells and turns into a gel-like substance when they absorb water. This results in the creation of a barrier on contact with floodwater. Similarly, Gravitas International, a UK-based business has developed the HydroSack®, a solution based on a sack filled with a super-absorbent polymer and wood pulp. When deployment is needed, the sacks are soaked with water for several minutes and a barrier can be created which can remain effective for up to 6 months. The sacks are also said to be biodegradable and so can be discarded ecologically following their use.

Structural Solutions

On a structural level, some other companies are developing solutions which make use of the entire building’s structure itself to defend against flooding. For example, Danish organisation Third Nature is working on an architectural solution which explores how flooding can be prevented whilst also providing a solution to the lack of parking spaces in major urban centres. Their solution envisages a building housing a parking lot which sits above a reservoir which fills with floodwater during a flood event. The building moves up and down depending on the water level in the reservoir whilst mechanisms are used to ensure an even vertical movement of the building. Meanwhile, UK-based enterprise FloodJack International has developed a prototype building structure that is able to detect a flood event and then use a specially designed jack mechanism to raise the entire building to a safe level above the floodwater.

Intellectual Property Protection for Flood Defence Technologies

Continuous innovation in the area of flood defence and management is key to ensuring we are able to help reduce the impact of the severe flood events we will inevitably experience over the coming years as a result of climate change, and it is really great to see so many innovative solutions on offer. Of course, whenever there is innovation, there is the potential to obtain intellectual property protection and so businesses helping to protect the world’s tangible assets from flooding would also do well in considering how they might protect their intangible assets at the same time to help give them an edge over their competitors.

Given the physical nature of many flood defences, a business’s patent portfolio may be considered their key intellectual asset in this field as a strong patent portfolio may allow a business to prevent others from offering similar solutions to what they provide. However, it is not a trivial matter for a business to establish a strong patent portfolio and there are many considerations that need to be taken into account when preparing patent applications relating to technology in this field to ensure robust protection is obtained. For example, due to the modularity of many flood defence systems, careful thought must be given when preparing a patent application to ensure that any patent will have a commercially relevant scope of protection. This is because a patent application should ideally be drafted to cover the separate modular components and not just the fully assembled modular system. At the same time, a balance must also be struck between the breadth of protection sought and how this might impact on the novelty and inventiveness of the innovation described in the patent application. Other considerations include what data to include in the patent application to illustrate the advantages of the innovation to mitigate flood risk and how to ensure protection is obtained to protect against any end use of the flood defence system.

Secerna's Expertise in IP Protection

At Secerna, we have a vast amount of experience of helping our clients obtain robust patent protection worldwide across a wide range of technologies, including mechanical devices like barriers and hydraulic lifting assemblies to chemical products like super absorbing materials. We commonly prepare carefully considered patent applications which aim to encapsulate all aspects of complex inventions whilst maximising the scope of protection obtained based on what is already known. With our extensive expertise, we are well placed to help any business operating in the field of flood risk mitigation protect their intellectual assets.

If you would like further information regarding IP protection of flood prevention measures, please contact Jonathan Roberts at docketing@secerna.co.uk.

 

Commercially focussed Chartered & European Patent Attorneys with offices in the York, Newcastle and Dublin providing intellectual property (IP) services to innovative companies worldwide.