Surge in renewable energy

If necessity truly is the mother of invention, then West Country law firms could be in line for a huge boost as the impacts of global warming, pollution and urbanisation hit home.

The West Country is home to a fast-growing cleantech industry, which is at the leading edge of creating new technologies that make better use of resources and create cleaner ways to a sustainable economy.

With the sector firmly taking root in their back yard regional law firms are increasingly becoming key players in enabling the development of cleantech companies.

New alternatives

Regen South West estimates that there are around 150 companies in the region active in the production of renewable energy. With such a concentration of expertise, the West Country is already home to some of the most exciting projects and innovations in the UK.

These include the world’s first underwater tidal stream turbine and pioneering wind farms. Even more exciting is the proposed Severn Barrage, which would become the biggest building and energy project in Europe if approved.

But cleantech isn’t just about renewables. The West Country is home to a diverse range of cleantech start-ups, which are developing exciting and sometimes surprising technologies. From nuclear clean-up to geopressure electricity generation and even pavement-friendly chewing gum, these projects have the potential to revolutionise the way we live.

The newly emerging cleantech sector is awash with a huge number of new inventions and technologies and, while the sector is especially susceptible to hype, there are a large number of genuinely world beating contenders producing new technologies.

IP protection

With such an innovative industry, IP protection, management and exploitation is the foremost consideration for many cleantech companies.

Successfully gaining IP rights gives cleantech companies their competitive edge and allows them to follow the lead set in the telecoms sector in the 1990s, establishing global rights in the core technologies within the sector.

For law firms this often means an initial relationship with the IP team, but in time other areas of the firm can play an important part in the development of the company as the start-ups begin looking for funding and distribution.

The innovative nature of cleantech means ensuring that IP practices have the right range of knowledge and skills, and that the firm has the means of supporting cleantech companies through all stages of their development from spin-out to sale.

Law firms form part of the essential support network for cleantech start-ups working closely with the region’s universities, NGOs and finance houses, advising on ideas at pre-spin-out stage and building the relationships that will become key as the idea grows to realisation.

Regional start-ups

A flavour of the creativity of the West Country cleantech sector is given by three regional start-ups:

• 2OC, founded by three South West based entrepreneurs owns technology that captures the energy given off at gas pressure reduction stations and uses it to produce green electricity. 2OC is involved in a joint venture with National Grid, to which 2OC has licensed its IP and technology. The project could eventually provide National Grid with all its internal energy needs.

• Xago, a South West process engineering company, owns centrifugal seperations systems technology that has applications in the nuclear decommissioning and waste water treatment areas.

• Revolymer is a university spin-out founded in 2005 by Professor Terence Cosgrove, using technology developed and licensed from the University of Bristol. Revolymer’s technology enables the production of high quality chewing gum that is easily removed from surfaces by water jets and scrubbers. Successful trials on Bristol pavements have shown that the product has a huge environmental advantage over traditional ‘sticky’ gums.

For West Country law firms, being part of the advisory team to companies like 2OC, Xago andRevolymer can be crucial in terms of building long lasting relationships.

But far from being a one way street, the networks supporting the growing cleantech sector provide a framework for success that benefits all parties – as well as the planet.

Andrew Braithwaite, IP partner, Osborne Clarke