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Optical fibre network

Connection of homes, businesses and authorities to high-speed universal broadband.

The corporate mission of Jelcer Networks B.V. from Dedemsvaart is to connect homes, businesses and authorities to high-speed universal broadband. To do this, the company has come up with an innovative way to roll out an optical fibre network. Instead of burying cables in the ground in the conventional manner, often at great inconvenience, the company makes use of the existing drainage network. A unique method which had not previously been applied in this way. This also makes it possible to connect outlying areas to broadband.

The invention

Jelcer developed a special robot and a brace system to install the optical fibres in the drainage pipes. It wanted to have these inventions patented.

The case

Erik Klein Nagelvoort, co-owner of Jelcer: “Before we found Arnold + Siedsma, we threw in our lot with a different company. After spending one year and substantial sums of moneys, we were left with a very weak patent and were told that our inventions were not novel. The patent examination discovered some ten-year-old drawings from a competitor with a similar idea for drawing cables through drainage pipes. That idea had never been put into practice, as it did not appear to be feasible. But it had nevertheless been patented, and appeared at first glance to be very similar to our idea.

However, we were convinced that our inventions were very different from those of the competitor. Furthermore, we had already carried out tests, which indicated that our inventions also worked in practice. Therefore, in our opinion, it had to be possible to patent our inventions. In a roundabout way, we then came to Arnold + Siedsma”.

The cooperation

Maarten Nollen, Arnold + Siedsma patent attorney: “Jelcer’s inventions are a classic example of a great innovation based on a number of small steps. In the Jelcer case, it was my job to find out whether it was still possible to protect the inventions with a strong patent. Patent protection must be possible for a product such as this, which is interesting enough to take to market and is not copied from the competitor. First of all, we had to establish how Jelcer’s inventions differed from the competitor’s inventions which had already been patented. Were Jelcer’s inventions genuinely a ‘step forward’, i.e. novel, or was it a case of more of the same?

Many documents and drawings of a competitor had been submitted which appeared to be relevant, but in fact were not. My first job was therefore to find out what was in these documents and to what extent this differed from Jelcer’s invention. At first glance, the two inventions appeared to be similar to one another but, on closer inspection, important structural differences nevertheless appeared to exist in the functionality of the two inventions.

To formulate this difference in a patent application, it is important for a patent attorney to have sufficient technical expertise in-house to actually also understand how the inventions work. Only then can a strong patent be drawn up.”

Erik Klein Nagelvoort, Jelcer: “There is a big difference between the working methods of Arnold + Siedsma and those of the other patent office with which we previously worked. Maarten was very proactive and on the same wavelength. Instead of examining and describing the case in very broad terms, he studied our inventions in detail and adopted a problem-oriented approach; ‘What problem you have solved?’ and ‘What makes the invention novel and distinctive?’ As a result, we came up with further new ideas of our own and our attention was drawn to things that we had not previously considered. It therefore also seemed sensible to include things in the patent which were perhaps not yet feasible in practice, to cover possible future developments”.

Maarten Nollen, Arnold + Siedsma: “Following a thorough investigation of Jelcer’s inventions, we were able to highlight significant differences between the two inventions. Jelcer’s robot appeared to be able to go round bends in the drainage pipes, unlike the competitor’s existing robot. The braces for holding the cables in place in the drainage pipes were also different. Furthermore, Jelcer has come up with a solution to allow the cables emerging from each building to come together neatly and be guided to a central point. The company has also developed a method for feeding cables through the narrow drainage pipes in outlying areas.

Finally, there was nothing left of the original patent application that Jelcer had previously filed and Arnold + Siedsma defined Jelcer’s inventions in four different, new patents.”

Conclusion

Maarten Nollen, Arnold + Siedsma: “Patent protection must be possible for a new product that is not copied from a competitor and could be presented with some pride to a customer. This also appears to be the case here. However, research and creative thinking are sometimes required. I sometimes say that my job is all about making a mountain out of a molehill. This is not entirely true, but every detail is nevertheless important. Every step that a company has taken and that is relevant to the invention must be included and described in the patent. If you describe an invention too superficially, you enter a whole grey area in which inventions resemble one another and which competitors could exploit to their own advantage.

The text forms the basis for comparison with any other inventions. The text alone, and not the associated successful product, is the decisive factor for a court in determining whether or not a competitor has committed an infringement. So if the patent text is not carefully written, competitors can use this to their advantage if the stakes are much higher in five or ten years’ time.

It is my job to encapsulate the invention in words, specifically enough to distinguish it from known documents, but broadly enough to deliver a strong patent; this means that the competitor cannot design around it by making a few minor tweaks here and there.

It is therefore important how you tell your story as a patent attorney. For a patent application, it is vitally important to define all the special features of the invention in great detail, so that there is no room to manoeuvre for competitors, but also to leave enough scope for possible further development of an invention, without the inventor having to re-apply for a new patent.”

Erik Klein Nagelvoort, Jelcer: “For us, it was the first time that we had come into contact with the complex world of patents. We had absolutely no idea what to expect. It is of great financial value for us to patent our inventions. Not only as protection against competitors, but also for our investors. Patent protection may be a costly affair, but it is certainly worth the investment if it actually provides you with a strong patent at the end of the day. Working together with Arnold + Siedsma has now given us the confidence to sweep the market with our inventions.