SKYTEM: Protected technology roars ahead

Only few Danish technology firms remember to protect their ideas. Danish SkyTEM is the exception that proves the rule.

At high speed, a helicopter glides through the air. The rotors rhythmically combat gravity and a hexagonal composite structure the size of a tennis court hangs from hefty wires. By now, SkyTEM’s electromagnet has helped map groundwater and minerals on all seven continents. The firm’s success is attributable to SkyTEM’s groundbreaking technological ideas, which the company is trying to protect in the best way possible.

Flemming Effersø, CEO, SkyTEM

“Early on, we discovered that it was a good idea to patent our technology. With time, it has become an integrated and ongoing process. We monitor technological developments and competitors constantly so that we always have some idea of what is happening in the market within our area,” says Flemming Effersø, CEO at SkyTEM.

For high-tech start-ups with unique technological solutions, protection of IPR – Intellectual Property Rights – plays a key role in securing competitiveness and value growth. For the benefit of both employees and investors. However, SkyTEM is the exception that proves the rule. Because many tech companies still do not protect their ideas adequately.

We need a good patent consultant just as much as we need a good accountant

Flemming Effersø

Tech companies fail to protect their innovations, despite the fact that creating a business from a good idea can be tough. SkyTEM got a first-hand taste of how fierce the competition can be, when a competitor attempted to patent SkyTEM’s technology on the Australian market. Only through thorough monitoring and a strong willingness to invest did SkyTEM manage to enforce its IP and secure its market position.

“It’s of course a cost to have patents. Both in terms of annual fees and patent consulting. But that’s the game. We need a good patent consultant just as much as we need a good accountant,” says Flemming Effersø.

Fleeting technology

The battle for technological dominance plays out in all industries, and often the smallest of details or highly specialized knowledge make a world of a difference here. Protecting one’s IP rights therefore plays an important role, according to Michael Friis Sørensen, expert in IPR at Plougmann Vingtoft.

“Modern technology is a very fleeting matter, and many underestimate how easy it is to copy an idea if it’s not protected. But if a company does not secure  its IP rights  it is rarely worth much more than a couple of full-time equivalents and office spaces,” says Michael Friis Sørensen.

By now, SkyTEM’s electromagnet has mapped groundwater and minerals on all seven continents

With 20 years of experience from the IP industry, he has seen “a thing or two,” as he puts it. In his experience, a lack of focus on IP rights can often lead to companies missing out on major opportunities. That is why he sounds the alarm.

“I’ve met many start-ups backed by heavy investors that haven’t even considered the possibility of protecting their technology. That’s absurd,” says the seasoned patent consultant.

Commercial tool

Michael Friis Sørensen, Plougmann Vingtoft

Michael Friis Sørensen emphasizes that many of the small details that differentiate a company from its competitors can be worth patenting. This process takes time, but it can also potentially multiply the value of the company in the long run.

“Start-ups should be aware that IP rights should not be used as an ego booster. They are a commercial tool that should solely be used to boost the value of the company,” he says and adds:

“Many start-ups don’t think it’s worth the effort to apply for patents because they can’t afford to enforce their IP rights in the event of infringement. But in a long-term perspective and in the event of mergers or acquisitions, IP rights have enormous value and the big players are in a position to enforce the IP rights in question.”

New challenges

At SkyTEM, the innovative approach is paying off and the patents are the insurance. The firm recently won a large contract to find groundwater in the Californian sub soil. Soon, SkyTEM is also set to enter an entirely new arena when the company launches a project together with Innovation Fund Denmark that replaces the helicopter in favor of drones in an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint of the agricultural industry. Once again, IP rights are crucial.

I’ve met many start-ups backed by heavy investors that haven’t even considered the possibility of protecting their technology. That’s absurd

Michael Friis Sørensen

“Drones are a hot topic right now, so we know there’ll be new competitors to consider, and that’s why we need to consider IP rights from the get-go. It has to be a central part of our business strategy,” says Flemming Effersø.

SkyTEM is headquartered in Lisbjerg outside Aarhus and counts more than 50 employees across four offices.