In season 10, episode 6, of the TV show "Die Höhle der Löwen" (German version of the US show Shark Tank and the UK show Dragon's Den), a company from Winterthur presents a self-propelled, height-adjustable and stair-climbing wheelchair called Scewo BRO.
Impressively, the team around the Scewo Bro is calling for the highest investment ever called on the show. It is not for nothing that the Scewo Bro is among the winners of the reddot Design Award 2019 and the German Design Award Gold 2021.
The two main functions of the Scewo BRO are a height-adjustable seat and a chain drive for climbing stairs. Two patent applications have been filed independently for this. The Scewo BRO is a good example of why it makes sense to file several patent applications for one and the same product.
The patent applications
WO 2019/048445 A1 (WO'1)
In WO'1, a first partial aspect of the Scewo BRO is described (cf. following figure of WO'1). Here it is claimed that the vehicle (1) is driven by means of wheels (2) or chains (9) depending on the operation (level or stairs).
The operation is switched when a stair step (8) is detected. The switching mechanism between the operations (level or stairs) seems to constitute the first aspect of the Scewo BRO.
WO 2020/020880 A1 (WO'2)
In WO'2, a second partial aspect of the Scewo BRO is described (cf. following figure of WO'2). More specifically, a self-balancing vehicle is claimed using an adjustment mechanism (7) for linearly displacing a seat surface (6) along the longitudinal axis and the vertical axis of the vehicle. The adjustment mechanism (7) appears to be critical to the second aspect of the Scewo BRO.
It can be conjectured that, on the one hand, the switching mechanism (WO'1) and, on the other hand, the adjustment mechanism (WO'2) formed the basis for the decision to file the respective patent applications.
Same wheelchair – Several patent applications
Not two different wheelchairs have been developed, but one wheelchair with two independent mechanisms of action. Thus, both of the above-mentioned partial aspects independently form individual inventions that are not directly related to each other.
The first aspect provides for the advantage of being able to navigate different terrains independently, whereas the second aspect provides for the advantage of being able to adapt the wheelchair better to a current situation.
Info: In German as well as in European patent law, a patent application may contain only one invention or a group of inventions which are linked to each other in such a way that they realize a single general inventive concept (cf. Art. 82 EPC). A general inventive concept is characterized by the fact that it differs from the prior art.
That is, the switching mechanism and the adjustment mechanism each constitute an independent inventive concept and are thus non-unitary. These concepts are necessarily to be pursued in different patent applications.
Note: If there is a mechanism combining both sub-aspects, another patent application could be directed to this, as this new mechanism forms a general inventive concept on its own by combining both mechanisms.
Improved property rights position
WO'2 is an enhancement of the wheelchair as also disclosed in WO'1. With such further enhancements, an improved property right position for the structural and functional features of the wheelchair can be established peu à peu. In this way, competitors can be prevented from integrating similar designs or functionalities into their products. These competitors would then only be left with one of the unwelcome ways out, for example:
- Licensing the patent(s) of Scewo AG,
- (If possible) developing a workaround, or
- Offering a less innovative wheelchair with likely poorer sales.
It has been shown that successful companies start with a base of intellectual property rights and steadily expand this into an extensive portfolio with which they can effectively protect their product range against imitators and copycats. The most important technical developments, product innovations or, in the case of the Scewo Bro, functionalities should be filed for patent.
The Scewo AG started to apply for patents strategically at an early stage in order to secure a market and to survive in a competitive environment. The high initial investments required for a well thought-out patent strategy usually pay off in the long run. This is because it gives the company an exposed market position. It is often difficult for competitors to make up for this decisive competitive advantage. In most cases, this will involve high costs and a delayed market entry, for example, if the competitor has to take a license, develop a workaround or offer a comparably inferior product.
Author: Julian Graf
German and European Patent Attorney
Disclaimer: The above contribution reflects the personal opinion of the author. The assessments and statements made in the article do not constitute legal advice and are provided under exclusion of any liability. If you need an assessment of an individual case, please contact the author and/or the law firm KUHNEN & WACKER.