We Are Not Alone by Markku Rajala

If we are not alone in the universe, we are certainly not alone as indoor air specialists in Finland. Actually, we are a marginal operator in our globe. Without our great academic people and education which has disseminated IAQ know-how to industry, we would not have any role in global business. Now we do have the role, Finnish companies really are universally excellent. But we do have to get outside Finland. Our national market is too small. We should, at least, consider EU-area, our customs-free market area.


Demand


Market is there, where the problems are. Perhaps. Global Burden of Disease Study in 2016 reveals the geographical areas with worst indoor air pollution.

Figure 1. Indoor air-caused deaths, absolute figures geographically in 2016 (Global Burden of Disease Study, 2016)

Indoor-air-caused deaths per capita is dominated by Africa. The main reason is the use of solid fuels in cooking, generating lots of hazardous smoke indoors. But absolute number of deaths (Figure 1) is highest in high-population countries, China and India. Risky countries comprise also most countries in South-East Asia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Germany and Spain. The study calculated (do not ask me how…) the number of indoor-air-caused deaths in Finland to be 26 in 2016 (155 in Sweden, 33 in Norway, 23 in Denmark and 1 in Iceland. Quite modest figures compared to 605 098 in China and 782 906 in India. Of course, we should decrease the number in Finland and of course respiratory sicknesses caused by poor indoor air cause economical losses. Still I claim that the main market for great Finnish solutions is not in Finland. Making Finland the best Scandinavian country in indoor air quality is still a good target, providing also great reference for international business.


Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)


During the last 20 years, a bit less than 100 Finnish patents or patent applications mention indoor and air and quality somewhere in the application. That is in average 5 applications per year. We can see neither increase nor decrease in the number of applications per year. Obviously, the area is not very sexy for inventors.


A much stricter search syntax, “indoor air quality” (exactly this phrase) in patent abstract reveals globally a bit less than 3000 patents, utility models or applications. (in Finland amount is zero).

Figure 2. Top patenting countries for abst/(”indoor air quality”)

By far the most active IPR country is China (not only for Chinese companies but especially other Asian companies file lots of patents in China), the ratio between Chinese filings to US filings being about 1:40.


Lots of Chinese patents are utility patents, in Finland known as utility models (hyödyllisyysmalli). These “patents” are examined only formally, they may have an inventive ship and they can be new – or then not. Chinese companies and research institutes use this IPR tool very creatively! We should also use it more as it provides immediate protection with very low cost (except translating the application into Chinese). All SMEs: take the advice seriously!


Chart on patents by priority date reveal that great interest on this subject started when Chinese air quality became open to general public.

Figure 3. Global patenting activity for the last 20 years for abst/(”indoor air quality”). Note that decrease in 2017 is probably not true as patent applications (not utility patents/models) filed in 2017 are still not public (”submarines)

Increased activity in IPR means increased business. How long will this window be open? Nobody knows. A lot will depend on China’s 14th 5-year plan starting in 2021. In order to secure business, we have to conquer the Chinese market (much) before that. For those of you, who consider partnering in Asia: look at he key patenting companies.


Figure 4. Ten most active patenting organizations for the last 20 years for abst/(”indoor air quality”)

Conclusions


Indoor air -related market is outside Finland, mostly in Asia. There is the need for good solutions but it is also a very demanding market. Going there together, waving the flag of Indoor Air Quality Ecosystem and providing total solutions may be a key to success. The Asian market is mined with thousands of (utility) patents, so knowing company’s freedom-to-operate is important. And so is company’s own IPR in that area. I recommend to use utility patents: they are non-expensive and effective.


Markku Rajala | CTO, Air0 Oy


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