Price-Winning Inventors of Michelin’s Auto-Regenerating Tyre Tread Band Regenion, Patented as EP2379352B1
M. Nollen (BE)
Not every patent application becomes an important business instrument. Some do, and can be the basis for a profitable business or a fortune of royalties. When reading back, we can recognize therein the technical creativity or genius that proposed a model of new products to follow. One of the marvellous aspects of the patent profession is to work on such patents and to recognize and defend the important innovation therein. Such inventions and their patent attorneys deserve an award - at least this is the concept behind the European Inventor Award. Each year since 2006, the EPO provides five such awards in different categories. There is no prize money as such, as the patent protected invention should already be profitable, but a lot of valuable positive publicity. Epi-information asked the patent attorney behind one of this year's Awards to tell his story.
This year, 2018, the European Inventor Award in the category of Industry went to Jacques Barraud (deceased) and Agnes Poulbot of Michelin for their invention of an auto-regenerating tyre tread (patented as EP2379352B1). Behind these inventors stand two patent attorneys from the Michelin patent department: Christian Diernaz who wrote the patent application and Stéphane Le Cam who put together the file for this award.
Can you shortly introduce the field of technology, and some of the key technical problems and issues therein?
The adhesion of tyres to the road or soil is determined by the humidity of the soil. On a dry road, there is good adhesion as nothing opposes the contact between the rubber and the road. However, this is different when it is wet; too much humidity results in a water film between the tyre and the road, which limits adhesion/grip. Tyres therefore contain channels and zones suitable for storage and removal of the water. Traditionally, tyres merely had channels exposed to the surface and the storage capacity significantly reduced during use of the tyre.
Can you explain the inventive gist of the invention?
The inventors came up with the idea to provide cavities in deeper regions of the tyre. These regions will appear at the surface after a certain usage of the tyre, and thus increase the water capacity. The effect is further increased by supplementary channels extending between such cavities, which allow absorption of a water film. In this manner, the lifetime of a tyre is extended with 15-20%. It was moreover found that such cavities make a new tyre less deformable and therefore reduce the petrol consumption with up to 10%.
When receiving the invention, was it clear to you that this was an important and breakthrough invention, and if so why?
It was in 2007 or in the beginning of 2008 that I first heard of the invention. For us, in the patent department, the importance of the invention was clear from the angle of functionality. However, its realisation was less straightforward. Tyres are produced by insert moulding technology using moulds. In fact, the realisation required fabrication of specific metallic moulds. This was achieved by means of additive manufacturing using laser sintering, also known as metal 3D printing.
Have you applied specific procedural options to ensure full patentability (for instance national search report, PCT-II, filing several applications to obtain claims of different scope, filing divisional etc)?
We have not done anything particular for the case. Contrarily, since the filing of the first patent we have filed many more applications on the same subject, so as to protect implementation details and modifications. Today, more than hundred patent families exist on the technology.
Was the patent easily granted? Did the patent examiners immediately see and recognize the inventive merit, or was it needed to explain this?
Yes, the granting was easy.
Can you say something more about the Award process?
I prepared the nomination. All subsequent communication was made between the EPO and one of the inventors. The inventor received a letter from the EPO that they have been selected as finalists (3 per category) and invited them to get into contact with the EPO. Normally, all inventors would have been involved, but unfortunately the other inventor died.
As the patent attorney and submitter of the nomination, I supported the process in the background. This started with two telephonic conversations, one of which is an interview with the agency that will prepare two video films (of about 5 and 3 minutes respectively). The person in charge of the video scripts was a German science journalist who was very competent. He well understood the invention and rendered it comprehensible by means of images. The videos were then recorded at Michelin in two days by a film team using the film script.
Did you get additional questions from the Jury to respond? And did you need to defend the patent?
The jury is responsible for making the final selection from the finalists. There was no contact with the jury that clearly made its decision on the basis of the file prepared by us and without doubt also looking at the patent. There were no questions on the patentability, but rather on the invention and its importance. There were furthermore questions on the personality of the inventors.
What it a surprise to the inventors and/or you to be selected as a winner?
Yes, evidently we were surprised. We had presented the case in the best possible manner with little hope. When we heard that we were among the three finalists in our category, our hope went on rise but remaining doubtful, but it remained a surprise as the other finalists seemed also very good.
- Nominations for the 2019 European Inventor Award are open until 28 September 2018. As expressed by the epi President, Francis Leyder, there were hardly any submissions made by patent attorneys. We would like to stimulate patent attorneys to submit nominations for their inventors.
- The Editorial Committee is interested to get into contact with further patent attorneys who would like to be interviewed on their award winning inventor.
- See the short film (2 minutes) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcoF9XU7uV0, and the journalistic film (6 minutes) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIFolKVN6sw