Building on the success of an energetic premier conference held last year in Austin, this year’s Cleanovation again promised an interesting dynamic, where Israeli Cleantech startups travel to Texas to pitch for investment from a community of experienced energy-sector investors.
More structured, and less free-wheeling than last year’s event, this year’s offering spotlighted water technologies, a timely issue as Houston itself was encircled by wildfires while dealing with protracted near-drought conditions. Israeli technology to deal with water scarcity issues has a well-earned reputation in the marketplace, and that expertise certainly seemed welcome by the Texas audience.
On the flip side, as the energy market matures in Israel, particularly as Israel looks to exploit its natural gas and oil resources, there is a lot for the country to learn from Texas energy expertise – across a variety of fronts, including legal, regulatory, and M&A.
Showcasing a U.S.-based clean initiative was an excellent presentation by a Waste Management executive, discussing how that company continues to look for ways to generate renewable energy from its operations.
On a Green IP note, it was also heartening to hear that attendees were considering and utilizing the green patent incentive programs exhaustively covered by this blog for their technology. All in all, a stimulating event, and illustrative of the global Cleantech economy in action.
Held on Rice’s idyllic campus, this event featured a large contingent of Cleantech companies, presenting on their technology to an audience of venture capitalists, solo investors, and professional services folks.
In an interesting twist on the typical conference format, the afternoon session saw company presentations of intermittent lengths, with some companies giving rapid-fire 90 second or less type elevator pitches, while others presented in 4-minute increments. The back-and-forth between presentations of various lengths help hold audience interest, while allowing a large spectrum of companies to present.
As a Cleantech-focused IP lawyer, it was heartening to see the scope of innovation being presented, and more importantly, that the stakeholders in fostering that innovation spanned academia, government, and the private sector. While investment dollars may be under pressure, the opportunities for start-ups to at least get an audience for their innovations persist.
In the current environment, a focus on building an actionable IP portfolio is critical, and companies in the Cleantech sector simply must consider taking advantage of the various incentive programs, previously chronicled in this blog, in order to effectively accumulate those IP assets with limited spend and business disruption.
Other interesting takeaways from this event include confirmation that the U.S. government continues to take a leading role in driving the direction of innovation in the cleantech space. In the morning keynote, led by Dr. Eric Toone of Duke University and the ARPA-E initiative of the Dept. of Energy, it was apparent that companies hoping to secure government-investment would do well to align themselves with the focus areas that the Dept. of Energy has delineated.
An open question, not addressed during the interesting presentation that spotlighted some of the companies and technologies that have received ARPA-E investment, remains concerning the IP implications of these kinds of grants. As winners and losers emerge from those subset of Cleantech companies that have taken government funds, the consequences of utilizing that investment source on future licensing and enforcement activities will be interesting to watch.
Finally, while the Rice Alliance does an admirable job of promoting technology start-ups across sectors as diverse as nano-technology and life sciences, it was interesting to hear that Cleantech companies, particularly those targeting the energy sector, have received the lion’s share of financial support. While perhaps not surprising considering the locale, that factoid, delivered as it was with relish by the conference director, reinforces the tremendous challenge and opportunity in energy for both established and start-up companies.
And there is no doubt that IP will play a major role in driving future solutions, particularly in light of the confluence of the declining domestic manufacturing capability, globalization, and the still-unresolved political and economic ramifications of the climate-change debate.
Conferences like the Rice Alliance and Cleanovation underscore the centrality of those issues, while providing fertile ground for spotlighting potentially disruptive technologies that one day may move the needle in remaking our economy and lifestyles.
Gaston Kroub is a partner in the New York office of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP. Gaston serves as the co-chair of the Greentech Committee of the NYSBA’s IP Section and has been accredited as a LEED Green Associate. Gaston is a registered patent attorney whose practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and counseling.