A journey through the world of technology patents with Faraday’s Founder and CTO Matthew Williams

Faraday’s intellectual property is integral to building the energy platform of the future. The recent publication of some of Faraday’s original patents was a significant milestone that provided additional external validation of the authenticity of the technology.  

To understand the specifics, I asked Matthew Williams, founder and Chief Technology Officer, for an introduction to the process of patent writing, Faraday’s strategic approach, and the unique technology covered by Faraday’s published patents.

After much anticipation, some of the company’s original patents have been released into the public domain. Being able to openly share Faraday’s elegant design solutions is a major achievement after years of hard work. How long did the patent process take and who took part in it?

The patents in question have been part of an internal research and development project, which I have been working on for about seven years. The first two Exchanger patents were submitted in August 2016 and the Faraday Grid patent was submitted in September 2016.

We followed on by submitting our full international patents under the Patent Corporation Treaty in August and September 2017. These three patents have been released into the public domain in February and March this year.

I was personally responsible for the writing, which occurred over a period of six months, with input from co-founder and CEO, Andrew Scobie, working with patent attorney Richard Brown, partner at Davies Collison Cave.

What are the implications of the patents being available for the public and what comes next?

For Faraday, having international patents granted by the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) means that we have interim protection while we go through the process of rolling out regional specific patents to cover key energy markets and eventually the entire world.

From an external perspective, the patents being in the public domain means that they are available on Patent Scope and various places. Those who were previously guessing the principles of our technology can now gain a more specific understanding.  

This is also a significant step in safeguarding the technology, correct?

Exactly. Even if a regional Faraday patent was not granted in a particular jurisdiction, which there is no reason to expect, nobody else can come and patent it anymore. It became public knowledge, which is a nice de-risk for us – the worst-case scenario is that Faraday Grid cannot be kept out of the market.

Irrespective of the patents though, if someone tried to copy the Faraday technology, they would certainly be a little late to do so. We have a significant head start over any perceived competition in developing the technology out of the market. The expert consensus among the variety of global companies that have reviewed our technology at the current stage of progress estimates that we have a five- to seven-year advantage over anyone else.

The technology’s level of sophistication must not ease the patent process either – what were the criteria the Faraday patents had to comply with to be granted?

Three key criteria need to be fulfilled for any patent to be granted. First, it has to be novel, that is, it has to be something new, or a combination of existing things brought together in a non-obvious way. The idea has to comprise of an inventive step, something unique, unlike just putting two things together. And lastly, there has to be industrial applicability – you cannot patent something if there is no purpose for it.

All of our patents meet those criteria and hence our international patents having been granted by the PCT.

These international patents will have to be followed by regional patents. What does this mean exactly?

Patents are country-specific – normally, every country has a patent office which grants patents for that region.

The PCT is an external body to which 152 countries have signed up. As part of their international patent process, the PCT provides an International Search Report that is in effect the same review that each country will go through. They do all their reference check of prior art and provide feedback based on their research. The international patent being granted by the PCT informs regional patent offices on their review process and gives up to 31 months of protection, allowing time to register the patent in all desired regions.

For example, if we were to apply for a Japanese patent, the Japanese patent office would look through the PCT’s report but conduct their own search to double-check that everything is in place. The international patent is not legally binding for the regional offices; however, it is a high-level indicator that the regional patent will also be validated.

We submitted our patents in August and September in 2016, we then submitted full international patents in August and September 2017. These have been reviewed and accepted, and are now public knowledge, meaning we have 31 months from the 2016 submission of protection to roll out in the specific regions.

What are the targeted regions for the country-specific roll out?

We are taking a staged approach. In the first stage, we focus on a number of regions, including the UK, continental Europe, Japan, Korea, Brazil, China, America, Canada, Australia, to name a few.

In the second stage, Faraday will get protection for the remaining part of the world. Because it is a time and resource-demanding process, it is reasonable to patent it in the countries of primary interest first. Ultimately, we are planning to patent absolutely everywhere – we are in the process of doing that now.

Faraday’s technology is complex and has many layers. What exactly do the published patents cover?

The Exchanger patents look at two specific arrangements of the technology. They describe the physical device and the way it is able to perform voltage control and power factor control, by bringing together a number of concepts proven and used in physics and systems-design in a novel way.

The Faraday Grid patent looks at the system architecture and how the power network operates with multiple devices in it for an autonomous decentralised control philosophy as well as how having distributed inertia will make the network behave. This covers off the entire network architecture which can be achieved using Exchangers but is not limited to them – it is the actual architecture and behaviour.

So, the Faraday Grid patent describes an idea for organising electricity systems, as opposed to describing a network technology ?

It has little to do with the physical structure of the network because networks are different and evolve over time according to society’s needs, geography, and power flows.

To understand the novelty of the Faraday Grid, we should look back at the traditional design of the electricity system. In this, the network was a passive asset: consumption equalled to whatever people wanted to use, and generation was controlled to balance the power in the system; the grid was just a dull wire in-between to get the power through. Maintaining balance through the end-points of the system proved to be tedious and instable, as illustrated by the occasional blackouts and rising electricity bills. The Faraday Grid shifts the control and makes the system grid-centric, which means balancing the electricity system not by generation, but by its middle point: the grid itself.

Two major concepts make the Faraday Grid unique. One is the autonomous and decentralised control through which it operates; a very well proven control philosophy, for instance, it is the foundation principle of the internet. This is foreign to a lot of power engineers, who are used to traditional set ups of electricity control. The other is having synchronous storage distributed in the grid, so the grid acts as it has inertia.

The Faraday Grid patent describes a collaboration of independent individual devices that operate autonomously but also interact inherently. The devices autonomously optimise their area based on their local needs but having a number of them in a system naturally forms an emergent order, due to them being coupled within an electrical system. This means that the action of one affects others – like a school of fish: each individual fish controls their own dynamics, but together many fish also form the dynamics of the entire school. There is no central control telling the fish how not to bump into each other.

In this patent, the way the devices achieve what they do is not specified, hence it is not exclusive to Exchangers. What matters is their influence on the system, and then how they interact with each other to achieve the common goal.

One of the fundamental assets of what you described, the Faraday technology, is providing a platform for further innovation. Does this connote more patents to come?

Definitely. In March 2018 we submitted a further two Exchanger patents, covering our next level of advanced designs. These are still going to be private for the next 12 months. 

We are currently drafting three more patents, to be submitted in the coming weeks – the technology is much further along in development than the patents show. As progress enables and stimulates more progress, so is Faraday moving dynamically forward and we are not planning to slow down. We have very exciting times ahead of us.