Patent attorney ROSIE HARDY explains how Alstom has protected its innovative new rail safety system which includes on-board controls configured to both national and EU standards

The rail industry is being encouraged to develop innovation to improve the safety of the country’s railway network. The new strategy set out in the RSSB’s ‘Leading Health and Safety on Britain’s Railways’ highlights a number of priorities.

Any safety solutions that are being developed must comply with certified standards. With this in mind, rail transport company, Alstom, has developed a new on-board railway safety system that complies with both European and national standards.

Given the commercial opportunities of a system that is interoperable across Europe, Alstom has protected the new on board railway safety system using a family of patents. These include European Patent 1659046, which features EU-approved on-board controls configured to operate nationally-approved protection equipment for the railway vehicle.

How this works
These EU on-board controls include a safety management computer that is able to receive signals from the European rail traffic management system (ERTMS) and a communication device that interfaces between the computer and the nationally-approved protection equipment.

This communication device interacts with the computer using the UNISIG subset 35 035, FFIS STM European communication standard. It then transforms the commands into the appropriate national communication standard for the protection equipment.

By creating a safety system that integrates European standard controls with national standard protection equipment, this clever solution is able to utilise protection equipment that has already been established for use on a national rail network. By using this prior-approved protection equipment the certification process for the Alstom system is simplified.

What the patent does
The European patent gives Alstom a valuable monopoly over its on-board railway safety system. If businesses protect their safety innovations in the same way, then patent protection will give them control over the manufacture, sale and licensing of their ideas.

For UK-based companies, patents will also allow the business to obtain Patent Box relief in order to reduce the amount of Corporation Tax payable on worldwide profits made from selling and licensing the invention.

Without patent protection, competitors would be able to freely copy the invention, which could erode the company’s market share. In addition, any profits earned as a result of using the innovative technology would be liable for the full rate of Corporation Tax.

Rail sector innovators should follow Alstom’s example and take steps to protect their safety inventions in order to realise their commercial potential.

Rosie Hardy

Rosie Hardy is a patent attorney at leading European intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers