Rosie Hardy, Patent Attorney, puts cable safety in the spotlight

At a time when the UK’s rail industry is undergoing a renaissance, innovationled businesses are regularly challenged by operators to deliver infrastructure improvements.

One such business is North Yorkshire-based Ellis Patents Ltd, which was approached by Network Rail to develop a system that would help to protect the health and safety of operatives when installing live power cables.

Responding to the challenge, Ellis Patents designed the ‘Ellis No Bolts Cable Cleat’. This boltless cable cleat can be stacked and installed quickly without the use of tools or machinery, which means that additional cable runs can be added easily without the need to make changes to existing installations.

Since its launch, the novel cable cleat has won an electrical industry award and obtained Parts and Drawing System (PADS) approval from Network Rail.

To seek patent protection for its innovation, Ellis Patents has filed an International Patent Application (WO 2017/046570).

The International Patent Application describes how the cable cleat has an upper-clamp portion (700) and a lower-clamp portion (702), which is capable of holding a cable in place securely. A pair of resilient fingers (732) extend downwards from the upper-clamp portion into corresponding slot-like passageways (712), which form part of the lower-clamp portion. A slotted keyway (775) intersects each passageway and is configured to receive a sliding keeper element (785).

As can be seen, each keeper element features a number of tooth-like projections (710) that engage corresponding projections (740) emanating from the fingers (732).

After the fingers of the upper-clamp portion have been inserted in the passageway of the lower-clamp portion, the sliding keeper elements are inserted into the keyways to securely connect both portions together.

This push-fit locking mechanism allows the cable cleat to be fitted quickly and easily, without using tools. The projections allow the upper and lower-clamp portions to be connected together in a number of positions so that cables of different diameters can be held securely in the cleat. The risk of cable damage is minimised and the cost of installation is substantially reduced.

A granted patent provides a valuable monopoly for up to 20 years. This period of exclusivity allows plenty of time for a company to leverage any commercial opportunity without risk of competition. There are different approaches to obtaining patent protection and the strategy followed depends on the key markets timelines, budget available and the location of main competitors. The tangible benefits of acquiring patent protection should be assessed and outweigh the initial outlay. The generous UK tax rebate available to UK businesses through the Patent Box tax regime should also be considered.

In this case, the International Patent Application process chosen by Ellis Patents provides a flexible, cost-efficient route for seeking patent protection in up to 152 countries around the world. Not every country will be necessary and eventually, Ellis Patents will have to select the countries where it would like the International Patent Application to be converted into national patent applications and proceed further. If these applications aresuccessful, Ellis Patents will then be granted a bundle of national patents.

Without patent protection, things would play out differently. Competitors would be free to reverse engineer the cable cleat and bring it to market in their own right, without seeking permission from Ellis Patents. In this way, they could profit unfairly from Ellis Patents’ investment in innovation.

In this instance, an engineering challenge posed by a rail operator has resulted in a game-changing innovation that could help to save lives on rail networks and across the electrical industry. In order to maintain the advantage however, commercial protection is a necessity.

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