Rosie Hardy, Patent Attorney looks at a rail clip innovation that inspired a sculpture
Having first patented the original PR rail clip in 1957, Pandrol has become a global family of businesses specialising in rail fastening systems. Currently, more than two billion Pandrol rail fastenings are in service, in over 100 countries.
To maintain a competitive edge, Pandrol continues to innovate fastening technology to hold rail tracks in place. As might be expected, the company has also continued to seek intellectual property protection for its innovation and has an array of patents around the world. Each of these patents has a life span of up to 20 years and provides a valuable monopoly for Pandrol in its target markets. Crucially, during this period of patent exclusivity, Pandrol is able to leverage commercial advantage and prevent its competitors from launching fastenings that utilise the same solutions.
An online patent search tool shows that Pandrol is following this intellectual property strategy by seeking to obtain a worldwide family of patents for a particular new fastening apparatus. This family includes granted European Patent 2516744 B that provides protection in the UK and other European countries. The European patent describes how the novel fastening apparatus is suitable for use on concrete slab track.
The fastening apparatus includes a baseplate (20), which is used to receive a rail track (10). In this design, the baseplate is secured to the seat area (2) of a concrete rail foundation (1) using the first and second fastening assemblies – shown at (30) and (40) respectively. As can be seen in the figures, the first and second fastening assemblies are located on the concrete rail foundation on opposite sides of the baseplate seat area. Each fastening assembly uses clamps (35, 45) and innovative fixings (31, 41).
In earlier fastening apparatus, the baseplate has typically been held down at either end by identical fixings. However, in this recently-patented fastening apparatus, the fixings for the fastening assemblies are different. The fixing (31) for the first fastening assembly consists of a shoulder, with a first stem part (32), that engages the concrete rail foundation. It also has a second head part (33) that interlocks with the first clamp (35). The fixing (41) for the second fastening assembly comprises a screw-threaded fastener, with a stem (42) that engages a threaded aperture in the concrete rail foundation and a head (43) that bears on the second clamp (45).
The fixing for the first fastening assembly is arranged on the field side of the track, so that lateral loads from the baseplate are transmitted to the concrete rail foundation through the first clamp and the fixing.
To reduce the risk of damage to the fixings, the patented fastening apparatus allows for vertical loads applied to the concrete rail foundation to be transferred via the clamps, rather than directly through the fixings. This is particularly beneficial when the fixing for the first fastening assembly is a cast-in shoulder.
Advantageously, the different types of fixing also mean that the height of the patented fastening apparatus can be adjusted easily.
Thanks to its extensive patent portfolio, dating back to 1957, Pandrol has been able to establish its fastenings as staple rail products and has become a successful business as a result.
I wonder if the Norwegian engineer, Per Pande-Rolfsen, who designed the original PR rail clip and filed the first patent realised that it would become ubiquitous and its iconic beauty would be captured by a sculpture in Calgary, Canada?
Rosie Hardy is a patent attorney at leading intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers