A flying car has been a goal of engineers and The Jetsons fans alike for a number of years now. The Times has a story (“The Flying Car” – 9 Nov. 2008) about the SkyCar – a working (and inexpensive) design based around “paramotors”. These giant fans get strapped to your back and when added to a parachute-like airwing, you can take off flying: a much more practical way of flying than by jetpack.
The SkyCar, a product of UK-based Parajet Ltd, uses paramotors strapped to a vehicle as a way to achieve flight. The car is street legal and its inventors will be taking it on a bio-ethanol fueled challenge to drive it from the UK all the way to Timbuktu, including across the English Channel and the Strait of Gibraltar.
It looks like from the article that they’ve taken a bunch of existing technologies and innovated around them in really interesting ways, including a motorcycle engine modded to run on bioethanol and a snowmobile transmission:
“The fan’s static when you’re driving around,” says Cardozo [the primary inventor at Parajet]. “The engineering challenge was getting a really reliable system that will switch power between wheels or fan.”
I instantly wondered if they had taken steps to protect their invention, such as through patenting, as we’ve actually seen quite a few UK-based start ups and other companies who “under-patent”, often based on the conception that patenting requires ground-breaking, award winning science. In actuality, combining current technologies in interesting ways can also be patentable. I did a quick search on esp@cenet and didn’t find any in the company’s name, though with an 18 month window between application and publication, this isn’t surprising. Of course rather than underpatenting, they could forgo patenting in order to create a new market for paramotors that anyone can participate in.
This story serves to highlight two themes I’d like to return to regularly:
- Do UK companies patent less than comparable companies in other jurisdictions, and if so, why?
- What are the strategies around opening up innovation and how do they work?
Most certainly, a discussion to be continued…