Yacht builders, suppliers in pursuit of patents to protect innovation

MUNICH – Increasingly, European yacht builders and designers accelerate their bid for patent protection of their work through the European Patent Office. This newsletter asked EPO researcher Thierry Schmitter how that works.

“Protecting intellectual property is a growing concern,” he says. “Applicants seek a competitive advantage, the exclusive right to make and market an invention Europe-wide. In all, 38 countries – the 27 EU members and non-members like Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey – abide by the 1973 European Patent Convention.”

To win a patent from the Munich-based EPO, an invention must be new, industrially applicable and solve a technical problem. Copyright protects design and styling. A patent is valid for 20 years. EPO approval takes 3 to 4 years on average.

In 2021, the EPO received a record 188,600 applications. “Patents stimulate innovation, making it possible for others to innovate further,” says Schmitter.

In judging an application, he first tries to understand “what problem is being solved. Then I look for existing patents. Is there any duplication? Next, a search report goes to an applicant’s patent attorney who may reply with a claim adjustment to give a clearer formulation.”

In an infringement case, a patent holder must first see if matters can be resolved amicably. If not, they may ask a court to invalidate the patent. It is possible we misjudged the state of technology the first time,” says Schmitter. “Or the invention existed without a patent. That requires proof of ‘prior use,’ i.e., that the invention was already publicly available.”

Most applications come from yacht sector suppliers. For a hull design, for instance, that cuts hull resistance and saves fuel.” A good example is the Hull Vane of Van Oossanen Naval Architects. (See below).

An EPO patent can cost between €15,000 and €30,000, covering the first five years. That covers the drafting and filing of the application, research, and translation costs. Patent holders pay an annual maintenance fee for 20 years. If granted, a patent will be registered in national laws.

Schmitter: “The costs are kept low as the patent holder must yet profit from an invention. A patent’s validity ends when the holder stops paying the annual fee. Only commercially successful patents are maintained for 20 years.

Dutch patents in yacht building include:

In 2013, Heesen Yachts equipped the 65m Galactica Star with a Fast Displacement Hull Form, developed by Van Oossanen Naval Architects. The FDHF improves performance and fuel efficiency with less power and is 30% more efficient than a displacement hull.

Van Oossanen Naval architects’ Hull Vane

Van Oossanen has been marketing its Hull Vane since 2014 for motor yachts and commercial and naval vessels. The Hull Vane cuts the drag of water-displacing vessels. An underwater transom wing, it also dampens rolling and wave slamming. The Hull Vane was initially developed for ships and yachts of more than 20m that can go faster than 11 knots. Today it is available for all vessel lengths.

The S-line Hull from Steeler Yachts features a high fan stern with special spray rails. The design offers both much foreship volume and fuel efficiency. The yard has applied it to a range of motor yachts.

Axe Bow
Damen Shipyards Group’s Axe Bow

The Axe Bow is a bow and hull shape developed for various vessels by several parties, including Damen Shipyards and Delft University of Technology. The latter has the patent. Damen has an exclusive license to use the Axe Bow. It first appeared in 2006 on a Damen Fast Crew Supplier. Damen also outfitted a series of Sea Axe support vessels for superyachts with the axe Bow.