Patently an interesting vocation
Published: 04 Feb 2016
After seeing the huge number of technological advances published by aviation-related businesses annually, Philip Robinson launched AeroPatent; a service which finds the developments which really matter to users.
Have you always been interested in aviation?
I flew on an airliner for the first time at 20 and shortly afterwards received a flying lesson as a birthday gift from my parents. Those flights sparked an interest in aviation that, over 15 years, has become a passion and steered many professional and personal decisions in my life. An Air New Zealand captain recently told me “the aviation bug is the best to catch because it’s one of the few that makes you feel better”. I couldn’t agree more.
A flying lesson helped ignite Philip Robinson’s fascination with the sector
Tell us about your career
With memories of that flying lesson fresh, after graduating in product design I entered the aviation industry as operations officer for a flight training company. I later moved to a similar role in business aviation but in my spare time I invented and brought to market a small consumer product. This introduced me to patents and it was to have a major influence on my career. I moved into technology transfer for a few years before landing a super job as patent manager for GKN Aerospace, working with engineers and patent attorneys to protect the company’s technology portfolio. It was in 2013 I broke out to start AeroPatent. I fly privately and am working towards a commercial licence with multi-engine and instrument ratings.
What is AeroPatent?
Every week, hundreds of new aerospace patent applications are published, revealing otherwise unknown technology that is intriguing, exciting and potentially important. But these patents can be notoriously difficult to find and interpret because patent language is, well, tiresome to say the least. What an engineer calls a ‘wing’, a patent attorney might call a ‘lift generation device’. Consider a whole document in that language and it becomes time consuming to find, read and understand. Enter AeroPatent. We monitor patent publications, simplify them, and provide search tools, interactive charts and email alerts for members to quickly find newly published aerospace technology that matters.
What have been the most interesting and newsworthy patents you have spotted?
Two recent publications generated considerable interest. The first is an Airbus application for downward folding wingtips; an early glimpse of the A350-1100 perhaps? The second, also from Airbus, discloses an airliner mezzanine cabin which hit the headlines shortly after we broke the story. Details of both can be found on our website and social media.
With so many patents published, how many are turned into commercially viable products?
It’s widely reported only a small proportion of patented inventions become commercial products, with some reports claiming a rate as low as 5%. Companies file patent applications to protect their research and development but of course business strategy, market demand and passenger needs change. However, behind what seems the most impractical patent application may lie a feature or principle which, under certain circumstances or market conditions could become shrewd and potentially competition-busting.
What is the biggest challenge with your job?
The biggest challenge is time. The world’s leading patent offices publish new aerospace patent applications every few days and although we have automated alerts, sophisticated software and business processes, we analyse each abstract, description and set of claims manually. That takes a lot of time, particularly when foreign translation is involved.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Mention the word ‘patent’ and so often eyes start to glaze over. What I enjoy is seeing those glazed eyes become wide open when the technology described in patents is presented in a simple, relevant and engaging format. That’s the inspiration behind AeroPatent and I now find myself in a privileged position to indulge my passion for aerospace technology and share insight with a hungry audience.