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Finding the Key to Protecting Game-Changing Drone Technology

Martensen IP worked with an innovator in the crowded unmanned aircraft systems field to find the novel element that is the cornerstone of its IP protection.

Developing Revolutionary Technology in a Crowded Field Requires a Creative IP Strategy

Like many other companies, San Francisco-based Elroy Air develops unmanned aircraft systems—commonly known as drones—for military and commercial purposes. But unlike other companies, Elroy Air wasn’t looking to compete in this crowded industry, they were looking to revolutionize it.

The Problem: Obtaining Patents on Deceptively Unique Technology

Elroy Air Co-founder and CEO David Merrill had a vision for developing drones that could transport payloads of up to 500 pounds for hundreds of miles into remote locations that have no airfields and where it wasn’t economical or advisable to fly helicopters. So, he and his team set out to do that.

Having founded and built another technology business previously, David knew that obtaining patents for the new company’s technology was essential. But one of the key criteria for patentability is that an invention has a “novel” element, and Elroy Air’s drone did not appear, at a glance, to have that. It is similar in many ways to several other drones on the market in that it is a large, powerful, autonomous, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

Martensen IP’s Solution: A Deep-Dive to Find the Chaparral’s Patentable, Innovative Essence

As we had conversations with David, we learned that aspects of the hybrid powertrain needed to give the Chaparral the payload capacity and range it has are truly groundbreaking. That realization opened the door to applying for and being granted a wide variety of patents, copyrights and trademarks. They now effectively prevent other companies from capitalizing on the innovations that David and his team worked so hard to develop.

A second challenge was that there are two types of entities interested in Elroy Air’s Chaparral aircraft. The U.S. military sees it as an excellent vehicle for supplying troops operating in hard-to-reach locations, including behind enemy lines, particularly since the aircraft can be folded up and rapidly deployed to the field. Consequently, it has provided funding for the Chaparral’s development.

Transportation companies have also recognized its potential for getting shipments to rural areas quickly and cost-effectively. Creating IP protection that addresses the wants and needs of both public and private entities was a balancing act, but one that we completed successfully.

Confident that its technology was secure, Elroy Air forged ahead and had secured commitments for 500 aircraft (representing more than $1 billion) even before the Chaparral officially launched.

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