Big ideas set to reap rewards for region’s companies | 13 March 08

AN ULTRA-accurate satellite tracking system and a wind turbine blade-testing device are amongst the leading edge technologies being developed under a pioneering scheme in the North-East.

The Ideas-lab team with Stephen Wilson of NAREC

Wind of change – (from left) the Ideas-lab team (Alex Shiel from Ward Hadaway, inventor and industrial design consultant Tim Moor and Stuart English from Northumbria University) with Stephen Wilson from NAREC

Ideas-lab was launched by Newcastle-based law firm Ward Hadaway and Northumbria University last summer to help unlock the multi-million pound potential of the North-East’s hidden business treasures.

Under the project, experts from the university’s school of design and Ward Hadaway’s intellectual property team were invited in to companies and organisations to examine ways to make the most of their technology, processes and ideas.

So far, more than a dozen companies have had an initial assessment from the Ideas-lab team on the commercial potential of their various technologies.

Now they are looking to help guide two of those organisations – Autopoietic Systems of Birtley and Blyth-based NAREC – to the next stage of development and make their ideas into real money-spinners.

The three key members of Ideas-lab - Alex Shiel, partner and head of intellectual property at Ward Hadaway, experienced inventor and industrial design consultant Tim Moor and Northumbria University school of design principal lecturer Stuart English – have proven track records in helping businesses develop, protect and exploit their intellectual property and technology to the full.

Alex Shiel said: “It has been extremely encouraging to see the depth of innovation within North-East companies and demand for Ideas-lab has exceeded our expectations.

“What is important now is to maximise the value of these ideas and innovations to add value to these businesses and give them a real competitive edge. If we can help to do that, the future looks very bright for them.”

Autopoietic Systems has developed a GPS tracking system that is accurate to within half a metre, as opposed to the current standard of about 10 metres.

The device was recently in the news after company founder Dr Philip Tann used it to argue that he had not broken a 30MPH speed limit. Northumbria Police ended up discontinuing its case against Dr Tann.

Stuart English said: “The technology that Autopoietic Systems has developed has lots of interesting applications in a range of fields.

“However, probably the most important thing for us at the moment is to look at the intellectual property at the heart of the device and get the most out of it in the widest number of applications. This may well be by licensing the technology in different ways. We will then use this strategy as the basis for a business plan to help bring in further funding for the company.”

Dr Phillip Tann said: “It is very important that prestige organisations such as Ward Hadaway and Northumbria University can identify and provide assistance to North-East technology companies.

“Their assistance will allow Autopoietic to concentrate more on our product releases, which will include a tracking product to help cut parking ticket costs for businesses.”

At NAREC – the North-East’s centre of excellence for new and renewable energy – the Ideas-lab team will be helping the organisation to develop its patented wind turbine blade testing technology.

The system measures how much vibration blades make, how resilient they are and how they perform over time and NAREC is looking to develop it as an industry standard for the wind farm sector.

Mr English said: “For this, we presented NaREC with suggestions on how they can configure the intellectual property and they are now developing patents based on our recommendations.”

Stephen Wilson, Director of Wind and Marine at NaREC, said: “Working within a highly competitive industry, it has been important for us to protect our unique testing technology, and ensure that it provides our customers with the R&D support they need.”

The success of the initial Ideas-lab project has led Northumbria University to look at establishing the concept as a spin-out business with Ward Hadaway advising on intellectual property and other legal aspects.

Alex Shiel said: “We are very pleased to have been working in partnership with Northumbria University on Ideas-lab and the project shows how the private sector can work together with the university sector for the good of the region.”

Ideas-lab was backed with funding from regional development agency One NorthEast.

Ian Williams, Director of Business and Industry at One NorthEast, said: “Ideas-lab is a pioneering new project that helps to unlock the potential of our region’s businesses.

“It is great to hear that the scheme is supporting innovative projects like the wind turbine blade testing technology at NaREC, which recently attracted Californian energy giant Clipper Windpower and has the potential for many more high technology projects.

“Regional economic growth is closely linked to business development and it is great to be able to support projects like Ideas-lab that help transform ideas into reality.”

* More details on Ideas-lab are available via the website