One of the most exciting developments in recent years is the rapid and accelerating commercialisation of space which has a seen a transition away from government-led projects towards private enterprise.

The technological requirements for performing activities in space means that research and development (R&D) costs in developing technology for space exploration and utilisation are high. With high R&D costs, it is imperative that companies correctly apportion R&D budgets as developing technologies that already exist and fit for purpose is inefficient. However, such an approach applies to all R&D budgets and not only to those directed to highly technical programs.

One way to develop more efficient R&D programs is to look at the patent system and license in technology that complements a company’s R&D programs. Licensing in technology can plug R&D knowledge and technology gaps, reducing time and expenditure on in-house technology development.

Without knowing where to look, finding technology partners to license in technology can be overwhelming. To help ease some of this burden, intellectual property exchange platforms can be a useful resource. An intellectual property exchange platform acts as a repository of patents that their owners want to licensed out or sell. By using an intellectual property exchange platform, buyers and sellers can expand their current intellectual property portfolios or realise value from underutilised segments of their own portfolios. This can help to free up budgets tied to maintenance fees for dormant patents. Buyers can also acquire existing intellectual property to help avoid or reduce infringement risks.

Until recently, the commercial space industry was dominated by a small number of large companies. However, recently many space companies have been founded and funded. When these space companies started out, many faced an uphill battle around R&D programs and were often unable to compete when it came to building and maintaining patent portfolios.

The use of intellectual property exchange platforms is not new, yet there had been none dedicated to space-related technology. To plug this gap, Voyager Space Holdings has recently released its IP Exchange platform. The IP Exchange should help space companies and entrepreneurs develop more efficient R&D programs and also the opportunity to work alongside others to pioneer new technologies.

BrainChip Holdings is an example of the benefits of securing a patent license agreement. BrainChip Holdings is a global technology company that has developed an advanced neural networking processor that furthers artificial intelligence in a way that existing technologies cannot. As a fledgling company for nearly four years, it recently had a key patent portfolio granted in the US, which led to a collaboration with US-based VORAGO Technologies to provide early access to its Akida neuromorphic processor to support a phase I NASA program for a neuromorphic processor that meets space flight requirements. This led to Brainchip Holdings share price urging 136% since the collaboration was announced.

The value that can be extracted from a patent, whether it be exploiting, licensing, or selling, depends, in part, from the scope of protection afforded by the patent. 

The catch with protecting space-related technology is that space law can change the way existing intellectual property protection strategies need to be used. In effect, it requires a fresh look at how IP laws are used to protect space-related activities.

The IP Exchange program is a useful tool to help emerging companies develop and commercialise space technology, but it is important for companies considering using such exchange platforms to ensure that the scope of protection takes into consideration the issues of space law. If not, the value that can be extracted from potential licensees and potential buyers may be reduced. Similarly, those looking to license in or buy space-related technology should ensure that the royalty rate or purchase price is commensurate with the scope of protection when the patent is viewed from the context of space law.

The use of the IP Exchange and similar platforms should only help to accelerate the commercialisation of space. However, those looking to use such platforms should take into consideration the murky interaction of space law and IP laws.