21.9.2020Everyone wants to develop. This insight has given rise to Polar, the everyday partner for active movers and athletes ─ and hundreds of unique innovations. Jyrki Schroderus, Director of Research and Technology at Polar Electro, knows brands and patents and can also demand the best from an IPR partner, as the doctor of philosophy in the field of physics is himself a former patent attorney.
“We have always believed in the power of our own research and science.” This is how Director of Research and Technology Jyrki Schroderus sums up the core of Polar’s success.
Love for research has been a driving force behind the decades of Polar’s technological development ─ and has brought them industry-wide patents.
The first radical innovation was born in the late 1970s, when Polar created and launched the world’s first portable heart rate monitor. In the early 2000s, the company developed an accelerometer for measuring activity and launched the world’s first activity bracelet. However, it took a further 15 years for activity bracelets to become a trend.
“The role of pioneers is to create new technologies for the success products of the future”, says Schroderus.
Polar was one of the forerunners in the development of optical heart rate measurement, which has recently been rapidly replacing EKG-based sensors that require the use of a chest strap. This new technology measures the heart rate from the wrist, which has enabled the development of more attractive, comfortable and versatile heart rate monitor watches suitable for continuous use.
“We have already been developing optical heart rate monitor watches for four generations of technology and have become forerunners in their quality, accuracy, and usability. Our newest products are Polar Unite, a fitness watch, and Polar Grit X, an outdoor sports watch, which has also helped racing driver and Polar brand ambassador Valtteri Bottas train his impact skills for the upcoming F1 formula season. ”
Striking power from IPR protection ─ with a trusted partner
In recent years, Polar’s wide range of products has been extended with many Smart Coaching features that will provide the users with accurate information, for example, on training load, recovery, running efficiency, sleep quality as well as the consumption of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
“The portable heart rate monitor has evolved into a portable sports laboratory with personal training and coaching as an online and mobile service. This combination of products, applications and services, known as the Polar Flow ecosystem, has been a big leap for Polar in terms of technology and services.”
A portable sports laboratory comprises hundreds of patents and patent applications. These are used to protect both the core technology and the numerous software solutions used to power various features that improve the user experience and provide added value.
Polar considers its own inventions and product features to be so valuable and unique that they have wanted to hold on tightly to these intellectual property assets by protecting them as well and comprehensively as possible.
“Over the decades, Kolster has become a trusted partner for patent, trademark and design protection in the Polar ecosystem.”
A good patent attorney is not a robot
Polar finds numerous benefits from the strategy of one trusted IPR partner.
“When a long-term partnership works well, it saves everyone’s time. A patent attorney who is familiar with both the technology and the surrounding context can painlessly draft a new patent application based on an hour-long quite general discussion and a few key documents – and the end result is still excellent.”
In recent years, Polar's patenting has been diligently handled by patent attorneys Timo Pykälä, Sami Aromaa and Pekka Ristikaarto at Kolster's Oulu office. From 2001 to 2007, Schroderus himself also carried the cloak of a trusted partner in patenting, as he is a former Kolster patent attorney.
Schroderus believes that the most important aspect of an IPR partnership is confidence in the partner’s expertise and the good quality of patent applications they create. This allows the company to focus its own checkpoints only on the core, i.e. the patent claims, and ensure that there is a common understanding on the business target of the application.
“A good patent attorney is not a robot that only does what they are told. If this is the case, you are not getting good service.”
A skilled patent attorney builds a pyramid
A skilled patent attorney builds a patent application like a pyramid, says Jyrki Schroderus.
At the top of the pyramid are the most valuable assets that need to be protected. However, the pyramid still needs to have enough support layers and built-in contingency plans in case it begins to appear that the patent will not be granted in the format as planned. By preparing for surprises already during the drafting, a skilled patent attorney will be able to prosecute the application into a granted patent in a way that the top of the pyramid is still protected, even if some of the broader claims may have to be waived in order to obtain a patent.
The toughest places in the patenting process come up during the office action stages, because they often bring surprises. This is where a patent attorney can truly show his/her expertise and creativity. This is also when the cooperation between the attorney and the customer is really being tested. If a negative office action drives the customer into a corner, the patent attorney must find the best way out.
“When the patent attorney has the ability to be creative, the end result is excellent. This means a lot for the final scope of protection provided by a patent."
"The scope of protection can never be fully outsourced, but Kolster’s patent attorneys proactively make good proposals that, with good accuracy, are also right for us and in line with our business strategy. In this way, it is possible for us to successfully and briskly sail through the difficult office action stages.”
IPRs are risk management tools ─ and patents bring competitive advantage
In patenting, Polar’s strategy has been to protect their inventions ahead of time, while research is still on-going. Submitting a patent application at such an early stage provides more extensive protection, but it also means that the company must be prepared to invest in something that will not yield immediate profit.
“For a small company, it can be a big deal. This is why also Polar has grown slowly but steadily. It took quite a long time for us to develop our first commercial products. We have also patented many technologies well ahead of our time ─ technologies such as energy consumption calculation ─ that were only introduced into commercial products almost twenty years later.”
At Polar, patents and other IP rights are seen as risk management tools. For this reason, the company is not only protecting technologies that they intend to use in their own products, but they aim to create patents that affect the whole industry.
“This way the patents become an effective risk management tool against our competitors. Such industry-wide patents require extensive expertise, a sufficient pool of experts, and a good nose for patents. Polar has definitely succeeded in creating also these kinds of patents.”
Schroderus emphasises that a patent is an exclusive right. Companies do not directly benefit from their own patents unless they use licensing as a part of their business model. The legal right to prohibit others from doing the same acts as a strong deterrent in that a company may end up in court for an infringement of IP rights. Legal action is always a significant business risk that requires a lot of resources from a company and may lead to large compensations or compulsory licensing.
“It pays to be well informed of your competitors’ IPR activities. Polar’s own IPR department monitors the patent activities in the field very closely. For trademarks, we utilise Kolster’s service to monitor our competitors’ IPR activities.”
The most valuable IPR asset is the Polar® brand ─ it has no expiry date
Even though patenting is part of Schroderus’s DNA, he ranks the Polar® brand at the top of the hierarchy.
“Our brand is Polar’s most important and valuable IPR asset. I rank it above patents, because our brand is global and has no expiry date.”
Kolster’s European trademark and design attorney, IP lawyer Juha Myllyoja has worked as a trademark and design right specialist for Polar for a long time. The brand is well known around the world, and Polar® products are used by millions of people.
“You could say that Polar has democratised the use of sports technology and digital coaching technology. Over the years, Polar has been able to fine-tune the technology for large-scale industrial production. This has brought the prices to a level where almost anyone can afford to acquire this scientifically tested portable sports laboratory, representing the best available technology in the world.”
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