Collegiate Hyperloop: Technology Transfer
The Hyperloop Alpha white paper was published on August 12, 2013 by Elon Musk. The competition was announced in 2015. This created a whirlwind of inspired companies, dozens of university competitors, and worldwide mass media attention.
Typically, around 24-29 teams compete at the competition weekends. There have been three competition weekends so far, with the next scheduled for July 21, 2019. At these competition weekends, each team completes about 50 different tests to prove feasibility, structure, safety, and more design requirements. The teams pass these tests by speaking directly with SpaceX engineers to thoroughly describe their pods. At the end of the weekend, the top three teams compete for the fastest race time in the low pressure track. Additional 'Innovation Awards' are also presented for unique design features that aren't necessarily in the top three teams.
The subject of this article's observation will be the development of Hyperloop intellectual property, and how this environment evolves as university teams create their own independent companies following the competition. This area bears further observation because of the high amount of parties that are currently pursuing the same design goal. As this race progresses, the number of competitors will only increase until a solution is found. But, even if a solution is found, will intellectual property rights become a barrier to entry?
The SpaceX strategy to accelerate this technology by publishing the technical specifications is showing promise now, six years later. The white paper was published as "open source" and Elon Musk said that he doesn't like patents unless they are critical to company success.
SpaceX has taken the position to support the accelerated development of this technology by sharing the white papers and not pursuing intellectual property. Collegiate Hyperloop teams are able to file for IP under their own companies or with the universities they represent. Additionally, other companies around the world may want to purchase Hyperloop patents from universities. This process is commonly known as technology transfer.
Hyper Poland's most recent crowd sourcing campaign gained €200,006. They've had great success from the competition, and are continuing to expand. Most recently, they announced their interest in IP.
Hyper Poland understands the value of IP and acknowledges the world race against them. How does the competition fit back into the picture? Their crowd sourcing page explicitly states, "Our technology is inspired by the Hyperloop - envisioned by Elon Musk as a hybrid of railways and aviation." Though they continue to innovate, they must be careful not to incorporate designs seen on the competition floor.
Ultimately, having a patent is better than no patent at all, as others continue to design without submitting applications. Hyper Poland is developing outside of the competition, like many others. Most notably are the top two teams of the 2018 competition weekend, WARR Hyperloop and Delft Hyperloop.
WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich took home the top prize in 2018 — and set a new record — with their self-propelled pod reaching a top speed of 284 mph (457 km/h). They've recently re-branded to TUM Hyperloop, after Technical University of Munich. In 2019, TUM Hyperloop has broken their own record and claim another win at 288 mph (463 km/h). They are the front runners and most well-known team worldwide.
On May 16, 2019, TUM Hyperloop announced that they are now under the parent body NEXT Prototypes of Technical University of Munich. At the moment, TUM Hyperloop is involved with building test tracks, with the longest at 30-kilometers.
CRN reports, "In the summer, a consortium of scientists and companies should be established to implement the project. By the end of 2019, we want to know where we can build test tracks, who builds them and what it costs."
So far, it TUM Hyperloop is on its way to making their track in Germany. Presently, they have not made any patent announcements.
Delft Hyperloop is one of the runner-ups to WARR. Delft has inspired an independent company, Hardt Hyperloop comprised of former competition members. Hardt raised 1.25M as reported in their last press release.
There is ambiguity to were the Delft Hyperloop team ends and the company Hardt begins. Hardt stated, "This year we are proud to support the Delft Hyperloop team". Hardt has recently created a Hyperloop think tank where university teams can collaborate on ideas so they don't repeat mistakes. They have the awareness that bigger companies do not share their progress.
It's clear that Hardt displays a stark contrast to Hyper Poland. Hardt has goals to find solutions to this quickly and to collaborate as a means to an end.
Overall, SpaceX is empowering global design teams that have all capabilities to build Hyperloop and potentially file for patent applications. They have a small army of designers on the race to build the Hyperloop. Since the beginning in 2013, it has taken until now in 2019 for results to emerge from the collegiate teams. Other companies interested in entering this field may want access to their intellectual property. This process of technology transfer is well-known.
Most universities negotiate their technology transfer deals through their offices of technology licensing (OTL), which are administrative offices within universities. OTLs typically gather invention disclosures from professors or other faculty personnel, determine whether to seek patent protection, oversee prosecution of the patent, seek technology transfer partners to commercialize the inventions, and license those patents to interested private parties. (Lexis Nexis)
Litigation has been seen between universities and companies if the tech transfer negotiations fail. We can recall UW - Madion's licensing office, called Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund (WARF) who filed a lawsuit against Apple. The university initially won in 2015 when a jury ruled that the iPhone 5S, iPad Air, and iPad mini 2 had infringed the patent.
According to unpublished numbers compiled by University of Alberta professor Tania Bubela using data from patent analytics firm Lex Machina, educational institutions file between 45 and 50 patent-related suits each year in the U.S. (Reuters). Universities are increasingly licensing their technologies or partnering with companies to bring ideas to market, according to a recent survey by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), the umbrella group for intellectual property officials for more than 300 universities and other research institutions.
Today as patents emerge from the collegiate teams, technology transfer and patent transfer will increase to companies all over the world. After six years since the release of the white papers, technical results are here and real infrastructure is starting to rise.