The firm Florencio Lazo Ltd. owns fruit orchards in the central area of Chile and devotes itself especially to grapes and plums for export. After being hit by a frost, the firm tried to protect the orchards with a homemade system of bonfires using oil drums. The system proved to be ineffective and the firm lost the whole harvest.
After experimenting with different options, including the possibility of using helicopters, the owner of the firm began experimenting with the application of hot air to the soil. After four years of tests, from 1992 to 1996, the firm managed to develop a prototype which worked, and so decided to file a patent application, as this technology represented a revolutionary progress in the control of frost. The frost-control machine is a major contribution to agriculture and fruticulture, in terms of its efficiency and effectiveness. It controls advection and radiation frost, and energy consumption is minimal, only three kilos of propane per hour and per hectare protected, which opens up an interesting way of dealing with temperatures during certain critical periods for plants, for example, during the flowering period.
With the assistance of an IP expert, the procedure for obtaining a patent was begun abroad. The United States of America was the first country to grant the patent. An American company is currently manufacturing the machine under license. In Chile, patent No. 41 776 was obtained, granted by the Industrial Property Department, for a machine to control frosts, which works with a centrifugal ventilator with two outlets, using a heater, and which moves around the fields mounted on an agricultural tractor. The equipment functions using liquid gas and can operate for five hours. The inventor, Mr. Florencio Lazo, received the National Prize for Innovation. The invention is also protected by a patent in Argentina, Australia, China and the European Union. The firm also has a trademark registered with the Industrial Property Department.
The machine was invented and developed through a project supported by the National Fund for Technology and Production Development (FONTEC), which provided 40 per cent of the funding. It currently devotes 20 per cent of the sales to developing other technologies.
Technology is transferred through the sale of equipment. There are currently 300 units operating mainly in Chilean fruit orchards. In parallel, and during tests at the Royal Research Station of Gorsem, Belgium, under a licensing contract a Belgian partner is developing a prototype with a view to it being marketed in the European Union. A firm from Michigan will do something similar for the market in the United States of America during tests at the University of California. Technical assistance is another of the mechanisms which the firm uses, linked to the sale of the product. Foreign sales represent 50 per cent of the total.
The intellectual property system is essential for the economic life of the firm, since it attaches very great importance to that system. However, the machine is already being manufactured illegally, which has led to legal cases being brought.
Based on a case taken from the WIPO publication: Intellectual Property in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: the Case of Chile. See the WIPO electronic bookshop.