Submitted by the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office
In 2015, four partners, Eneko Sanz, Ricardo Savio, Odilón Camargo and Iñaki Alti founded Nabrawind Technologies S.L. in Navarre, Spain. The company’s goal is to design and develop wind technologies, a sector in which the partners have a lot of experience.
Nabrawind was initially a spinoff of the Evoluwind company established with the aim of developing a new and innovative downwind wind turbine which would provide modularity while also facilitating transport and assembly: the rotor on this machine faces leeward and the nacelle turns with the direction of the wind.
Already aware of the value of their innovations, the partners decided to seek proper protection for their developments by incorporating an industrial property strategy into their business plan. Their first PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) application WO2015/150594 was filed to protect a new system and method of assembly of wind turbines that did not use cranes.
Since such patent applications extended protection to other countries, Nabrawind took advantage of this opportunity for greater protection and obtained its first family of patents:
Thanks to the investors and their expertise, the partners realized that it was necessary to focus exclusively on two particularly promising technologies, instead of pursuing an overly ambitious project such as the complete development of a new wind turbine. The wind market sought solutions to two problems, among others: how to connect modular blades and how to assemble wind turbines at higher altitudes.
At this stage, building a team of professionals with extensive experience in the sector was paramount, so Nabrawind formed a team of 13 senior engineers that developed two technologies called: Nabralift (self-erecting tower) and Nabrajoint (modular blade system), which were both protected by patents.
With the project already under way, two new partners joined Nabrawind: a private investor and the Government of Navarre’s venture capital company, Sodena. The founding partners assigned to their investors the two PCT patents that protect the modular blade system and self-erecting tower technologies.
The development of these technologies began in 2016 and ended in 2018 with the manufacturing of full-scale prototypes. The world’s first self-erected metal tower, 160 meters high, was erected in the town of Eslava in Navarre. It is now the tallest tower in Spain and the third tallest in the world, making it possible to verify the logistical advantages of not using large cranes during assembly. The first assembly of modular blades was manufactured in the same year and underwent thorough structural testing, where its technological potential was successfully demonstrated.
In 2019, the company increased its commercial activity and obtained the first contracts for both its products: the first self-erected towers will be constructed in Namibia and Morocco (the latter will break the African continent’s existing record of 144 meters); while a modular blade is being developed for one of the largest global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).
The original PCT application presented a system with a single bolt joint. However, these special bolts have to be pretensioned and the solutions presented in the patent were improvable. After all, a great premise in technology is “everything can be improved”.
The company’s engineers therefore devised a solution by pretensioning each one of their bolts by means of a wedge-shaped device named and patented as the XPACER.
A special frame to test the modules comprising the modular blade was also developed and patented. This frame enables the company to test the joint without the weight of an entire blade.
Finally, a tool that tightens the screws of the XPACER was developed and ultimately patented because it also had some interesting features.
The original PCT filing was for a lattice tower that can self-erect by means of hydraulic systems that can rise with a preinstalled nacelle.
While it is self-erecting, pre-assembled tower segments rise from the bottom of the tower. Large cranes are not used and the tower can still easily surpass 140 meters. All of the components can also be transported on conventional trucks.
This original idea soon gave rise to another business model: why not apply this solution to existing towers? Thus arose the hybrid Nabralift tower that assembles the entire wind turbine, including the rotor, on a conventional tubular tower that self-erects to the desired height. This led to a new patent.
This adaptation prompted the development of new concepts that were patented, such as the transitional piece, a key component that connects the tubular tower with the lattice structure. It is critical because of the loads it can bear and its design has resulted in two different solutions, also patented.
In addition, the prototype built in Eslava was used to test the lifespan of the Nabralift self-erecting tower. Since the prototype did not have a rotor or nacelle, a circular load was placed on top of the tower that could rapidly simulate the loads that it would experience in its lifespan. Because of the originality and novelty of the validation test, it was also protected for being undoubtedly world-class pioneering.
Finally, suggestions were made during the assembly of the self-erecting Nabralift prototype to use a more efficient new alternative building foundation. Generally, the foundations of tall towers are made of large footings, where tons of concrete are poured into the footing bed. However, the prototype in Eslava helped Nabralift identify that thanks to its three-column hybrid tower, it was suitable for developing pile foundations that would reduce the use of concrete by 80% compared to more conventional foundations in the sector.
All of these additional tests and developments resulted in the current portfolio of ten patents – four for the modular blade system (Nabrajoint) and six for the self-erecting tower system (Nabralift) – that has helped with their extension into markets identified as the most promising for Nabrawind products. The specific countries in which the protection was extended are the USA, China, India, Brazil and Europe.
Nabrawind’s commitment to industrial property has been clear and important in its trajectory. At present, the company has 26 patent applications, eight granted patents and registered trademarks for NABRAWIND, NABRALIFT, NABRAJOINT and XPACER.
Patents, together with the validation of the products they protect, are highly valuable for the licenses that are currently being negotiated.
The company’s strategy not only includes registrations of the various forms of industrial property; the partners and investors are also aware that the technological information they are managing and developing is a highly valuable asset. This is why they constantly monitor all the OEMs around the world, watching over their developments and patents. External information is regularly collected and analyzed; an internal newsletter is then prepared and distributed throughout the organization to keep everybody informed. Adopting technological surveillance feeds competitive intelligence, and therefore strategic planning.
The best way to understand the company’s experience with industrial property is through the words of the company’s partners. Regarding their PCT applications:
“This type of protection is very useful for starting a company because the PCT search report is very thorough and offers clear insight into how strong your invention is. At the same time, it guarantees exclusivity for a 30-month period, during which you can seek funding and begin technological developments before extending the patent to countries where it is in your interest to protect. For this second stage, in which a newly founded company seeks financing, a good IP strategy is imperative. Thanks to that, investors feel comfortable knowing that their investment is protected. This way, they also know that when they exercise due diligence and request a Freedom to Operate analysis, there will be no room for surprises and the patent applications will have no problems with the prior art search.”
“During the development of any project, problems that need to be solved constantly arise, and discovering solutions may just involve a patent that requires protection. This prompts an important question: When should you apply for a patent? Experience has taught us that the sooner you apply, the better. Moreover, take into account that patent protection is a constant process that cannot be halted or neglected. The development of Nabrawind’s technologies is an example of this logic.”