Smart ideas for patents

It is a long way from conceiving an idea to a patented solution

A man with a charging lead in his hand stands in front of a charging station and looks into an electric vehicle with a woman sitting in it.
With numerous patents, innogy also drives innovations in the field of electric mobility

So far only 34,000 electric vehicles travel on Germany's roads, but they are very noticeable. Especially when their charging leads are used to recharge their batteries at the roadside. Interested passers by may ask themselves several questions: are these leads secured in any way? Or can anybody just pull them out of their sockets? Thanks to innogy this happens far less frequently than one might think. Because the company developed a mechanism that anchors the charging lead solidly to the electric vehicle – via the car's central locking system. An innovation in electric mobility that not many people would link to an energy utility.

But the industry has, in fact, undergone a radical change in recent years. The liberalisation of the electricity market, the transformation of the energy sector and digitisation are the reasons for an enormous innovation drive. At the same time this enabled expansion of the business segments. Numerous technologies are being developed within the innogy Group, for example in the fields of photovoltaics and wind energy, energy storage, power grids but also SmartHome and electric mobility. Modern energy utilities today have to do far more than just make electricity come out of wall sockets.

Energy utilities now must act like technology companies and stand out from their competitors with innovations.
Hans-Georg Greif, head of innogy's patent department

From renewable energy to electric mobility

For this reason innogy and its parent Group RWE restructured their research & development division as early as 2008 and established a central patent department. Greif and his team know from the numbers that more and more development takes place in-house. "Before 2008 we had ten inventions per year on average in the entire RWE Group that were considered feasible for filing as a patent", Greif says. "Now it is 70 and rising."

A diagram shows the route from innovative idea to patent application.
In its research and development division innogy develops customised solutions for various problems.

And the company is also a front-runner in terms of the number of patents it applies for each year. The parent Group RWE came, for example, second out of the large European electricity companies in a 2014 study by the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. Only French energy utility EDF with 25 applications beat RWE's 18. "Many of the research and development departments from that time are now part of innogy", Graf explains. Ideal conditions for successfully continuing the Group's long tradition of inventiveness. Everyone probably knows one of RWE's earliest patents from their fuse box at home: in 1914 an early version of the residual-current circuit-breaker was filed for patent. That is the switch that automatically disconnects an electricity circuit in the case of an emergency in order to prevent accidents.

More information

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