World IP Day
Turning IP into impact
RWTH Aachen University has always been a rich source of new ideas. For years, we’ve had the pleasure to work with visionary researchers who aim to use their scientific expertise to make a lasting impact on our planet – and potentially beyond.
Protecting Intellectual Property can take many forms: patents, utility models, designs, trademarks, computer programs, know-how. While there are considerable differences in the legal specifics of each of these forms, the bottom-line is the same: Having IP rights is crucial for translating excellent research results into disruptive innovation.
A look at the numbers for 2022 demonstrates the powerful invention machinery at RWTH Aachen University and Uniklinik RWTH Aachen (UKA): As of last year, RWTH counts 654 active national and international IP rights, allocated to 281 IP families, i.e., individual inventions. The UKA accounts for 67 IP families with 107 active IP rights. In 2022 alone, 119 inventions were reported, 55 priority patent applications and 120 subsequent patent applications filed for RWTH; for UKA, 19 inventions were reported, 13 priority patent applications and 14 subsequent patent applications were filed.
But what is actually being protected? The range of patent-pending technologies is as diverse as the research and innovation ecosystem at RWTH and UKA, with inventions ranging from natural sciences, information technology and medicine to architecture and georesources all the way to civil, materials, electrical and mechanical engineering.
From Aachen down to Antarctica and up into space
One of them is the high-efficiency head for fast melting probes, developed and optimized at the Physics Institute III B to perform thermal drilling through glaciers, polar ice shields, and – one day – icy moons. As of today, patents for the technology have been granted in Germany, the US, China, and Russia; additional patent applications have been filed in Europe and India.
Recently, the patented RWTH technology was tested in the TRIPLE-IceCraft expedition in Antarctica to do a first important step to explore subglacial lakes. Being isolated from the outside world by thick layers of ice, these sub-terrestrial ecosystems are believed to be home to unique microbial life. Studying such life, however, not only requires thermal drills to move in a fast and energy-efficient way, but also relies on samples free of any contamination by microorganisms from the surface.
That’s why in 2018, the German Space Agency at DLR (German Aerospace Center) launched the TRIPLE project (Technologies for Rapid Ice Penetration and subglacial Lake Exploration). Since then, a team of RWTH researchers and engineers from the GSI GmbH from Aachen have been working on the development of an efficient, autonomous robotic system, the TRIPLE-IceCraft, for the contamination-free exploration of subglacial lakes.
In February, the TRIPLE-IceCraft expedition set out to prove that the innovative RWTH technology can perform under the extreme conditions of the Ekstrom Ice Shelf in Antarctica. After months of preparation, RWTH researchers Dr. Dirk Heinen, Jan Audehm, Dr. Simon Zierke, and Fabian Schöttler (GSI GmbH) took the melting probe to the other side of world to conduct the first real-life tests. The team spent six weeks at the Alfred Wegener Institute's (AWI) Neumayer Station III, gaining many valuable insights throughout their drills.
Back home in Aachen, the team is now evaluating the data gathered during the drills, and further optimizing the technology to eventually go back to Antarctica and resume testing. One day, the team hopes to send the TRIPLE-IceCraft to space in order to explore the oceans beneath the ice crust of the icy moons Europa and Enceladus.
The story of TRIPLE-IceCraft is a great example of how pioneering RWTH IP can be used to challenge the status quo in science and make a lasting impact on society. We are proud to support RWTH researchers in turning their pioneering IP into innovation with impact. Congratulations to the TRIPLE-IceCraft team on this impressive milestone!