Any industrial activity produces an environmental impact that, in recent times, is evaluated with a magnifying glass. The footwear industry is no stranger to this analysis and has already estimated, for example, that for the manufacture of a pair of shoes an average of 10.6 kg of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere.
Concha García is very aware of this concern. She is an ABG Intellectual Property client and she has filed an application for patent protection of a new material that could replace leather and contribute to sustainability.
Concha holds a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and she worked for a biotech company for 15 years. On her travels to Paris and Milan, she realized the importance that the quality of leather has in the footwear industry. Finally, she decided to combine her passion for science and design and investigate to improve the sector. As a result, Patent-Shoes was created.
An innovative material
Why have you chosen “Patent-Shoes” as your company name?
Patent Shoes is actually a pun in which “patent” can mean both patent leather or patent, which refers to protected technologies, in this case related to footwear – hence the second term “shoes” -.
Concha, what is your invention about?
Basically my invention is a waterproof material of biological and compostable origin that can be a substitute for animal and synthetic leather in the footwear industry. Human beings need to protect their feet, it is a basic need that we believe can be met in a more natural way than before. Animal leather is a by-product of the meat sector, but needs to be tanned in a water-intensive process with toxic chemical compounds.
In addition, there are already estimates that by 2030 demand for meat will have fallen by 70% and the rest of the dependent industries are at risk of collapse due to equivalent and more modern food substitutes.
The animal leather industry will also be affected, with an estimated drop of 90%. The use of synthetic leather is not an alternative due to the large amount of toxic chemicals used and the environmental cost that this entails.
How long have you been working on this invention?
The first tests were conducted in 2015 and that was when we realized the problem to solve. We were working on it until we got a satisfactory solution that met the quality controls of the sector and we were able to apply for a patent.
You’re the only inventor, but have you been supported by any organization?
It has not been exactly a support, but some companies have sent samples of their biodegradable materials and we conducted tests at Technological Institute of Footwear (INESCOP) to conclude that the resulting product met expectations.
How does the invention improve the footwear industry?
The footwear industry is well aware of the need for improvement in its criteria of sustainability in raw and recycling materials that affects corporate social responsibility and commitment to climate change. This invention improves the industry in two aspects: on the one hand, in the tanneries, the improvements will produce a decrease in the consumption of water and toxic chemicals, energy saving and elimination of occupational risks.
On the other hand, in the manufacturing industry several parameters will be increased: the reproducibility between batches, traceability, optimization and greater use of laboratory leathers due to the absence of edges, bites or scratches that natural leathers have; the use of robotic tools for automatic cutting that does not depend on an expert cutter, the possibility of having material on demand, the possibility of meeting zero kilometer with the consequent decrease in transport costs that will help sustainable logistics, and finally and affecting public health, the absence of chromium that will avoid possible allergies.
In short, this is a transformation of the footwear industry into a responsible circular economy that will help mitigate the causes of climate change. Keep in mind that the European Parliament has just declared the “climate and environmental emergency” in the EU, so all the inventions that help in this regard have an important role to play in the future.
What stage is the invention now in?
We are in the process of rising funds to create a pilot plant and then escalate to full industrial scale.
Applying for patent protection
You have applied for patent protection, what value will industrial property protection bring you?
For any company, and also for any investor, industrial property is capital, as they reflect the investments in I&D. They constitute important intangible assets that add value to a business. As it is a tool of differentiation and exclusion of competitors from the market, trademark and patent protection provides a key competitive advantage.
In addition to patent protection, what other administrative procedures are needed to be industrialized? When do you think you could make the leap to the market?
We think it will take 2 years to reach the market. We need to move from manual laboratory to a semi-industrial method, and finally end in a scale that allows to start marketing large quantities.
Once you get protection, will you make the material available to other firms? (licenses)
Yes, our first stage of marketing is to sell our product to footwear companies, but to cover the strategic zero kilometer plan of those companies, who want to obtain the raw material in their production centers, we will give them non-exclusive licenses to produce our invention directly.
This strategy is considered optimal for the second stage of marketing and it is aimed at large and medium-sized Spanish and European footwear companies and their manufacturer partners, as well as Spanish leather suppliers, it is designed to allow the scalability of our business. Large companies and leather suppliers will see a great opportunity to reduce their operational and material costs while gaining greater control over the production process and value chain.
How do you think that, once in the production process, your invention will affect the price of products for the final consumer compared to leather shoes?
If the forecasts mentioned above about the fall in demand for meat are met, animal leather will end up being a luxury product that very few can afford. This type of biotech leather could be a substitute for the footwear industry at a similar or less price that animal leather, and less so with economies of scale. What we do know is, if we continue with the current system of production of animal and synthetic leather, we cannot afford the price to pay. Because, besides, it won’t be just a question of money.
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