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Chemistry Professor Turned Intellectual Property Strategist

Posted by E Ink on 2024-06-06

In the ever-evolving landscape of electronic display technology, the role of intellectual property (IP) management is of utmost importance. As the Senior Director of Intellectual Property at E Ink, Brian Bean plays a pivotal role in safeguarding E Ink’s IP assets and driving innovation.


brian bean

Brian Bean analyzing the performance of an EPD

Credit: E Ink

We’re excited to have Brian join this week’s “Ask an Inker” blog as we dive into the world of intellectual property and learn more about the strategies, challenges, and milestones involved.


Tell us about your background. How did you land at E Ink?

I've been kind of a science geek since the early days. I was on my high school science team and then studied chemistry as an undergraduate and got my PhD in physical chemistry. I have a lot of experience with physics, chemistry, lasers, and lots of math. I was also a professor at Pomona College for a bit and went on to postdoc because I thought for sure I was going to be a professor. But things didn't work out that way and I ended up going to law school.

After law school, I worked at a combination of big law firms and boutique IP firms for about eight years. Then I got a recruiting call, and I usually never take them, but I saw it was for E Ink. I knew about their technology since I had a friend from grad school who used to work there and enjoyed it.

So, I came in and talked to Mike McCreary, and he shared his passion for what E Ink can do and where the company is headed. I came out of the conversation thinking “Okay, maybe I'll do this.” And I found that it fits my personality a lot better than any of my previous jobs. I tell people I do more science than I do law on a regular basis. The IP team is embedded with the research and development team, so we regularly sit in on meetings, have conversations at lunch, look at new demos, get excited about the products, and have a good sense of what's going on.


What does your day-to-day look like as senior director of intellectual property at E Ink?

In addition to drafting and filing patent applications and taking care of the trademarks, we also do a lot of strategic planning. It's not uncommon to have somebody come to us and say, “We were looking for a solution, we found a vendor that can help us, but they claim they have all this IP. We are concerned that it will be difficult to make this project happen this without them. What do you think?” When these issues come up, we drop what we're doing and take care of it to give more leverage to whoever is negotiating a contract or looking at an agreement. We also review a fair number of license agreements in conjunction with the legal team to fill in the blanks and make sure that the technology definitions match what we want to accomplish.


What is your favorite E Ink application?

The latest BMW car looked awesome. You could imagine it being a real car, not just a concept car, and you'd think, that's pretty, it's not quite pink. It's not quite white. But it's very pleasing. And then the animation starts and you're like, “Oh, wow, that is cool!”


BMW Nostokana and art car 12


Credit: BMW Group

I’m also really excited about our work in variable transmission technology and our color platforms. It’s an awesome opportunity for E Ink to make a difference in the world. I'm excited about the energy-saving aspect of variable transmission technology while the color platforms are enabling a robust and reliable color outdoor signage program, which also translates into huge energy savings over LCD displays.


What unique challenges do you face in protecting and managing intellectual property assets in the electronic display industry?

The electronic display industry is moving fast, so it takes effort to keep up with it. People all around the world are working hard on new things, and it is challenging to sort out what's an actual product and what’s not.


Can you discuss any notable successes or milestones achieved by E Ink’s intellectual property team in recent years?

We are about to issue our 1,500th U.S. patent for E Ink. Some of those patents were purchased, but it is a sizable portfolio. We doubled our portfolio meaning the number of issued global patents in about ten years, which was a combination of growth through our filings and patent portfolio acquisitions. We’ve been very fortunate to have revenue sufficient to support acquiring relevant patent portfolios while also maintaining our existing portfolio.

Also, the company has been around for 27 years. Some of the patents we filed 20 years ago became brand-name consumer devices and the patents have now expired. The twenty year expiration is something that you learn very early in law school, but you don't experience such milestones when you're working at a law firm. Usually, it's a short-term thing. You write the patent applications, they disappear, and maybe someday you'll find out if they covered a product or went into litigation.


What advice would you give to professionals aspiring to work in intellectual property management within the technology sector, based on your experience at E Ink?

Having a range of relevant work experience, science experience, and business background helps you to be useful. At the end of the day, patent attorneys play the same role as engineers or sales staff: make as much profit as possible for the business. Patent attorneys are here to protect the innovation that a corporation is paying for. When you're working in-house, it is important to be thinking about products and technical solutions, and being able to interface with the decision-makers in a way that is most beneficial to them.

Writing skills are also important. You need to be able to convey your ideas quickly and succinctly. You also want to draft compelling patent applications. The kind that allow engineers and scientists to say, “Oh, I understand what they're trying to do here,” the first time they read it.


Looking ahead, what are your priorities and goals for E Ink’s intellectual property strategy in the coming years?

Our IP strategy is to keep doing what we're doing – stay within our budget and keep expanding our portfolio. Another goal is to increase our geographic coverage. Patent coverage is tied to the country that you're in. There's no such thing as a worldwide patent. When you file a patent application in one country, you must refile it in the countries where you want protection. This requires us to anticipate changes in global supply chains as well as consumer markets.

On the technology side, we will continue to focus on color platforms. That is the future of the company. I am excited about E Ink becoming more of a solutions material as opposed to just a display. In the near future, you can expect to see E Ink incorporated into lots of objects and surfaces, allowing them to change colors or transmission state.

Topics: About E Ink, ePaper, Inker

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