Mauro Castello sat down to tell us why his role at Elica Spa is all about facilitating innovation
Could you tell us a little bit more about your role at Elica Spa?
“My role in the company is to facilitate innovation. So, I’m in charge of all the services that could be useful to my colleagues who are directly involved in design, and product development innovation.
“I’m in charge of the protection of their innovation through IP management, and I’m also in charge of finding new ideas and companies for open innovation activities. Basically, all the competencies that are outside our company but in other organisations like universities and start-ups. I handle the networking part, scouting new start-ups, universities, and then putting them in contact with my colleagues or my colleagues in contact with them. I’m no longer directly involved in product design, or any product innovation. I act more as an internal consultant, trying to facilitate their roles.
“And finally, I’m also in charge of finding external funding and money through various schemes, because being able to fund the innovation is an important part.”
As a company, what are some of your key focuses in the next couple of years?
“I’m afraid I can only speak in a general way.
“From a technological standpoint, the idea over the next few years is to develop new technologies related to air treatment. In more detail, this is to remove odours and particles from indoor air to take care of air quality. We’re also focusing on what we call ‘silent products.’ Again, I can’t go into too much detail about the project, but these will be developments on the shape and materials used for our products.
“Regarding focuses for product development and design, we are looking into products that are not only related to cooker hoods – so that’s air treatment – but also related to cooking. We have already developed a new product (NikolaTesla), we call it an ‘aspiration hob,’ which is more or less a cooking hob that has been integrated with the aspiration functions and we plan to expand this product family.”
What are the typical challenges you’ve come up against within your industry? As a business or you personally?
“One real issue in product development is our competitors and all the protection they have and are applying to their products in the market. When I say protection, I’m talking about intellectual property protection, so we have many products to work around and read through. We’re are filing patents in the product development space like our competitors, however right now, it’s a tough challenge to do something really innovative that’s not similar to others’ intellectual property.
“From a technological point of view, it’s being able to find technologies that are really simple to use, and easy to implement in a product. Our customers don’t expect to spend thousands of euros for a product, they want it to be efficient, work properly and look appealing from an aesthetic point of view.”
How has PatSnap been able to add value to your work?
“We use PatSnap in a few ways. One is from a more legal point of view, so we do research to be sure that we can use new technologies without infringing on any others’ intellectual property. I’d say this is the boring part of my job, but perhaps one of the most important ones.
“We also use it to monitor competitors’ patent portfolios, and I’ve set up weekly email alerts within PatSnap that send me notifications when our competitors have some new patents on topics we’re interested in.
“Another way we use PatSnap, and the more interesting part of my job, is to perform very precise research into topics my colleagues have asked me to look into. PatSnap is used for scouting new technologies, basically trying to understand who is doing something new and innovative in areas we’re interested in. For example, we might want to consider noise reduction, but look in a very broad way. So, looking at the concept of noise reduction within the automotive industry, rather than domestic appliances to try to understand if that kind of technology can be used inside our products. This is a much more fun and creative way to use PatSnap.
“Through PatSnap, we were able to identify a new partner who we’re now working with. I’d prefer not to name them, but it started with me finding a patent they’d applied in an area that we were interested in, through a PatSnap search. We have now built a partnership with them to use a similar technology in one of our products.”
Can you tell us more about PatSnap’s involvement in your NikolaTesla product?
“The NikolaTesla is a hob, with an integrated aspiration device, and it’s something that didn’t exist until 3-4 years ago. It’s quite a new concept, but it wasn’t invented by Elica, some competitors had already done some innovation around it in the past.
“PatSnap’s involvement in the development of the NikolaTesla was quite important as it helped us analyse the existing intellectual property of other companies already in the space. The product is almost new, but there are lots of applications.
“We used PatSnap at the beginning of the project to avoid competitors IP, and then we used it afterwards to identify a new partner for a specific part of the new NikolaTesla. We found the partner while scouting new technologies within PatSnap. The funny thing was it’s quite a small company, very close to us, but we didn’t even know they existed or that they worked on the same sort of projects that we do, it was funny to discover them on the web.”
Why did you choose PatSnap?
“At the time of purchasing PatSnap, I was looking to get a software tool which could help me with patent searching, but smart searching with a smart database to go with it. We tested a couple of other providers but we weren’t completely satisfied, then we tried PatSnap.
“PatSnap seemed to solve many of the problems that I was having, so we decided to try it for a year, by then we were completely satisfied by the product, including my boss. We are still enjoying the product and continuing to get value from it.”