Often small-to-midsize companies that feel constrained by resources choose not to explore business opportunities when the obstacles to doing so seem high — for example, procuring European patents to protect intellectual property. But they may be losing out as a result, suggests Marty Cummins, chief operating officer of Dynamic Air Quality Solutions on Crescent Avenue in Rocky Hill.
Like many companies its size, Dynamic Air Quality Solutions, which designs and manufactures air-cleaning systems to be energy efficient, has intellectual property that needs protection in markets where it sells its products. For a long time companies like this would only file patents in the United States, figuring that most of their products are marketed on this content. The patent scene in Europe, by contrast, was viewed as scary, complex, and expensive, and companies worried that filing in Europe would entail sending attorneys there to litigate.
But Cummins suggests it is time for businesses to reconsider and initiate or expand their patent filings in Europe. “Times are changing with the world getting smaller,” he says.
Cummins will speak on “Intellectual Property Rights in the European Union,” for the European American Chamber of Commerce New Jersey, Thursday, September 27, from 2 to 5:30 p.m., Alexander Library, 169 College Avenue, New Brunswick. Cost: $45. To register, go to eaccnj.org.
He highlights several new realities that should encourage companies to explore European patents:
More countries savvy about patent protection. Whereas the United States has always led in intellectual property protection, other countries are catching up. Not only do countries need to protect indigenous products and processes, but they also need to give equal protection to countries they have agreements with.
Given the difficulties around intellectual property in Asia, where regulations are either not implemented or not enforced, the European Union is seriously exploring the implementation of an EU-wide patent system. This would allow a company to file a single application rather than individual ones in 27-plus European markets, which would be very expensive.
United States more competitive in Europe. Not only is the patent scene in Europe changing, but American competitiveness in Europe is increasing, with a weakened dollar and significantly lower energy costs than in Europe.
Just for food, Cummins notes, energy costs are 50 percent of the overall cost from the time seeds are put into the ground until it reaches consumers. This relative imbalance in costs makes it cheaper to buy American. “All of a sudden, with 7 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour here and 20 cents in Ireland, I say, okay, the U.S. dollar is weak, my energy costs are half — I can do business in Europe and get half of those empty containers out of Newark,” says Cummins.
Varied European environments to match different needs. To decide where in Europe to file patents, Cummins sat down with his engineering and sales staff and with his partner to decide what made sense for his company.
“We picked about half to file in, based on where we might want to do work, where our products might fit, and where there are companies we might want to partner with,” he says,
His company is looking for partner reps to spec and sell his products to companies in Europe. “By not filing you may be losing opportunities for growing your company through licensing agreements,” he says. He is also interested in American companies that have plants in Europe, for example, New Jersey-based pharmaceutical companies with manufacturing facilities in Europe.
Cummins grew up in Belle Mead. His father was a local developer, and his mother raised five boys. His grandfather was a judge in Bergen County.
Cummins studied political science at Rutgers College, but got married during his senior year and did not finish. He went into a management-training program for Prime Motor Inns while still in college, and he stayed with the company for eight years. It grew from 5 to 500 hotels during his tenure, and he left as executive general manager.
He then became president of Vail Princeton Realty, which owned and developed real estate projects.
Fifteen years ago, his childhood friend Duke Wiser was doing specialty engineering for sick building syndrome. The two men came across a company that manufactured and designed air quality systems, Engineering Dynamics, in Ontario, Canada, and bought it. They still own a manufacturing plant there, where they have about 30 employees, and they have another 30 in the United States. Wiser is president, and Cummins is chief operating officer.
The company has two divisions: one makes residential electronic air cleaners that it distributes through Trane, Lennox, Rheem, and Water Furnace; another designs air filtration systems for commercial buildings. “That is where the growth is going to be in Europe for us,” he says. “We design and manufacture this equipment that replaces the traditional bags and cartridge filters, and we operate at a fraction of the horsepower they require.”
His product not only uses a fraction of the energy of other alternatives, but it can hold up to five times the dust. “When you put those two together, our filtration systems will pay for themselves in anywhere from two to four years,” he says. “When you look at European opportunities, it may be one to three years, because of the high energy cost and lower dollar price point.”
Initially the company focused on the United States and North America, but after his younger brother Brian died in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, Cummins developed a European connection. He settled his brother’s estate in 2002 and rented a castle in Ireland for an extended toast to his brother’s life.
During his three weeks in a little village with thatched roofs, pubs, and churches and with people on horses, Cummins was drawn to a high-tech manufacturing facility on its outskirts. “It became a passion of mine to go back every year and see the opportunities for my business,” he says.
Then with the weakened dollar and higher energy costs in Europe, he got interested in the European American Chamber of Commerce. “I had never considered Europe; I thought it would be difficult,” he says. But then he learned that things were different than he had perceived.
“American companies have an advantage in that everyone speaks English, especially on the technical side,” he says. Not only is there a strong affinity between the United States and Europe, he continues, due in part to historical commonalities, but Europe has a range of economies, from emerging ones like Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, to advanced economies. “Depending on what your company wants to do, there is something for you,” says Cummins.