Ahmad Al Darwish, CEO of Falcon Robotics
A licensed drone pilot and space enthusiast, 36-year-old aerospace engineer AlDarwish has had many innovative ideas whose ownership he wanted to protect from copycats and other inventors in his field. But filing a patent – an exclusive right granted for an invention – is a costly process; so, in 2018, he established Falcon Robotics, aiming to raise the necessary funds. The commercial drone operating company quickly transformed into a full-fledged data-centric operation using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. AlDarwish explains, “Operating drones outdoors is subject to many regulations. So, we decided to fly them indoors – in GPS-denied environments like caves, storages, logistics, etc. But indoors, they can’t receive signals; they have to control themselves. So, we started building autonomous, AI-powered drones. We then realised that the data collected by these drones, and processing this data, was more important than how we collected it.”
Meanwhile, AlDarwish had been filing patents, all in the aerospace domain. The first one to be fully approved involves drones helping other aircraft’ whose signal is lost. The others – an innovative, more aerodynamic aircraft structure that allows for lower fuel consumption and a longer flying capability; a virtual reality simulator for aircraft, cars, rockets, etc.; and a new drone structure that chemically cleans the air from Co2, in flight – are internationally published and therefore protected pending approval.
Rising up to the challenge
AlDarwish chose to file his first patent in the UAE and the U.S. simultaneously because the American system offers an attractive advantage: a cheaper 12-month provisional patent application that allows the inventor to test and perfect a concept prior to filing in full. “It’s like a draft patent, just to have priority on that date,” he explains. Then, inventors have 12 months to file for the U.S. non-provisional patent and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT, which assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally). Alternatively, they can file directly with the PCT and have another 30 months to file in any country. This is why AlDarwish eventually filed his other patents in the U.S., where he has a trustworthy lawyer. “Finding a good lawyer that you can trust is the key. A lot of lawyers will promise you a lot of things. That doesn’t mean it will happen. You should look for people that will support you for no return, like Takamul. They’ve been my number-one supporter from day one and they helped me a lot both in the UAE and the U.S.,” he explains.
Filing a patent for the first time was challenging on a number of levels, including emotional, but it’s all worth it. “When you first get the idea, you feel this rush, this excitement, and you don’t want anyone else to do it before you. So, you race against time to be the first to file […] But you have to be discreet; you cannot speak publicly about your invention before it’s filed, which is really a nightmare because you want the whole world to know about it. A lot of patience is required,” says AlDarwish who then adds that once the filing is done, “It feels like an achievement […] The things you learn on a personal level through this experience are invaluable, even if there’s no commercial value.”
That’s not to say that there are no commercial benefits to this enterprise. On the contrary, “It gives credibility to the inventor, to the company. As a founder, when I tell investors that I’m an inventor and that I have patents approved or pending, the conversation changes,” says AlDarwish who is taking the long view, waiting for the right opportunity to monetise his IP. “Sometimes, the best approach is to build it and advertise it, and then someone comes to you. For example, I’m waiting for the U.S. Air Force to build something similar. That’s when I’ll go to them with [a product] they might be interested in buying,” he explains
Lastly, filing a patent adds value to the UAE and that’s very important to AlDarwish. “It helps give the UAE a higher rank in the Innovation Index. That’s one of my main drivers for filing,” he says.
For now, the inventor is planning to focus on developing the commercial side of his inventions and on raising funds for his company – unless, as he says himself, “I have a new idea.”
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Lastly, read Part 2 of this series of interviews on intellectual property here.