We found ourselves at the epicenter of a crucial battle for intellectual property (IP) security with our client Forever Energy. This early-stage US company, specializing in revolutionary long-life batteries for solar+storage, approached Blue Practice when their access to strategic US technology and manufacturing, developed by a DOE lab at taxpayer expense, was being usurped and diverted to China by a competitor who held exclusive rights to the American technology license.
The situation was unique. Forever Energy didn’t need attention drawn to themselves but rather needed to create a sense of urgency and alarm so that this US-developed IP could go to deserving US companies who could manufacture and sell it in the US – the purpose for which the DOE Labs were created.
We understood the gravity of the situation immediately. The challenge was not just to protect a US innovation, but to push this alarming story into the media to pressure the DOE to enforce the licensing restrictions on its technology, notably “substantial manufacturing in the US” and meeting a minimum sales requirement over several years. Our goal was to create a wave of public pressure to support the cause of Forever Energy and to raise questions about why our tax-supported US Energy Labs were licensing innovations to foreign interests, potentially losing commercialization opportunities for US-backed innovation.
Strategically, we embarked on a media campaign to highlight these issues, targeting high-level publications like the Washington Post, NPR, as well as local newspapers in the vicinity of the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Labs. We crafted a narrative focused on the urgency of securing our energy supply chain and the questionable actions of PNNL in licensing IP to foreign interests.
Our efforts bore fruit, and in August of 2022 NPR investigative reporter Laura Sullivan broke the story, to the dismay of the DOE. The NPR story was picked up and echoed by others including E&E News, creating a compelling narrative around the actions of PNNL and the historic ways in which policymakers at our labs have allowed the US to lose commercialization opportunities for homegrown innovations. The public pressure, heightened media attention, and resulting governmental uproar, including a scathing letter to DOE from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – played a pivotal role in the DOE making significant changes to its licensing enforcement policies. Laura Sullivan wrote a follow-on piece in January 2023 discussing the report and the changes DOE made.
The story highlighted the importance of securing IP for innovative US companies ready for market, and was significant win for Forever Energy, which thereafter was able to fairly compete for a license.
Our engagement with Forever Energy went beyond promoting their brand; it aimed to safeguard vital intellectual property and challenge the status quo of technology licensing in the United States. By strategically leveraging the media, we not only raised awareness about the situation but also ignited a public outcry and compelled governmental action. This work with Forever Energy showcases the transformative power of public relations beyond traditional brand awareness; it illustrates how PR can be a formidable tool in addressing complex issues that extend beyond individual companies and impact national interests.
https://www.wbur.org/npr/1114964240/new-battery-technology-china-vanadium (Original NPR Story)