A group of Ontario firefighters-turned-entrepreneurs have found a way to make battling flames a safer business – not only for first responders, but for the environment.
The team at FireRein, a climate tech startup based in Napanee, Ont. set out to develop an environmentally friendly and sustainable substitute for traditional firefighting foam after seeing first-hand how damaging the product could be to humans and the environment.
In 2017, the company developed Eco-Gel, the first 100 per cent bio-based fire suppressant and retardant. The biodegradable product – when added to water – fights flames faster and reduces overall water usage without the carcinogenic toxins contained in more traditional products.
Realizing the team was onto something big, FireRein co-founders Quincy Emmons and Zackery Hodgen wanted to protect the company’s intellectual property in various forms.
Before bringing Eco-Gel to market, FireRein reached out to Smart & Biggar LLP, Canada’s largest intellectual property law firm, for guidance on how to protect its invention and establish an IP-driven approach to its business strategy and plan.
“Having patents and trademarks, and being able to protect our trade secrets in manufacturing has helped us immensely,” says Hodgen. “We’ve been able to grow the business, raise funds and find strategic partnerships because of it.”
Unlocking future success
While FireRein optimized its Eco-Gel – which officially launched in 2020 and has already been used to fight wildfires in northern Ontario – Lei Liu, partner at Smart & Biggar’s office in Ottawa, helped FireRein secure protection for the product early on in the development cycle.
As the only non-toxic and biodegradable fire suppressant and retardant on the market, it was critical that the company not unknowingly give away its secrets when trying to secure financing or broker deals with investors and third parties.
Working with a patent agent and IP lawyer during early stages of development can provide clarity on what should be disclosed in a patent and what should be protected as trade secrets, says Liu.
“We helped FireRein secure patent rights covering a broad scope of possible formulations and applications,” says Liu. “While keeping some of the fine tuning and ingredients developed after the initial patent filing a secret offers that extra level of security.”
The Eco-Gel formula is now patent protected in seven countries, giving FireRein the fuel it needs to reach a wider market.
FireRein has received millions in funding support from the federal government and is working with various international chemical companies on licensing agreements to produce safe alternatives to traditional products, helping FireRein to quickly develop a global presence.
Climate change pressure driving market demand for innovation
With climate change at the forefront as a UN-led priority for countries with the largest economies the timing is ripe for innovation in all industries. The wildfires burning around the world combined with water scarcity and security for remote communities requires innovation in fire suppression and retardants as well.
“We’re disrupting the market in a big way with our Eco-Gel and other formulations in development, and that means governments and companies are investing in our ideas,” says Hodgen. “As we do more research and development for other companies using our products and ideas, knowing we own our IP gives us the comfort to do those deals and expand into new markets.”
FireRein is expanding the Eco-Gel product line to include portable options for commercial and home-based kitchens as well as a fire prevention gel for industrial work.
As the company continues to expand, Liu and the team at Smart & Biggar will be on hand to develop ideas, secure IP protection and keep an eye out for any infringements of their patents or trade secrets.
“We were able to develop a relationship with FireRein early on and that helped build a solid IP foundation for them that will continue to contribute to their success in the future,” says Liu. “It’s a really exciting space to be in and it’s great to see how IP plays a pivotal role in protecting humans, our environment and natural resources.”
Climate tech innovators: protect & leverage your IP for growth
Developing innovative climate technology? Learn first-hand from Lei Lui how to integrate and leverage intellectual property (IP) as a key tool for growth in your strategic plan at an upcoming online IP masterclass hosted by Smart & Biggar and Invest Ottawa.