Dustcontrol’s successful patent defense is a victory for innovation
Dustcontrol’s successful patent defense is a victory for innovation
Silicosis and asbestosis are no longer major problems, work on construction sites and in
industrial processes is less disturbed by dust. The solutions came from innovative engineering
and are based on genuine engineering expertise. After an arduous patent defense, this creativity
has been recognized by both the District Court and The Court of Appeals in Sweden. “It is
rewarding to see that creativity and technical innovation is still valued”, says Johann Haberl, CEO
and founder of Dustcontrol. This victory is important, not only for us, but for technological
development in general. If it would be accepted to copy innovations without risk of penalty, it
would be difficult for individual companies and engineers to invest the time and resources to
develop new solutions. Swedish industry would find it harder to progress and compete. Therefore
it is important to defend a patent, even though the costs may be high and the time to a decision
Since beginning operations in 1972, Dustcontrol has contributed to improving the workplace and
production environment in many diverse industries that previously had major problems with dust.
Building construction, infrastructure projects and manufacturing industries are areas where
Dustcontrol has applied source extraction technologies to eliminate dust directly at the source.
The breakthrough for Dustcontrol came in 1974 when construction industry leaders like Skanska
and BPA chose to use Dustcontrol’s source extraction technology to control dust and improve the
work environment on their construction sites.
Health problems are reduced with sound process engineering measures
Silicosis and asbestosis were huge health problems during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many
industries such as mining and construction had major work environment problems that lead to
great personal suffering, high absenteeism and high health care costs. Health care organizations,
trade unions and medical researchers all contributed to the identification of the problems and the
need for action and solutions. Masks and the regulations governing exposure to hazardous dusts
quickly became very important.
Granite contains silica, in Sweden and northern Europe, silica is a constant threat in building and
renovation work as well as infrastructure projects. New cases continue to emerge. Breathing
masks are a good measure but only protect those wearing them. As well, really effective masks
can hinder the wearer.
Johann wanted, through his efforts at Dustcontrol, to eliminate these problems with the sound
application of source extraction and protect not only the individual, but all those in the vicinity.
This approach seemed to be more rational and with a prototype using a child’s beach pail, suction
hoods were developed that could effectively eliminate the dust created from grinding tools and
rock drills. The dust could be extracted at source and filtered.
More efficient cyclones increase operating time
The dust is separated in several stages in Dustcontrol’s extraction units. The largest particles are
separated centrifugally in the cyclone. Smaller particles that pass through the cyclone are then
filtered in stages with the smallest being trapped in the high efficiency particle arrestor or HEPA
filter. The engineering basis for this system is to ensure that each particle size range is separated
in the way that is most effective. If all of the particulate were to be separated in one stage of
filtration, the filter would quickly blind or even fail and the effective operating time would be very
The technology that the patent defense revolved around is the filter skirt that covers the upper
part of the filter. As well as protecting the filter, it forces the air stream entering the cyclone to
maintain velocity thereby improving the efficiency of the cyclone. This in turn reduces the loading
on the subsequent stages of filtration. As well the skirt forces the entrained dust “deeper” into the
cyclone before it comes into contact with the filter. This results in a longer duration of operation
before the filter requires cleaning and eventual replacement. Longer operation time before filter
cleaning and replacement benefits productivity and reduces operational costs in terms of direct
replacement parts costs and energy consumption.
Using this technique, we can produce products that effectively combine cyclone separation and
dust filtration in a single unit. Making efficient dust extraction units more compact helps to
increase penetration into all industries.
The filter skirt is manufacture from a porous polyester material that actually traps smaller
particulate that impinges on it. This creates a protective layer of small particulate that protects the
skirt. Incoming dust abrades this protective layer, not the material of the skirt itself. Without this
layer of dust, the skirt would be quickly abraded by the dust entrained in the incoming air stream.
The material in the skirt is also flexible allowing larger to pass without compromising the cyclone
effect. The skirt is placed as close to the cyclone wall as possible to maintain velocity and
maximize the efficiency of the cyclone.
A long patent defense but worth the price
The defense process started about three years ago when a competing firm started using a filter
configuration with Dustcontrol’s patented filter skirt on their products.
That technical innovations eventually find their way into the mainstream is something that is
generally accepted. In this case though, the competitor took a direct copy of something that we
had made a significant investment in, both in time and money, to develop and patent. We wanted
to see if the patent instrument still held the value to encourage and protect innovation. At
Dustcontrol, we have chosen technological innovation as the path to success, developing and
refining these technologies takes years of investment before the benefits are realized. The
defense of our patent was a necessary step to confirm that patent law still serves to protect those
companies that put significant resources into developing innovation.
Dustcontrol took the competitor to court in 2007. The competitor petitioned to annul the patent, a
common defense to justify the violation. The validity of the patent was however upheld and in
2008 the patent violation was confirmed. Central to the defense of the patent was the design and
material selection for the skirt. The competitor mounted an immediate appeal and continued to
use the design. The Court of Appeals issued their decision in April of 2010 upholding
- It is annoying that it takes so long to get a ruling, it means that the violator can use technology
that they have not developed for a long period before the court takes action. To encourage and
reward those that create innovations, patent defense processes should be improved. We are
however pleased that we prevailed, otherwise we would have probably given up hope that the
patent instrument still held any value.
Patents create the means for continued development
With political opinions that liken copyright and patent to “theft”, it is easy to see this concern as
justified. To encourage Swedish companies and Swedish innovators to continue development,
they must be protected and allowed a return on the costly investment required to innovate. The
two main ways to solve the dilemma are through patent protection or by shortening the time to
market as much as possible. For the latter method to be successful though, the innovation must
be able to command a higher price at introduction. This often works well with consumer products
but is much harder with industrial Business to Business products. Until a new principle is formed
for protecting innovators, we can be thankful that the courts recognize patents. Patents reward
creative innovators for their efforts and this fosters the conditions for the continued success of