From pulp to polymer: How Woodly patent protects its bio-plastic innovations

8.5.2023

Finnish tech-startup Woodly is a rising challenger in the market for bio-based plastics. The company is casting a wide IP-protection net as it takes on the opportunity.

With carbon-reduction goals driving the world towards sustainability, demand for bio-based plastics is growing fast.

The opportunity is significant. A report from Grand View Research sized the market at USD 11 billion in 2022, with a forecast for compound annual growth of almost 19% through 2030. The top use cases for bio-based plastics include packaging, consumer goods, and automotive parts such as dashboards and seats.

One of the companies riding this wave is Woodly, a Helsinki-based material technology developer that uses wood pulp to produce a polymer with plastic-like properties. The polymer is then made into a granulate that can be used as a raw material in various products. Woodly’s tech has produced sandwich bags, flower and herb sleeves, textile packaging and more.

The material was originally developed in cooperation between Woodly and VTT, the state-owned research institute that drives a lot of Finland’s early-stage innovation. Tommi Vuorinen spent 15 years at VTT before joining Woodly as CTO in 2021.

“Our tests have shown that Woodly can replace more than 90% of conventional plastics in chosen applications, although not all of these would be economically viable. Our long-term vision is for 15% of plastics to be replaced by products made from Woodly® material,” says Vuorinen.

Woodly has invested in protecting its technology with patents. CEO of Woodly Jaakko Kaminen (left) and CTO of Woodly Tommi Vuorinen (right). Photo: Woodly

Collaboration drives innovation

Papula-Nevinpat and Woodly have been working together since 2019.

The first patents filed by Woodly were related to the composition of its material. These have now been granted in several countries. The company has also filed to protect several application areas and processes, including those where the material is used as a composite element.

“Woodly knew from the beginning that a large network of partners would be needed for different steps of the production process. This would mean joint-development agreements, production agreements, and so on,” says Papula-Nevinpat Patent Attorney, Martta Asikainen. “To be successful in this kind of setup, you need both the credibility and security that IP brings. A patent portfolio gives you a stronger negotiating position and helps to ensure you retain control of your own technology.”

The leading product made from Woodly® material is a heat-sealed sandwich bag used by food retailers around Finland. Thanks to some special properties in the plastic film, sandwiches packed in Woodly® bags stay fresh for longer than sandwiches packed in traditional polypropylene bags.

A heat-sealed sandwich bag used by food retailers around Finland is made from Woodly® material. Photo: Woodly

“Woodly® material allows excess moisture to escape from the bags, so sandwiches last longer on the store shelf. This helps to mitigate food waste,” says Vuorinen. “There’s also a hygiene element. With polypropylene bags, moisture balancing and release is often done by adding small laser-cut holes. The Woodly® bags do not require these perforations to be made.”

Spotting and seizing market opportunities

With Woodly stepping into such a rapidly growing field, the company is looking for opportunities across a broad spectrum of plastics. The competition includes other startups as well as big traditional plastic producers, who are now pouring investment into the market. This is why Woodly is making its patent applications as broad as possible.

“There are clearly some applications where traditional low-density polyethylene is the best material, but there are also many applications where it is not. Finding these opportunities – that’s where Woodly® will stand out,” says Vuorinen.

“As a startup, you do not always know which way you’re going to go. So you want to protect a variety of alternatives. You may end up doing something different to where you began,” he says. “You iterate ideas, allow them to compete, and protect the ones that emerge strongly in your testing.”

Big brands see Woodly® material as a potential element in achieving carbon-reduction goals. The company is taking this into account when setting commercial targets and developing its IP strategy. Everything is being designed to realize specific opportunities as they emerge.

“Creating successful IP ideas is not only about inventing stuff – it’s also about finding the right window for an application and then filling it. Managing that opportunity is the hardest part of the work,” says Vuorinen.

“Woodly’s value as a company is very much related to that of our IP portfolio. As we go on our growth path now outside of Finland, it’s really important to have these patents in place.”

Main photo: Woodly® granulate that can be used as a raw material in various plastics products. Photo: Woodly.

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