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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Chang

How TAE’s culture of IP supports and advances its clean energy mission

Updated: Apr 10

TAE Technologies is a mission-driven company through and through. Founded in 1998 to bring clean energy to the grid via fusion power, TAE’s (pronounced T-A-E) business now also includes the development of better power management systems and cancer radiation treatments — all aimed at making the future healthier and more sustainable.

Being someone who’s highly driven by positive impact, Shrut Kirti jumped at the opportunity to be part of a team pushing the knowledge frontiers of cancer and energy. And with this year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, I thought Shrut was the perfect subject for April’s IP Storytellers blog.

Nuclear fusion and the Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide UN countries with a common framework for advancing the good of the planet, specifying goals like affordable clean energy and climate action. Fusion power fits into these goals because if achieved, it’ll generate roughly four million times more energy than oil or coal cleanly and affordably.

Nuclear fusion is the process of two atoms combining to give off energy and is what powers the energy of all stars, including the sun. Not to be confused with nuclear fission, when atoms split, fusion is four times more efficient as a power source, creates no nuclear waste, and can’t cause meltdowns. The fuel supply for fusion is plentiful and accessible, expected to last millions of years.

Though scientists have been able to generate energy through fusion in experiments, they are still working to be able to control fusion reactions to make them a power source. The main barrier to doing that has to do with the conditions on Earth versus the sun. Without the sun’s massive gravitational force, temperatures of over 100 million degrees Celsius are required to make fusion happen.

Powering TAE’s innovation through culture, strategy, and IP

TAE has a rich system for supporting and advancing tech and infrastructure that’s so bleeding-edge, and IP is an essential part of it. TAE’s CEO is an inventor himself and their GC comes from IP, so company leadership gets how important it is to invest in IP from the beginning. To Shrut, IP not only encourages creativity and innovation by providing incentives and legal protections, but also facilitates the dissemination of knowledge and technology: “From licensing agreements to open innovation initiatives, knowledge sharing through IP promotes collaboration and advances the frontiers of knowledge.”

Beyond IP, TAE naturally has a strong research focus. But underneath its individual functions, the whole organization is driven by strong values that leadership actively promotes and reinforces. TAE’s mission and values have attracted people like Shrut who are highly motivated, mission-driven, and represent more than 50 countries across the world. TAE also collaborates externally with research labs and institutions worldwide.

To effectively manage its long-term objectives and diversity of employees, collaborators, and business units as a small 500-person company, TAE relies on a strong strategic planning process. TAE’s long development path is broken down into milestones, and Shrut was proud to report that the company has never missed a significant milestone in nuclear fusion.

A holistic view of IP that focuses on the business, culture, and ROI

As attorney #4 at TAE, Shrut is responsible for helping build TAE’s IP portfolio, crafting its commercial agreements, managing its open source innovation, and maintaining data privacy. In practice, however, Shrut and his team don’t think of their responsibilities so tactically. “Our North Star, our motto, is that IP strategy should support the business,” says Shrut. “We look at IP holistically, not just through the perspective of patents, trademarks, or licensing.”

An example of Shrut’s team approaching IP holistically is the work they’ve done to build TAE’s IP culture company-wide. To get its multinational employees with different levels of exposure to IP best practices up to speed, IP training materials are a part of TAE’s new hire orientation. The IP team also holds live training sessions and maintains internal resources like Confluence pages, and then reinforces this knowledge with email reminders. IP spreads its message from the top down too by building relationships with key leaders, who help repeat it to their teams.

Another way TAE’s IP team implements holistic IP is in how it measures success — emphasizing ROI versus more singular metrics like filing activity. Shrut’s team looks at IP coverage on the product and differentiator level, and relative to competitors by country. It actively asks how individual products or technology might evolve and has a rigorous list when identifying and managing IP risks. The team is conscious of hanging onto their strategic mentality as the company scales.

This holistic, ROI-driven mentality serves Shrut and TAE well when negotiating licensing deals. Says Shrut, “I think the biggest misunderstanding IP attorneys have when it comes to licensing is thinking that it’s about the dollars and cents. Financial terms are undoubtedly crucial, but they’re just one aspect of a comprehensive licensing agreement.” To Shrut, negotiating successful deals involves addressing a wide range of non-financial terms such as scope, field of use, exclusivity, sublicensing rights, indemnification, and termination. Doing so requires a deep understanding of the technology, competitive landscape, potential infringement risks, and the strategic goals of both parties now and into the future.

Constant learning and collaboration fuels innovation for good

Shrut’s work on TAE’s IP, licensing, open innovation, and data couldn’t be done without his learning or collaboration skills. He makes it a point to stay up to date on industry trends, regulatory changes, and emerging technologies, plus the goals, priorities, and unique needs of his business units. Then, he works across the organization to put what he learns into action, whether it be with engineers to draft their open source use policy, or with HR to ensure GDPR compliance. Just like his team does as a whole though, Shrut keeps the business at the center: “I always ground myself in an understanding of each business unit. This helps me tailor my approach and craft bespoke legal advice.”

I’ll be continuing the conversation on IP’s role in building our common future during a panel event hosted by WIPR on April 25, 2024. Register for Pioneering Women in IP here, where I’ll be joined by industry colleagues from Google, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and The Broad Institute to further discuss IP and the SDGs.


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