Gold medal success for Hong Kong's textile innovations
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When the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) brought home three gold medals from the 42nd International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva in April this year, the institute knew it had a golden opportunity to not only showcase its technological developments, but also to demonstrate Hong Kong's leading edge in the development and technology transfer in the textile and clothing industry.
"We find it significant because we've been receiving a lot of inquiries about the technologies, not only from Hong Kong but from other Asia-Pacific countries and Europe as well," Yan Chan, HKRITA director of business development, said. "Winning these awards definitely helps. We have to be more value-added to stay competitive, and we always find that innovation and new technologies that improve the process is the ultimate goal for us to stay strong in the industry."
Looking at the three winning projects, iShoe is an intelligent footwear system embedded with a fabric pressure sensor which helps to record data in a smartphone or PC, useful for both athletic and medical purposes. Functional Elastic Tape for Rehabilitation is a reusable and washable tape. The third winner, Intelligent Impact Protectors, based on 3-D auxetic fabrics, is a material that helps transfer impact to a larger area in order to protect the human body from strikes, blows or falls.
Listed on the Asia IP Exchange (AsiaIPEX) — the region's largest free portal with more than 25,000 listed technologies — the three gold medal winners are all examples of HKRITA's focus on technologies with practical, everyday applications. It has also proved the high quality of AsiaIPEX's IP listings, bringing more trading opportunities to the industry.
The majority of HKRITA projects are platform research projects, with funding from industry sponsors and the Hong Kong government. The institute will also partner with academic and research experts to build the project, with HKRITA working throughout the project to ensure that it is on the correct commercialization path.
Chan, who believes this approach will help set Hong Kong apart in the industry, said: "We have a strong environment not only for IP trading but for innovation creation."
As with the medal-winning projects, once the building is completed, HKRITA will seek to market the technologies and license them to interested partners. For Chan, listing the technologies on AsiaIPEX is an optimal way to expand the reach of the technologies.
"This is a good platform for us to partner with," Chan said. "AsiaIPEX covers more countries that we can reach out to. I think there's a lot of potential for our technologies in different markets, but we cannot cover every place as we are a small organization. AsiaIPEX can cover those areas and it's great to have a platform to exchange information and to keep us updated."
The wearable technology of iShoe features a lightweight fabric with a sensor. Developed by the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the technology was non-exclusively licensed to AdvanPro, a Hong Kong company focusing on high-tech wearable devices, for further development.
"There's still a lot of work to do — such as the industrial design, hardware, technical software to retrieve the sensor data — and so licensing was a good way to start product commercialization," Wang Guangfeng, AdvanPro managing director, said. .
While Wang did not originally intend for the technology to be utilized in the medical fi eld, during the technology's development, the team discovered that their intelligent footwear technology could be especially useful to help diabetic patients avoid foot damage and to monitor foot pressure.
Wang also believes that the technology could be transferred to sports in order to better understand walking and running patterns.
Functional Elastic Tape for Rehabilitation has thousands of microsuckers on its surface that adhere to the body firmly as the suckers work in conjunction. The tape is easily removed as each individual sucker only has minimal adhesive force.
As the elastic tapes are application- driven R&D (research and development), licensing is a natural path.
"The licensing route can grant further and long-term sustainable R&D and marketing," said Ricky Yeung, a consultant with Hinsan Limited who has licensed the elastic tape technology non-exclusively. "The direction is set at the very beginning as this is application-driven R&D. Using IP trading is precisely the right approach to have further collaborations with the inventors for exploring wide applications and marketing."
For Chan from HKRITA, exposure to new markets and potential licensees also helps to develop new uses for the technology. "We've also been receiving inquiries from intimate apparel companies to potentially use the tape for bra straps that stick to the body but can also be washable," Chan said. "It's very interesting to see the different possible applications in the community."
Making an impact
Chan described how the Intelligent Impact Protectors' project was also garnering interest from companies eager to adapt it to various fields. Again, the original target industry was the medical fi eld, but Chan said they are discovering more and more practical applications for the product including sport and products specifically for the elderly.
"Originally the product was to protect the body in case of an accident because the fabric releases the force from the outside and protects your body," Chan said.
While iShoe and the rehabilitation tapes have been commercialized under a non-exclusive licensing agreement, all three technologies are still available through AsiaIPEX for further collaborations.
Check them out on www.asiaipex.com.