Bild på en fabrik uppifrån
Skutskärs bruk
Technology | Patents

Stora Enso – Patents Vital in Green Transition

Future plastic-free food packaging is made from biomaterials that can be easily reused. Fibre-based packaging solutions are now growing faster than plastic packaging for the first time, according to Stina Sjögren Paulsson, who is responsible for Stora Enso's intellectual property portfolio, which includes around 4,000 patents. In the transition to a sustainable society, her work and that of her colleagues is central.

– The enjoyable aspect of working at Stora Enso is being part of a genuinely innovative culture that permeates the company,” says Stina Sjögren Paulsson, Senior Vice President Group IP. Since 2020, she has led the group’s work with intellectual assets and manages the portfolio of around 4,000 patents, 3,000 trademarks, and 300 design protections with her eleven colleagues.

Stora Enso has a broad operation where the common denominator is often related to biomass, that is, forestry. They sell both raw materials to other industries such as the packaging industry and finished products to consumers.

StinaBild på Stina Sjögren Paulsson, Stora Enso
Stina Sjögren Paulsson, Stora Enso

– It’s a forward-thinking operation with a lot of innovation, which makes my job and my colleagues’ work exciting. Generally, the innovation often involves optimising raw material handling so that as much of the tree as possible is utilised. Or it might involve replacing a less sustainable material, such as plastic, for example.

An example of the former is lignin, a by-product of pulp production, which was previously burned for energy but now finds new uses. An example of the latter is Stora Enso’s new replacement material for styrofoam, Papira, made from biomaterial.

– We collaborate quite extensively with universities and colleges, compared to some other industries. We do this to bring in new knowledge and develop projects together. The idea behind Papira came from a startup from KTH that Stora Enso acquired, explains Stina Sjögren Paulsson.

Patents Have Longevity

In development projects, a patent engineer is often involved from an early stage to evaluate if something is protectable. They proudly note that 45% of their priority-founding patent applications filed in 2022 include at least one female inventor (Sweden’s average is 16%).

Stina Sjögren Paulsson and her eleven colleagues manage an extensive portfolio of intellectual assets registered across five continents. In markets where needed, such as the USA and China, the company has local agents to assist them. Many of the patents are process-related and since the company’s research is often long-term, so too is the strategy for the patents.

– It can be disastrous to release patents too early because we live in a changing world and something that doesn’t seem valuable today might suddenly become so, just not right now. Even though we protect a lot, we are also careful not to shut others out where we come in with new technology and want more to use it.

Final products, such as packaging, are patented as much as possible and registered as designs with EUIPO.

Starts with PRV in Sweden

Patents are generally created via PCT applications. Their journey usually begins at PRV, she says.

– That’s most common. We find that the quality of PRV’s reviewers in our field is very good. It’s also relatively inexpensive and fast. Since we have several competitors here in the north, it also feels important to protect ourselves here initially. A high proportion of our Swedish reviews then go on to PCT.

In the future, we might see a changed flora and fauna in Sweden due to the spruce bark beetle which has benefited from global warming. Possibly, birch could challenge spruce? That is something Stora Enso is looking at.

It is clear that we will see more packaging made entirely from biomaterials, predicts Stina, pointing out that fibre-based packaging solutions are now growing faster than plastic packaging for the first time. According to Stora Enso, 25% of the market's plastic packaging can already be replaced by wood fibre-based alternatives today.

– There are now patented new so-called ‘barriers’ that can replace plastic, in, for example, milk packaging to make them recyclable. Now it's just about getting them ready for commercialisation.

The interview was made in 2023.