Inovink Ltd has been researching, patenting and licensing novel security technology for the banknote industry since 2004. Jill Theobald caught up with the pair behind the firm to talk breakthroughs, becoming an international company and Sheffield’s ‘can do, let’s get on with it’ culture
Tell me a bit about the business
David Bedford: The business is me as managing director and commercial director Angus Ward, and we are based at The Innovation Centre in Sheffield – although we are currently working from home, of course, due to COVID-19.
Since 2004 Inovink has been researching, patenting and licensing ink technology for the banknote industry. We work with universities and manufacturers to develop ink additives and licence these products to organisations and companies in the industry including central banks, high-security printers and security ink manufacturers.
Our core expertise is machine-readable technology for banknotes, and we have grown our product portfolio over the years to include an extensive suite of about 30 patents, the most recent of which was granted in February this year.
Angus Ward: We are not manufacturers – we are a scientific research company that patents and then licenses its technology. Our customers buy our patented products under license directly from the manufacturers we work with or directly from our licensed suppliers. It is a unique, triangular commercial arrangement, but one that allows us to concentrate on the products themselves and which ensures the products remain very competitively priced.
How has it developed over the years?
David: We originally did the best part of ten years research with the University of Leeds and have also worked with Liverpool and Loughborough Universities, and, of course, FaraPack Polymers Ltd extensively since 2009, who are part of Sheffield University.
Angus: Our products are innovative, relevant and secure but they are not burdened by large company overheads. Central banks appreciate this.
David: Yes, with us supplying a licensed additive technology for inks, we say to customers there is no disruption to your supply chain – keep your existing suppliers, just add our feature as a component part to your existing system. So we’re not disruptors in that way, although our technology is very disruptive in terms of what it does!
Angus: It is disruptive technology in that less security pigment is required, which is therefore cleaner and more environmentally friendly and our pigments are compatible with a much wider range of printing inks and print processes which provides banknote designers with more flexibility. Ultimately, we think Inovink’s products offer central banks more choice now and increased savings in banknote printing.
David: The great thing about being based in Sheffield is this very strong culture of ‘can do, let’s get on with it’ which has helped us develop and can be very rewarding. There is a lot of support and innovation, particularly around the universities, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Sheffield Innovation Centre. The Universities have got great ideas, but also recognise these ideas have got to be commercial. That is where we come in to take that idea and make it a commercial product for our industry.
What projects, products, or services have been particularly successful?
Angus: Right now, central banks use our features and obviously our intention is to grow our customer base internationally. Through working with our development partners, we have just had a new patent granted in February for an invisible machine-readable feature. We have also recently launched BioNote® Organic Banknote Protection which is our anti-microbial feature. BioNote works in an innovative and sustainable way using nature’s ability to keep surfaces clean, it is a new science for the banknote industry and very different to current anti-bacterial products.
David: Our new patent is an improvement to our existing technology which now produces a clear or invisible machine-readable feature, a world first. Central banks around the world are already showing interest as it is seen as a significant breakthrough in the industry, of which we are very proud.
What are the key milestone achievements in recent years?
David: The fact that we have patents granted all around the world has been a major achievement. This proved Inovink was developing really innovative technology that was not pie in the sky. Our products have been taken by central banks, put through years of rigorous testing and then used on currencies. That is a big endorsement. Now our technology is used on over 25 billion banknotes worldwide.
When we started out in 2004, we had no pedigree and you cannot cold call a central bank! So you better make damn sure your technology is good. Ours is – and it is now a proven technology.
What are your plans for the future to drive further success?
Angus: To build on our current success with extensive R&D, engaging with our partners and product developers and keeping focussed on what makes our products better. R&D is a long, expensive and complex process – coming up with an idea, researching it and commercialising it into an industry specific product can take five years in development before a banknote security feature gets adopted.
David: Despite significant up-front development costs, the rewards for Inovink are long term contracts with our customers, commercial partners and suppliers.
Once a feature is specified on a banknote design, the specification may not change for the next ten to 15 years.
Banknote printing is a competitive and interdependent industry with significant barriers to entry, but thanks to Inovink’s innovation we have developed products that our customers want and will continue to do so.