Innovating Coastal Management: Developing Interlocking Caissons

Will La Salle III is

The Glow In The Dark Lawyer

William La Salle III, Esq. is The Glow In The Dark Lawyer.SM Will practices intellectual property law as a contract attorney with Thrive IP,® and maritime law under the banner of his own firm, Glow In The Dark Law PLLC (GITDLaw). Thrive IP® is headquartered in North Charleston, SC and has attorneys in various locations along the southeastern United States seaboard. GITDLaw operates from Smithfield, VA, in historic Isle of Wight County, Virginia. The following is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice, nor is it intended as an offer to create an attorney-client relationship. If you or someone you know needs intellectual property or maritime legal advice, it is recommended that you immediately seek the services of a licensed attorney.

December 3, 2020 — When I was growing up in Philadelphia, my family would vacation, like a lot of Philadelphians, “down the shore.” For us, this meant a little town in Cape May County known as Villas. I remember as a pre-teen and teenager we would ride our bikes from the house along the Delaware Bay shoreline to watch the Cape May-Lewis Ferry come and go. If you look at GITDLaw’s website, the marquee picture is a photo I took a couple years ago looking down the breakwater on the Higbee Beach side of the Cape May canal. I have many fond memories of climbing jetty rocks to set up a perch with a couple hand crab lines and plenty of time to waste.

Those of us who have lived in or vacationed in maritime communities are familiar with artificial structures such as jetties, breakwaters, and groins. I would venture that most of us are familiar with what they do. A Proctor in Admiralty[1] would clearly have interest in artificial coastal management, because of, inter alia, implications to private landowner’s riparian rights. In this week’s blog, however, I take a maritime staple and consider it from a patent attorney’s perspective. Intellectual Law is a niche area of practice, as is Admiralty. I like to tell people I am a “unicorn among unicorns.” I also insist that it makes perfect sense that a maritime attorney would want ties to patent law, and patent attorneys would want to be familiar with marine innovation.

While I was in law school (and preparing for the patent bar), I had cause to come across an article describing a European patented type of interlocking concrete jetty rock. I’ve wanted to write something relating to this topic ever since I read the article, but I couldn’t remember the original source. The idea of innovating a pile of rocks thrust out into the sea stuck with me. Recent research has brough me across several patents for interlocking caissons and other methods of tidal coastal management systems. I will admit, versed as I am in maritime matters, I had no idea what a caisson was.

I am not a structural engineer. I am a nuclear engineering technologist. So when I came across caissons, I had no idea what they were or why a patent search for jetties or breakwaters would bring me across them. As it turns out, a caisson is a “watertight retaining structure.”[2] What I was looking for, from what I remembered, is a type of concrete jetty rock essentially shaped like a giant asterisk, which responded to normal tidal wear by forming a tighter interlocking structure. After much effort and to the great benefit of my readers, I found it: The Cubipod! Antonio Molguero and Carlos Menendéz, finalists in the European Inventor Award 2019, designed a concrete cast jetty rock which is advertised to be 45% more efficient to construct and place. The Cubipod shape is also stronger than a cube made of the same volume of concrete. As described on the European Patent Office’s website: “The patented Cubipod block has protrusions on each surface, which prevents blocks from moving over time to settle face to face — a ‘self-packing’ arrangement — and helps maintain the integrity of the breakwater. While more effective than traditional flat-faced blocks however, in order to be commercially viable, it was essential that Cubipods — which typically weigh between 3 000 to 45 000 kg each — could be manufactured efficiently and in a cost-effective way.[3]” Cheaper, stronger, more efficient — the very heart of innovation.

While coastal management and general maritime innovation can clearly lead to a plethora of new intellectual property opportunities (better designed hulls, hydrofoils, solar sails, seawall design, etc.) I take note of a disappointing fact, at least regarding coastal management innovation. During the course of my research, besides the Cubipod, I had the opportunity to read about several other caisson innovations, such as:

· XBloc Interlocking Armour (Netherlands)

· Modular Interlocking Caisson (Korea)

· Interlocking Caisson Breakwater (Korea)

· Arch-Type Caisson Breakwater (Korea)

Where is the US? Even when I search generally for “coastal management” patents, the only offerings from US innovators involve structural testing or failure analysis. The NOAA Office for Coastal Management tells us the US has 95,439 miles of shoreline.[4] Maritime innovation, in my opinion, should therefore be very high on our collective priority list.

Having just moved to Hampton Roads from the Charleston Lowcountry, one of my disappointments in relocating was that I was leaving the Charleston region just as the new Wando Terminal was getting ready to begin receiving the massive post-Panamax shipping vessels. South Carolina invested a lot into dredging the Charleston harbor, and it is the only East Coast harbor deep enough to compete with the West Coast. Walmart got the news; they are developing a huge warehouse facility just up I-26.[5] Charleston is beautiful but congested, and I would not want to encourage the worsening of their current motor vehicle traffic woes, but from my perspective everyone in logistics, boat construction, or mass distribution should be beating down their door, and bringing all sorts of innovation with them. I hold my breath hoping its coming, because when it does, The Glow In The Dark Lawyer℠ wants to be first in line to help usher in a new wave of maritime and logistical innovation.

[1] A Proctor in Admiralty is an attorney recognized as being competent in Admiralty Law.

[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caisson_(engineering)

[3] See https://www.epo.org/news-events/events/european-inventor/finalists/2019/corredor.html

[4] See https://coast.noaa.gov/data/docs/states/shorelines.pdf

[5] Walmart Selects Dorchester County for 3 Million Sq. Ft. Distribution Center, see https://www.dorchesterforbusiness.com/walmart-selects-dorchester-county-for-3-million-square-foot-distribution-center/

Will La Salle III, Esq. is The Glow In The Dark Lawyer℠ and practices IP and Maritime Law Internationally from Smithfield, VA

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store