Made in Australia: Protecting our IP

Made in Australia: Protecting our IP article image

Australia has a rich history of innovation and inventiveness, and the need to protect Australian innovation by registering Intellectual Property is constant. Indigenous Australians developed medicines, tools and weapons that were astonishingly efficient-from a strong adhesive extracted from black wattle to the boomerang that can fell a kangaroo in one swift movement. Post settlement, the harsh climate and challenges of starting afresh forced pioneers to adapt, improve and invent, simply to survive. On this foundation of ingenuity, Australians have been behind some of the biggest inventions to shape the globe. Lawrence Hargrave’s experiments with box kites in the 19th century were the first form of manned flight. The development of penicillin for medicinal use in the 1940s by Howard Florey has saved millions of lives. David Warren’s creation of the black box flight recorder in the 1950s has shed light on crash mysteries and improved air safety. In modern innovation Australian researchers, innovators and garden shed tinkerers work hard to create new and novel products, systems and technologies every day, generating intellectual property (IP). IP is the intangible products of the mind or intellect that can be protected through informal methods such as trade secrets and employee contracts, or through formal registration. Registered IP includes patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights. Like any valuable assets, they need to be protected. First established in 1916 as the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, Australia’s first national laboratory, CSIRO was renamed the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and has a huge range of IP including patents, trade marks and plant breeder’s rights. In the 1930s and 1940s the Council focused on problems affecting agriculture, food preservation and fuel. By 1951 the agency was renamed CSIRO and they had began to innovate across all sectors of Australian society and industry, from radar technology used by the Australian military during the Second World War to an insect repellent used to make Queen Elizabeth II more comfortable on her 1963 visit. It was later commercialised by Mortein and went on to become the household name Aerogard.

When Neil Armstrong first touched down on the moon, it was the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope that relayed the broadcast to an audience of 600 million people around the world. In the late 1980s CSIRO introduced the polymer bank note, one of the hardest to forge in the world. The underlying technology for connecting computers to the internet without wires is via Wireless LAN (Local Area Network) technology, or WiFi, developed by CSIRO in the 1990s. For all these innovations patent CSIRO sought protection for the inventors in key markets across the world to stop others from profiting from their hard work and investment. Bionic Vision Australia is an Australian Research Council initiative that has formed to counter one of the world’s major health concerns. The national consortium of researchers develops technology to restore some sight to people with particular forms of vision impairment: inherited blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration. The development of the bionic eye has taken significant investments by some of the world’s leading experts in ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, neuroscience and circuit design, to name a few. Patent protection is critical to secure this investment. Two prototypes have been developed. In 2009 the Australian Research Council awarded Bionic Vision Australia a $42 million grant. Protecting their IP with a strong patent strategy is vital to the long-term commercial success of Bionic Vision Australia. All innovators can learn from the strategies that CSIRO and Bionic Vision Australia have adopted. Even if you’re unsure of the commercial viability of your idea or innovation, don’t discuss the specifics with others unless you have confidentiality agreements in place. Early disclosure can mean that your innovation is not patentable and the last thing you want is others copying you or profiting from your hard work. -To learn more about IP and the various forms of protection available to you, visit IP Australia.


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