Bridging the gap between innovation and investment

One of the recent efforts to bridge the gulf between research and Australian enterprises was last week’s launch of Source IP. Brent Balinski spoke to IP Australia’s Matthew Fenech about the new online platform.

Whether or not you’re sick of the discussion around improving our innovation performance, many would argue it’s long overdue, and it’s likely to continue for some time yet.

For example, tomorrow will see the release of the senate’s Innovation System inquiry, and next week the government will release its National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Last week, federal innovation minister Wyatt Roy launched IP Australia’s attempt to bridge the research-commercialisation gap, its Source IP portal, a “digital intellectual property marketplace”.

The platform provides anybody curious – including, it’s hoped, entrepreneurs and small businesses – with a plain English explanation of what university researchers have invented and patented. Other participating research bodies include Data61 (formerly NICTA), the Defence Science Technology Group, and CSIRO.

It’s aligned with the broader effort to increase collaboration between business and public research, and its goal is to make the dissemination and commercialisation of public sector researcher IP simpler and more effective.

Before this it was a matter of getting started by meeting with a university technology transfer office (these are a part of Source IP, and requests from the database are funneled to them).

“They basically do a hand-holding service to introduce them to potential business or industry leaders in a certain field,” explained Matthew Fenech, Director, Continuous Improvement & Innovation at IP Australia, of previous ways of dealing with universities.

And previous searchable lists of patents were available, but were often in a language that made them indecipherable to the layman.

“The trick with patents is, by nature, people generally try and hide what it is that they’re inventing,” Fenech told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“So it’s in a context and in a language that not a lot of people understand, and it’s not really making that IP easily found.”

Also, using IP Australia’s AusPat database would then see you then put in contact with an attorney, another layer in the way of finding and – maybe – using a uni scholar’s invention.

There are similar services elsewhere, such as the Danish Patent and Trademark Office and the Malaysian Patent Office. Fenech’s group developed their concept following a leadership project “a few years ago”, and then began discussions in earnest in 2014.

Efforts were kicked along by the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda in October last year, aiming to put “science at the heart of industry policy”.

This was followed by a successful pitch to the Group of Eight Universities earlier this year, before rounding up the other universities. All 40 universities are participants in SourceIP. This month they and other currently Participating Organisations will be joined by the country’s Medical Research Institutes.

By mid-next year, patents from a “good proportion of the marketplace” will be loaded onto Source IP as well.

For the now, there are “just over 400, at last count, patents that were available or free to license and there’s around 7,000 patents that have been held over the course of history by publicly-funded research organisations.”

Whether or not the initiative will go far in lifting the country’s woeful record of industry/researcher collaboration, it makes that first step – seeing what’s out there and getting in touch with the relevant person – easier.

If nothing else, it makes starting a conversation between the two parties a little easier, which can’t be a bad thing.

“I think that really those bits of IP are just conversation starters; it really does need a partnership to build up those IP portfolios,” Professor Gordon Wallace, Executive Research Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, told Manufacturers’ Monthly

“Sometimes you need that conversation starter and having that available so people know who to talk to is a great help in itself.”