Don’t give up on protecting your IP

With intellectual capital forming an increasing part of company balance sheets, there is an even greater need to protect this valuable asset from the threat of product piracy and counterfeiting.

The Advanced Manufacturing CRC, based at Swinburne University in Melbourne, has developed a comprehensive training program designed to develop, protect and commercialise technology. The Innovativity program, which is delivered over four days, covers the full spectrum of innovation from idea generation to product launch, and there is a strong focus on the protection of intellectual property (IP).

MD of the CRC, Bruce Grey, says there are plans to expand the program across Australia for SMEs and this will include an emphasis on writing IP.

"Companies need to have an understanding of the governing laws and procedures of IP in order to strengthen their position.

"At the macro level, there is an issue in relation to what countries are doing to comply with the requirements of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

"Unfortunately, IP standards continue to vary around the world and there is a need to strengthen and streamline the rules and move towards a level playing field," Grey said.

IP problem/solution

Australian company Codan has taken a range of actions to protect its Minelab gold detector products from counterfeiters.

This includes initiatives designed to protect its IP, including trademarks and patents, against manufacturers in China that are producing gold detectors that look like Minelab products and illegally carry Codan's trademarks.

According to Minelab's GM, Peter Charlesworth, these counterfeit products can have menus that don't do anything, they generally have poor performance, and often don't work at all.

"The Minelab trademark is appearing on these products even though it is registered in China.

"Legal action needs to be carefully considered because even if you win in court the damages awarded can be small, and the company can emerge again next day in a different location," he said.

"The extent to which Minelab products are counterfeited has been reduced through education programs, including placing marketing information on our website in various languages to explain the differences between the genuine article and the pirated product. Also, we are using the Web to expose the counterfeiters.

"In addition, our gold detectors now carry new security seals and a small reader device to establish that the product is genuine by viewing the seal through the reader. The Chinese are not able to make the seal, which we change every two months anyway," Charlesworth said.

IP firmware solution

Melbourne based, MIL-Systems specialises in the design and manufacturing of high value power supplies for the military and communications markets.

MIL-Systems director, Geoff Lowe, says the company is developing ways of embedding firmware inside micro controllers to prevent copying.

"This gives in-built protection to our products and works in a similar way to the use of codes and passwords to protect software. Many of our more advanced products now have micro controllers that can accommodate firmware," he explained.

"It is also important that companies take action to avoid dissemination of sensitive technical information about their products. Sometimes, for example, it is possible to see confidential diagrams of a competitor's product on the Internet as a result of third party service organisations anywhere in the world," Lowe said.

IP consultant at Davies Collison Cave, John Stonier, says IP is extremely valuable for a company.

"Patents and other IP provide a competitive edge and need to be identified, protected and enforced. If a company does not take action to protect its IP it can be seen as an easy target for infringers and counterfeiters," he said.

[For more information, visit the Davies Collison Cave and Innovativity websites.]

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