Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in Australia
By Matthew Fenech, Director, Continuous Improvement & Innovation Business Improvement and Support Centre, IP Australia
In today’s global world, generating new knowledge and turning it into new products and services is a crucial part of maintaining and enhancing economic competitiveness. To engage with that process, IP Australia has launched a new IP toolkit and a new platform for IP rights which connects to all trading platforms making it easier for research companies and universities to commercialize their ideas. This is part of the Australian Government’s effort to boost commercial outcomes from research.
The Australian economy – along with many other developed economies - is undergoing a transition. Manufacturing as a contributor to Gross Domestic Product and employment creation is in decline (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian national accounts: national income expenditure and product, cat. no. 5206.0). While in recent years Australia has enjoyed a resources boom that has brought significant prosperity, this is now losing strength. In future, the services sector and knowledge-intensive industries will need to make a bigger contribution to economic growth and job creation if Australia’s economy is to maintain prosperity. Innovation is central to successfully making this transition.
Public sector investment in research is relatively strong in Australia, especially in the university sector. Translating this investment into innovation in business and the broader economy is central to promoting growth and job creation.
The Global Innovation Index however, reveals low levels of collaboration between research and industry in Australia. Paradoxically, Australia's AUD9.7 billion annual public spending on research yields a research output that ranks in the top eight in the world, according to the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF) competitiveness rankings. Yet Australia ranks a poor 25th in its capacity for innovation – commercializing ideas – according to the WEF, and ranks at the bottom out of 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for collaboration between publicly funded researchers and industry.
To increase Australia’s global competitiveness and productivity, the Australian Government developed the Boosting Commercial Returns from Research strategy to promote greater collaboration between industry and researchers. IP plays an important role in this agenda with the development of initiatives including the IP Toolkit and Source IP, both aimed at enhancing collaboration.
The IP Toolkit seeks to remove barriers to collaboration between businesses, researchers and research organizations by simplifying and demystifying management of IP. It provides:
- Guides – to provide information for getting started and designing a collaboration.
- Model tools – to help maximize the outputs of each collaboration (including checklists, a model confidentiality agreement, and model term sheet.
- Model contracts – a long form version for higher value and more complex collaborations (e.g. joint IP ownership) and a short form version for lower value, less complex arrangements.
It also provides the basic information and a neutral starting point for collaborations. It seeks to minimize problems through modelling better sequencing of project activities and prompting early consideration of common issues. The underlying principle is that issues are minimized if resolved upfront.
The IP Toolkit is designed to improve IP use and management. IP is often the most valuable collaboration output because ownership of the IP and the right to use it can confer a competitive advantage. IP is therefore a key element of any research collaboration agreement.
Negotiations over IP are often cited as taking too long and costing too much money. This can be a major deterrent for business in entering research collaborations, particularly with universities.
While the IP Toolkit does not negate the need for professional advice, it can minimize the issues for which legal advice is needed and the associated costs of such advice.
On November 23, IP Australia launched Source IP, a web platform which will serve as a single portal for information sharing, licensing preferences and facilitating contact in relation to IP rights generated by Australia’s public research sector.
Source IP seeks to:
- facilitate innovation and commercialization by providing a means for public sector IP rights holders to signal their patent holdings and licensing intent;
- increase understanding of potential collaboration opportunities by providing universities and research companies with a platform to promote their research expertise and technology specializations;
- provide a single source of key information and contacts to businesses seeking to work with a public sector research partner.
“Source IP is just one way in which our agency is working to support improved collaboration between researchers and industry,” says, Patricia Kelly, Director General of IP Australia.” We know, as noted by the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Scoreboard, 2013 and the Innovation in Australian Business, 2012-2013, report, that less than 10 per cent of innovative Australian firms currently collaborate with the higher education sector, where 60 per cent of Australian researchers work. The Australian government currently invests over AUD9 billion annually in supporting public sector research and naturally is keen to improve the economic dividends of this investment.”
Companies, especially small businesses, report difficulties in accessing information about available public sector IP and in making appropriate contacts with research agencies. The impetus for IP Australia in creating Source IP is to remove these barriers and unlock the commercial potential of public patent holdings.
Source IP has been informed by commercial platforms already operating in the market place. Mr. Robert Bollard, who oversees the project, believes the key difference with Source IP in comparison with other platforms is that it is not for profit. “The greatest opportunity we have is that Source IP is free to users and does not need to make a profit to sustain itself” said Mr. Bollard. “Unlike other sites that need to generate revenue to maintain their operations, IP Australia is funding this work to support a broader growth agenda”.
IP Australia does not see Source IP as a competitor to commercially available services. As Mr. Bollard points out “the core design principles for Source IP are set so that everything we collect and publish can be re-used by anyone else”. By adopting this approach, IP Australia will leave it to market forces to determine which platform a potential user may find of most value, while giving patent owners a platform to organize their portfolio. IP Australia will continue to enhance Source IP and make more data available. Ultimately, Source IP has the potential to add value to services offered by the private sector.
The IP Toolkit and Source IP are part of a suite of initiatives being undertaken in Australia to create an environment that better supports entrepreneurship and innovation.