IP Australia puts digital intelligence to work

June 2018

By Patricia Kelly, Director General, IP Australia

Not so long ago the average person’s understanding of artificial intelligence (AI) was framed by movies like The Terminator and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Skynet in The Terminator movies was the fictional AI platform that eventually gained self-awareness after it infiltrated millions of computer servers around the world. In the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, advanced humanoid robots capable of thought and emotion were developed as replacement humans. These movies used creative license to dramatize and give expression to people’s real fears: that computers would eventually become more intelligent than humans and would negatively change our world.

Patricia Kelly, Director General of IP Australia has been leading her Organization’s drive to develop new, more efficient ways to deliver its services using artificial intelligence (photo: Courtesy of IP Australia).

AI is changing our world and like every leap in technology it has great benefits as well as risks that need to be managed. At IP Australia we have been on a journey of AI discovery, working with leaders in the field from Australia and elsewhere to understand the applications of AI for intellectual property (IP) and the way we administer it. AI is, of course, not the only technology reshaping our world; other technologies including big data, the Internet of Things and advanced robotics will also have a strong impact and together these technologies will lead to fundamental change affecting markets, the workforce, business operations and society in general.  The combination of big data and AI is particularly powerful – and useful to the IP sector.

Augmenting our intelligence

As so eloquently put by Virginia Rometty, IBM’s first female CEO, “Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we'll augment our intelligence.” Over the past five years, IP Australia has been working on a proof of concept to achieve augmented intelligence. Our aim has been to develop new, more efficient ways to deliver our services. Our real-life AI platform is far less dramatic than its fictional equivalent Skynet, but its potential impact is just as far reaching, all be it for good. What we learned from these augmented intelligence endeavors is shaping many of our current projects.

Today, over 99 per cent of the 850,000 annual customer transactions handled by IP Australia, worth over AUD 200 million in revenue, are digital. To achieve this we have radically transformed digital customer engagement, positioning IP Australia as the first fully digital Australian Government service delivery agency for Australian citizens.

This journey began in 2013 with the implementation of a digital transaction platform. At that time, the bulk of IP Australia’s systems were paper-based with just 12 percent of transactions undertaken digitally. It was from this foundation that our digital transformation really began. 

Our virtual assistant learns like a human

In 2016 we launched Alex, our virtual assistant (VA) on our website. Alex works 24/7 and manages basic customer enquiries. It uses a combination of advanced natural language processing and machine learning to better support customers. Since launch, Alex has had over 85,000 conversations with customers and has maintained an 84 per cent satisfaction rate. Thanks to a built-in live chat function via our call center we continue to augment Alex’s “intelligence”. Recent enhancements are helping Alex “learn” more quickly via advanced machine learning. With every conversation, Alex’s capacity to respond to future conversations with more accuracy is enhanced.  Alex is enabling IP Australia to respond to customer enquiries in a faster and more effective way.

AI is changing our world and like every leap in technology it has great benefits as well as risks that need to be managed.

Patricia Kelly, Director General, IP Australia

IP Australia’s approach to and implementation of Alex has been recognized with a number of awards, including an Australian National Archives Award for Digital Excellence and a Silver Stevie Award for Innovation in Technology Development in 2017 at the Annual Intelligent Assistant Awards in San Francisco, USA.

Mimicking human thought with image-recognition technology

Having “dipped our toe” into the artificial intelligence space, the possibilities mushroomed.

In 2017, we launched our new Australian Trade Mark Search tool. The decision not to upgrade the old trademark search tool but to scrap it, gave us the opportunity to adopt industry-leading practices and to become one of the first IP offices in the world to integrate trademark image-recognition and search technology.

Developed by the Australian startup TrademarkVision, the technology mimics the problem-solving networks of the human brain using multiple algorithms to detect objects within an image. This makes searching for similar logos simpler and faster, producing more accurate results from over 400,000 trademark applications in seconds. Our tool attracts over one million page views every month from 40,000 customers. And this technology is now in use in other IP offices.  We have also worked with TrademarkVision to develop a new Trade Mark Assist tool to guide trademark filers (particularly self-filers) through the application process.

A key objective for IP Australia is to create easier ways for customers to interact with or register intellectual property in Australia. With the implementation of these new tools, we are delivering on this. The IP Australia team’s achievements in this area were recognized last year at the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management.

A world-first digital wallet for IP

Portfolio View is the latest enhancement to our e-Services platform which serves as IP Australia’s digital e-commerce transactional platform. This new tool gives customers a quick and easy view of all their IP rights in one place online. Its success has since prompted us to develop our IP Folio mobile app, a digital wallet for IP.

In recent years, IP Australia has been on a journey of AI discovery, working with leaders in the field from Australia and elsewhere to understand the applications of AI for intellectual property and the way it is administered (photo: oatawa / iStock / Getty Images Plus).

The IP Folio app is free of charge, and is the first in a series of next-generation digital services we intend to deliver to customers. It is user-centered, data-rich, and offers access to real-time information.

We built the app using agile methodology whereby we released alpha and beta versions to our customers for feedback, while continuing to develop and perfect the technology.

IP Folio for trademarks was launched in December 2017 on iPhone. It offers customers an accessible, convenient and responsive interface. Additional capabilities have since been added, including options to “watch” or add “favorite” trademarks (even if they aren’t owned by the user) and to receive push notifications for selected trademarks as their status changes.

The team continues to work on the next version of IP Folio to be released in the course of the year. This new version will be Android-compatible and will also cover patents.

Digital disruption

With hindsight, IP Australia’s enhanced use of technology to deliver its IP services has indeed been disruptive. Our staff has had to adapt to new systems quickly, internal processes have changed to accommodate the new technology, and our organizational culture is shifting to one of rapid innovation where machines and humans work together.

Despite the clear benefits of our approach, I am still aware of the fears that the use of artificial intelligence brings out in people. As the Italian Renaissance thinker, Nicolò Machiavelli said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

While movies like The Terminator have given way to a modern acceptance of the benefits artificial intelligence can bring, when building our respective organizations it is important that we remain conscious of, and squarely focused on, the need to use and apply digital intelligence in a way that augments the human experience.

At IP Australia our digital journey is gaining momentum. I am excited to see where it takes us.

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