Protecting intellectual property through the innovation patent system

Monday, 11 September, 2006

Scientists and researchers often have great ideas - after all, it's the nature of the beast to be inquisitive and to seek solutions.

Some ideas are profound, long-term revelations which lead to new scientific theories, methodologies or technologies, while others are more ephemeral.

Over the years I have been editing What's New in LAB Technology I have seen some researchers develop new scientific instruments almost as a sideline to facilitate their research and interests. Two that spring to mind are Medsaic's DotScan technology for diagnosing leukaemia and lymphoma and Colloidial Dynamics' use of electroacoustics to characterise colloids.

If you are developing scientific equipment on these scales you need to be very sure about protecting your intellectual property and patenting your work.

But what if your idea is one of the ephemeral ones?

The costs and complexities of patenting the item are probably prohibitive, especially if it will only have a short life. However, just because the item is not knowledge intensive doesn't mean it's not worth protecting.*

The Australian government has a second-tier patent system that has been developed for just this situation. The Innovation Patent is predominantly used by Australian individuals and SMEs for less-knowledge-intensive innovations such as consumer goods and the system is claimed to be significantly faster and have lower fees than the standard patent system.

The innovation patent was introduced in 2001 as part of the government's Backing Australia's Ability initiative, and replaced the petty patent system.

The innovation patent system was intended to stimulate lower level innovation by providing quick, inexpensive intellectual property rights, with a lower inventive requirement than a standard patent.

A recent review of the innovation patent system found the system successfully encourages SMEs to develop incremental inventions and market them in Australia.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Bob Baldwin said, "The government is ensuring that the intellectual property system continues to be responsive to the needs of businesses operating in fast moving, highly competitive markets by providing the option of shorter term, more flexible and affordable protection".

Inadequate knowledge of the innovation patent was identified by the review as a key barrier to further improving public usage of the system.

The review also found some businesses are using the system as interim protection for higher-level inventions such as chemicals and medical equipment, and recommended that this trend be monitored to ensure the innovation patent system is being used as intended.

The review was conducted by IP Australia, the government agency responsible for administering the patent system, with assistance from the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA), and delivers on the government's commitment to review the innovation patent system within five years of its introduction.

A copy of the full report is available on IP Australia's website

*US inventor Walter Hunt was prolific, inventing a repeating rifle, nail-making machine, paper collar, dry dock, metal bullet with its own explosive charge - and, in 1832, a sewing machine (limited to sewing only a straight seam for a few inches). He patented many of his ideas but foolishly sold the patent he held for the safety pin for $400 and didn't patent his sewing machine because he was concerned about creating unemployment among seamstresses!

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