Griffith Hack Clean & Sustainable Technologies

Water innovation in Australia: Pipeline to Profit? by Griffith Hack

As a country which has continually had to deal with the scarcity of water, Australia is ideally placed to become a leader in the US$400 billion global water market.  But a detailed analysis of our water innovation patents by Griffith Hack in the report ‘Pipeline to Profit?’ has found Australian companies are failing to leverage their valuable intellectual property (IP) into global markets.

The paper finds: “Few applicants are developing a critical mass of patented technology to support their export ambitions. Australian applicants are filing more patents in the water technology area than in most other areas, but the majority of these patents are for domestically oriented inventions.”

“It has been estimated that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, which is recognised as an unsustainable rate,” notes Griffith Hack Senior Associate, Dr Mary Turonek.

“Australia has built up significant expertise in managing demand for water using technologies – and there is a potential for Australia to export this expertise to the world. But we are not securing our innovative ideas and products for the multi-billion-dollar export market.”

Click here for the full report.


what about nuclear? by Griffith Hack

Some of the politicians in the current debate about the emission trading scheme have raised the topic of nuclear power as a possible source of low carbon power.

Nuclear power is a proven technology, and in France provides 80% of electricity used at the lowest power prices in Europe. Nuclear power has its share of Australian supporters, such as Professor Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Professor of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.  While in Australia even talk of a nuclear power plant is anathema to local politicians,  in France local municipalities compete to get a nuclear power plant due its ability to generate high technology jobs and lower regional taxes. Australia has enough nuclear reserves to last for many years, and improvements in nuclear technology may further extend the usable life of our reserves

Many questions remain. Nuclear power plants can be very expensive, and use a very large amount of concrete and steel in their construction, which in turn generate a lot of CO2 in their production. However nuclear power may have applications in other technologies. The Economist magazine published a letter in March 2009 by a heart patient who had an experimental plutonium 238-powered pacemaker implanted in 1976. It was about the size of a small can of tuna fish, and was still operating at near 98% efficiency some 33 years later. While nuclear powered pacemakers raise a number of questions, it does make you wonder what other unexplored innovation opportunities for nuclear power might be out there.  As but one example of this, in 2004 Hyundai filed a patent for a nuclear fusion powered internal combustion engine.

Figure 1: Korean concept for nuclear fusion power internal combustion engine.
One possible option could be for smaller scale nuclear plants. Toshiba and the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI) are jointly developing a 10 MW reactor, claiming that this reactor will be “self sustaining and can last for up to 30 years without refuelling, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy”.

An Australian subsidiary of Toshiba even filed an Australian provisional patent application titled “Applications of Small Nuclear Reactors in Power Generation Systems”, but this appears to have lapsed.

Does nuclear power deserve to regarded as a clean and sustainable technology?  Apart from the question mark about the CO2 produced in their construction, there is little CO2 produced thereafter.  The big issues are probably nuclear waste and what to do with the decommissioned reactor many years in the future.  Quantities of nuclear waste tend to be very small, and there is scope to burn some types of nuclear waste in fast generation reactors. The decommissioned reactor problem may be a larger issue though.  Many current nuclear power plants are being run for longer than their initial planned lifetimes, but eventually they will become uneconomic to run, and decommissioning costs may be large.

Of course all energy production technologies may cause problems. Wind farms can upset neighbours, but a decommissioned windmill should be of value to steel recyclers. Wave or geothermal power may need to be located a long way from power users, leading to unsightly high tension power lines running across the country. Hydro-dams can flood attractive valleys, as we saw with the Franklin dam proposal. Solar panels appear to be recyclable but also cause CO2 to be emitted in their production. Ethanol production from biomass in the US is controversial, but less so in Brazil.

So getting back to my original question, does nuclear power deserve to regarded as a clean and sustainable technology?  There are strong arguments either way, but perhaps nuclear power should not be dismissed out of hand.

Mike Lloyd

Who Holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies by Griffith Hack

Griffith Hack is pleased to announce the launch of the report: ‘Who holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies.’

Australian companies and developers looking to benefit from the upcoming clean technology boom have been warned to think carefully about how they protect their ideas, following analysis of global patents in the rapidly expanding hybrid car market.

The report found that the market leader in hybrid technology has filed so many patents ahead of its rivals, that other major manufacturers are now being forced to use the technology ‘under licence’ or develop very different types of vehicles. This has very real implications for Australian innovators, including companies and researchers hoping to receive funding from the federal government’s $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund.

As the report warns: “Failure to understand how companies compare to their competitors, may lead to wasted investment, infringement and a lack of commercial success.” “Growing concerns about energy security, climate change and pollution are motivating governments everywhere to introduce strong measures that favour innovation in clean technologies, such as hybrid cars,” notes co-author, Dr Justin Blows. “Our report shows that clean technology innovators are massively investing in IP, to ensure they remain competitive as the world moves into a new age of clean technology.”

Report co-author Mike Lloyd adds: “Hybrid car sales were non-existent until Toyota made a commitment to this sector after 1994, at a time when oil prices were low. The company’s initiative and aggressive patent filing strategy have, in turn, forced other motor companies to respond in a variety of ways. There are lessons here for all innovative companies, including those Australian organisations and individuals looking to make their mark on our motoring future.”

For the full report click here.

For further information on the report, please contact:

Mike Lloyd IP Portfolio Management Consultant Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group Griffith Hack
Tel: 03 9243 8315

Dr Justin Blows Patent Attorney Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group Griffith Hack
Tel: 02 9925 5938
Mob: 0425 215 470

Financier puts $1B of own money into Climate change mitigation technology by Justin Blows

According to this report, billionaire George Soros said he will invest $1 billion in clean-energy technology and create an organization to advise policy makers on environmental issues.

This is roughly the same order of magnitude of money as the current Australian Government has committed to Solar Energy.

Justin Blows

Are clean energy patents a financial asset? by Griffith Hack

Most organisations file patents to protect and maximise the value of products and processes that they are planning to develop themselves. However some organisations instead aim to benefit by selling or licensing their patents to other parties.

Selling or licensing patents is a complex activity, and increasingly organisations are arising especially to manage this activity, either on a commission or brokerage basis, or by buying these patents themselves and seeking new buyers. Effectively these latter types of organisation become a type of investment bank, using patents as an investment asset rather than investments in other companies. These organisations were recently discussed by the Economist.

So what does this mean for innovators in the clean energy space? Clean energy is attracting a lot of money and interest at the moment. Many technologies are comparatively new, and it may be possible to file broad patents. Innovators who are developing the right products and filing the right patents may have an alternative means of commercialising their intellectual property; namely selling or licensing IP to patent brokers.

However innovators can be assured that such brokers will look very carefully at the quality of the patent applications and patents secured, as often the patent is the main asset being sold. Innovators need to be very careful about their patent applications, patent strategy and the prior art in their technology areas, and seek careful advice.

Mike Lloyd

A123 in patent dispute by Justin Blows
September 29, 2009, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Feature | Tags: , , ,

Bloomberg is reporting that A123 Systems Inc., a maker of lithium batteries for plug-in cars that first sold stock today, is in talks to end a patent dispute with the University of Texas and Hydro-Quebec over technology underlying its products.

Justin Blows

Going around Oz with bio fuel by Justin Blows
September 24, 2009, 10:59 am
Filed under: Feature | Tags: ,

The ABC is reporting that Paul Carter is to ride around Australia on a motor cycle running on biodiesel. He is a comedian, but the ride is no joke. The bike was built at the University of Adelaide by students.

Justin Blows