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.


Ocean Energy – the wave of the future? by Griffith Hack

Although solar, wind and clean coal continue to attract the majority of the attention as clean energy options for the future, wave and tidal power may also play a major part in future energy production.

A recent visit to the All Energy Conference  showed that there are at least three Australian companies developing wave technology. Namely: Biopower, Oceanlinx and CETCO, who are all developing alternative means of capturing wave or tidal energy. 

New Zealand is also at the forefront of investing in wave power, with 14 different projects considered, ranging from capturing the deep sea energy in the Cook Strait that separates Wellington from the South Island; to capturing the energy in the strong tides in one of New Zealand’s largest harbours.

Wave power has tremendous potential as base load power as it is pretty reliable and available twenty four hours a day.  However, there are also likely to be significant engineering challenges such as maintenance in some extreme environments.  The combination of economic potential and engineering challenges is leading inventors to come up with a whole range of quite different solutions.

No one solution has started to dominate yet.  From an IP viewpoint, this makes wave power perhaps more interesting than some other clean technologies, where the engineering is now starting to mature.

Another important question that developers need to consider is the breadth of the claims of their patents and their competitor’s patents.  A smart innovator might find that while their patented invention did not succeed in its own right, their patents do claim a more successful invention developed by another company.  Or vice-versa.

I for one will be watching this space with much interest in the future.

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

Open innovation vs IP ownership in the clean IP space – are they necessarily opposed? by Griffith Hack
October 12, 2009, 11:31 am
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , , ,

The need for the world to develop new technologies to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment has led to calls by some to reduce the role of patents and other forms of IP in clean technologies. Patents and other IP provide a monopoly to their owners, which according to some pundits potentially reduces the spread and adoption of these planet saving technologies, potentially leaving us all worse off.

There are of course a wealth of reasons why IP ownership can help drive innovation by providing an incentive to invest in research and development. But maybe open innovation and IP ownership are not necessarily opposite approaches to development.

There is an argument being promoted by Marshall Phelps, IP Tsar for Microsoft, that clear IP ownership can actively help drive collaboration. Clear IP ownership gives IP owners and innovators the confidence take their ideas to market and look for collaborators and partners to help take these ideas forward.

The alternative to clear IP ownership in many cases is protecting new ideas as trade secrets or confidential information – which by its very nature will prevent the spread and likely slow the adoption of these ideas. In other words, IP ownership may actually assist open innovation….a radical thought for many, I know.

Mike Lloyd

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

Embracing Sustainability Bears Innovation & IP by Justin Blows

A recent Harvard Business Review article, Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation, is resoundingly convincing: Businesses that embrace sustainability will innovate and flourish.

Traditional business leaders believe becoming environmentally friendly will erode competitiveness but the reality is just the opposite. Companies that embrace sustainability are inevitably taken down the road of innovation, and consequently develop intellectual property that provides invaluable brand and technological differentiation in the marketplace. And consumers love it.

Protecting sustainable innovation, with patents for example, crystallizes the first mover advantage providing significant commercial advantage.

The authors of the article looked at 30 large corporations, and concluded that sustainability is a mother lode of organizational and technological innovations. The article is full of amazing examples.

Hewlett-Packard, for example, realized in the 1990’s the lead in solder would be phased out because of environmental concerns. Rather then lobby for weakened regulations they embraced the inevitable and developed a lead free solder. It was able to meet EU directives on lead-free solder as soon as they were passed providing an advantage over competitors. Its just one example of why its smarter to comply with the most stringent rules before they are enforced. Companies that are in the vanguard of compliance naturally spot business opportunities first.

I think will are now seeing the same opportunities in renewable energy. Governments are starting to tighten the screws with renewable energy targets, feed in tariffs and by pricing carbon, and those that embrace sustainability and innovate will be the winners.

Old & returned equipment used to cost CISCO eight million dollars a year in recycling costs. It realized that most of it still worked and started incorporating working used parts into new units. Reuse is now around 45% and recycling costs have fallen by 40%.

Reuse is going to become more important as we inevitably expend our non renewable resources. But acting now before the crunch is highly advantageous and stimulates innovation creating valuable IP.

FedEx & Kinko’s printing realized that they could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel and logistic costs. Instead of shipping paper document around the US, they offered costumers the option of sending the document electronically to a printer near the final destination for printing. A paper copy then need only be shipped locally. That’s innovation. Save money, save the planet, and win customers.

One notable technology that the article didn’t discuss was hybrid cars. In particular, Toyota stands out from the competition, and I would say they dominate the hybrid car intellectual property landscape. This is an auto company that acted on sustainability concerns and innovated well before governments started acting.

While US giants like General Motors are on their knees, brought their by their gas guzzling dinosaurs, Toyota has been innovating in a technology that addresses concerns about suitability and has crystallised its first mover advantage by patenting hybrid car innovation. Toyota has more patents in hybrid car technology than any one else. It does not appear that the other companies will be able to catch up, at least in the medium term.

Now that governments are turning the screws to increase the fuel efficiency of the car fleet to improve energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Toyota will reap what it has sown. United States President Obama wants national fuel efficiency to increase by 5% each year from 2012 to 2016. The United Kingdom government has confirmed it will offer from ₤2,000 to ₤5,000 to purchasers of electric and hybrid cars . The Japanese government introduced inducements worth around US$4,000 per purchased car, propelling the Toyota Prius to become the most sold car of any kind in April this year.

As the realities of climate change, resource scarcity, and the costs of pollution bite, traditional business models are collapsing. Those that embrace sustainability will innovate, protect their new IP, and flourish.

Justin Blows

Free pollution permits a wasted opportunity by Justin Blows
September 9, 2009, 9:19 am
Filed under: Feature | Tags: , , ,

According this report, Prof. Ross Garnaut, the author of the Garnaut Report on the economics of climate change in Australia believes that giving away free pollution permits to heavy polluters will steal away the support for innovation in clean and sustainable energy technologies:

The biggest disappointment for the public interest has been the potential revenue from the sale of permits has been heavily committed to compensation of various interests and it hasn’t left space for large support for research, development and commercialisation of the new technologies

I think we may already be seeing the effects of the government’s weak position on cap & trade with events like the recent move of the Australian company Solar Systems in voluntary administration.  In our solar report, this company was ranked as Australia’s most innovative solar company.

The question must be asked:  Is the Australian government’s support for clean energy innovation sufficient to support Australia’s interests? 

Justin Blows