Category: Innovation

Key Global Shifts – Opportunities for New Zealand Innovation

New Zealand’s annual festival of innovation, Techweek, concluded its 2020 programme just over a week ago.  As part of the programme, Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency, presented research discussing four global shifts they had identified, as well as the potential opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurialism by Kiwis and Kiwi businesses, that these presented.


Callaghan Innovation

Callaghan Innovation is New Zealand’s innovation agency.  It supports innovation and growth for businesses of all sizes through a variety of programmes.  These include R&D services for technology and product development; funding; programmes for business development and to build innovation skills; and enabling people and businesses to connect with experts, opportunities and networks.

The research presented during Techweek 2020 looked at a three to five-year time horizon and identified four key global shifts (as outlined below).  These represent potential opportunities for businesses to adopt a leading role, and to position themselves competitively, to innovate in response to these emerging trends and needs, both within New Zealand and around the world.


Key Global Shift: Unpredictable Waters

Uncertainties with respect to water are predicted to increase in the future.  Climate change is causing increases in sea level, as well as extreme weather events.  Combined with the continuing trend within human society towards urbanisation and urban development (two-thirds of the projected world population are expected to live in urban centres by 2050), issues such as river flooding and water security are also likely to be a challenge.


Key Global Shift: Beyond Urban and Rural

Despite many societies around the world becoming more urbanised, an increased desire for people to return to nature within these societies was identified by the research.  To accommodate these needs, we may need to redefine how we think about “urban” and “rural”.  Innovative technology could give access to the best of both environments.  This might include virtual rural experiences for an increasingly urbanised population, or an emphasis and prioritisation of rural aspects of products and services including how these are presented to the consumer.


Key Global Shift: More Fluid Life-Shapes

A generation or two ago (particularly within Western societies) many people’s lives had a predictable structure beginning with education, followed by work, followed by retirement.  For many, this is no longer the case.  The structures of a lot of people’s lives now follow different patterns with much more fluid changes being experienced.  People may change careers, or re-enter education, later in life, whether by necessity or choice.  Longer life-spans also mean retirement may not look like it once did.  This is likely to be even more apparent in the future, and therefore creates opportunities for technology innovation to support society.


Key Global Shift: Distance Redefined

Globalisation has seen the world get “smaller”, whether through readily accessible international travel, or via instant communication around the globe.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed how we travel and interact, and it may take many years to return to what we once knew, if that happens at all.  There will be opportunities to innovate in how we interact at a distance, whether locally, nationally or internationally, for business, entertainment and social reasons.  This might include the use of robots and avatars to attend events remotely, the use of haptics to facilitate sensory interactions, as well as addressing the challenges of building rapport and trust when people can’t meet face-to-face.


The New Future

It’s time to start thinking and innovating, to position New Zealand businesses for the new future.

Alistair Curson



Callaghan Innovation. (2020, March 27). “About Us”. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from:

Miller J, Edgar K. (2020, July 28). “Key Global Shifts: What They Could Offer to NZ Innovators”. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from: and:

Murali M, Cummings C, Feyertag J, Gelb S, Hart T, Khan A, Langdown I, Lucci P. (2018, October 2018). “10 things to know about the impacts of urbanisation”. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from:

Techweek. “About Techweek”. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from:

Wikipedia. (2020, July 27). “Haptic technology”. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from:

Interactive Patent Analytics from IP Australia of COVID-19 Related Technology

IP Australia has recently launched a set of interactive patent analytics displays related to technologies instrumental in the fight against COVID-19.  These provide researchers and decision-makers with valuable tools to locate key intelligence within the body of patent information around these subjects.


IP Australia Patent Analytics Hub

IP Australia’s Patent Analytics Hub is an initiative that has grown out of the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE).  Originally focussed on economics research, the OCE has evolved to include open data products and patent information as part of its research services.

The Patent Analytics Hub delivers patent analytics to customers including research organisations and government agencies.  The reports support customers in identifying opportunities, monitoring competitor and market activity, determining the value of their intellectual assets, and guiding business decisions.


COVID-19 Technology Visualisations

As part of the global effort against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Patent Analytics Hub has developed a set of six freely-available interactive visualisations.

The visualisations cover:

  • Ventilators
  • Masks
  • Surgical gowns and goggles
  • Vaccines
  • Repurposed drugs
  • Medical diagnostics

Beginning with a top-level summary and overview of each analysis, users can then view the data as a series of interactive charts and graphs.  These can be drilled into and filtered to view the results for specific regions, applicants, and filing periods.  Once a document or documents are identified, the user can hyperlink directly to view full details of any patent of interest.

This resource will enable researchers and decision-makers to identify potentially useful technology, as well as the relevant patents and their owners.  This can assist in identifying know-how, partners, suppliers and manufacturers to gain a stronger position in the fight against COVID-19.


Global Collaborative Efforts

This initiative from IP Australia is just one of many such approaches around the world to support the sharing of innovative knowledge and technology.

WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organisation) has launched a new search function for its PATENTSCOPE database to assist in the identification of relevant patent documents that may be of value in the fight against COVID-19.  CAS (the Chemical Abstracts Service) has released an open-access dataset of compounds having known or potential antiviral activity, to assist research and analytics efforts.

The Open COVID Pledge is an initiative to encourage more open access to intellectual property in the fight against COVID-19.  Examples of companies supporting the pledge and making their portfolios of thousands of patents available to the world include Intel and Microsoft, amongst others.

Further, Pfizer and BioNTech are working together to jointly develop a COVID-19 vaccine.  BioNTech has provided multiple vaccine candidate compounds, whilst Pfizer has provided access to its research and development, regulatory, manufacturing, and distribution infrastructure.  Initial human trials are already underway.

By working together, we have a much better chance of defeating this common enemy.  Maybe the lessons learned can provide the impetus for more collaborative approaches in the future.

Alistair Curson



CAS. (2020, March 31). “CAS Releases Open Access Dataset of Antiviral Chemical Compounds to Aid COVID-19 Discovery and Analysis”. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from:

CSR Admin. (2020, April 07). “Intel Grants Free Access to Its Intellectual Property to COVID-19 Researchers and Scientists”. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2020). “Australian Intellectual Property Report 2020 – Chapter 8: Research Program”. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2020, May 06). “New patent visualisations on the latest COVID-19 technology”. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2020, May 06). “Patent Analytics Hub”. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from:

Open COVID Pledge. (2020, April 07). “Open COVID Pledge”. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from:

Pfizer. (2020, April 09). “Pfizer and BioNTech Announce Further Details on Collaboration to Accelerate Global COVID-19 Vaccine Development”. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from:

Pfizer. (2020, May 05). “Pfizer and BioNTech Dose First Participants in the U.S. as Part of Global COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Development Program”. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from:

Szweras M, De Luca C. (2020, April 22). “Patents and Their Role in a COVID-19 Cure”. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from:

World Intellectual Property Organisation. (2020, April 21). “WIPO Launches New Search Facility For PATENTSCOPE Database to Support COVID-19 Innovation Efforts”. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from:

Yokoyama J. (2020, April 20). “Microsoft commits patents to help fight COVID-19”. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from:

World IP Day 2020: Environmental Opportunities from the Covid-19 Pandemic

World Intellectual Property Day is celebrated on the 26th April each year.  It aims to encourage awareness, learning and understanding of how intellectual property rights impact daily life, as well as the role they play in creativity, innovation and the development of societies around the world.

The theme for 2020 is “Innovate for a Green Future”.



At the time of writing, the entire world is living through a time, the impact of which has not been seen for many decades.  The current Covid-19 pandemic has changed the lives of everyone on Earth, in ways that affect us all socially, economically, culturally, educationally and environmentally.


Potential Positive Environmental Impacts of Lockdown

Lockdowns of varying restrictions and periods have been and are in force around the world, with the movements and activities of people and businesses severely impacted.  The measurable effect on the environment has been noticeable and rapid.

Data from the European and US Space Agencies have shown significant declines in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in cities and other industrialised areas around the world.  NO2 is a major environmental pollutant and respiratory irritant, in addition to the role it plays in greenhouse gas (ozone) formation.

In a more localised example, Venice (Italy) has seen a reduction in visitor numbers and dramatic decrease in traffic on the city’s canals.  This has led to less pollution and the opportunity for the sediment in the water to settle, resulting in much clearer waterways.

We should not, however, be drawn into a false sense of security that the damage to the environment caused by human activity over the years has been rectified in just a few weeks or months.  Rather, what we are seeing is an indication of what might be achieved if the world chooses to recover from the current pandemic by following a new path in terms of how we interact with our planet.


An Opportunity for a New Direction

We have the opportunity to recover and rebuild by taking a new direction with a stronger focus on a suite of green initiatives, including:

  • Preparing and Adapting for the Impacts of Climate Change: climate change is happening and it is likely that anything we do will only mitigate its effects. It is therefore important that we invest in technology, infrastructure and behaviours that prepare us for the challenges that are likely come, such as: rising sea levels; extreme weather; food and water security; migration of humans, animals and plants; and an increased risk of future disease epidemics
  • Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: investing further in energy generation from renewable and other low-carbon sources; pursuing electrification of transport systems, which preferentially use the electricity from renewable sources; and modifying our agricultural practices
  • Reducing Wastage: changing our production and consumption habits, as well as investing in smart infrastructure to optimise our use of available and finite resources
  • Restoring the Health, Diversity and Vitality of Our Ecosystems and Natural Processes: proactively supporting the planet, it’s climate, and our food supply, through more sympathetic management of protected areas, reducing deforestation and the use of deforestation-dependent products, as well as restoring the natural environment


The Role of Intellectual Property in Supporting Green Innovation

Patents and other IP rights play a key role in encouraging investment and innovation.  By ensuring endeavours are sustainable and the knowledge generated is shared for future use and development, intellectual property provides stakeholders (individuals, companies, external collaborators and others) with a level of security to develop, grow and scale their inventions and innovations.

As technologies continue to advance and costs fall, financing of renewable energy technologies has increased around the world in recent years.  As of 2019, financing for solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power greatly exceeded new financing for coal and gas-derived power, and this trend is expected to continue.

Analysis of patent filings, however, has suggested a slow-down, and in some cases a decline, in the last few years in patenting activity around alternative energy production and conservation technologies, as well as green transportation.

It will be important to continue to support green innovation as the world recovers from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation already manages WIPO GREEN.  Launched in 2013, it is an online platform for green technology and IP exchange.  The platform connects and enables green innovation by bringing together technology owners and developers with those looking to commercialise, license and distribute green technologies.

Other economic stimuli might include programmes that favour or prioritise investments in clean energy.  Business assistance packages or bailouts could be conditional upon emissions cuts or other measures focussed on greener technologies, the mitigation of climate change and the future-proofing of our place in the world.

Alistair Curson



BBC. (2020, March 18). ” Coronavirus: Venice canals clearer after lockdown”. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from:

Blumberg S (ed). (2020, April 10). “NASA Satellite Data Show 30 Percent Drop In Air Pollution Over Northeast U.S.”. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from:

European Space Agency. (2020, March 19). “COVID-19: nitrogen dioxide over China”. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from:

Fushimi K, Bergquist K, Rivera León L, Xu N, Wunsch-Vincent S. (2018). “Measuring innovation in energy technologies: green patents as captured by WIPO’s IPC green inventory”. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from:

Kaplan J, Frias L, Mcfall-Johnsen M. (2020, March 14). “A third of the global population is on coronavirus lockdown — here’s our constantly updated list of countries and restrictions”. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from:

Monks P. (2020, April 20). “Here’s how lockdowns have improved air quality around the world”. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from:

Orendain J. (2019, November 22). “The Role of IP Rights in Green Technologies Innovation”. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from:

Roston E, Rojanasakul M, Murray P, Harris B, Pogkas D, Tartar A. (2019). “Bloomberg Green: Renewable Investment”. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from:

Stephenson J. (2020, April 20). ” Covid-19 has nothing on what’s coming”. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from:

UN News. (2020, April 05). ” First Person: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief”. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from:

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Pollution: Effects of NO2“. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from:

University of Hawaii. “Climate and Water Resource Case Study: Chapter 2 – C3. Greenhouse Gases: Nitrous Oxide (N2O)”. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from:

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World Intellectual Property Organisation. “WIPO GREEN – The Marketplace for Sustainable Technology”. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from:

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Yvonne. (2020, April 03). ” The Unexpected Environmental Consequences of COVID-19″. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from:

Encouraging Young Innovators and Entrepreneurs

A recent article broadcast on Television New Zealand’s Seven Sharp current affairs programme highlighted the story of an innovative 10-year old Kiwi, who is one of 12 winners of an international competition to find new ideas or inventions to help people of all ages who suffer from hearing loss.



ideas4ears is a children’s invention contest organised by MED-EL, a global company specialising in hearing implant systems.  Children from around the world were challenged to create an invention that would improve the quality of life of anyone suffering with hearing loss.  215 children from 28 countries entered, presenting 171 ideas.


Hearing Loss Innovation in Aotearoa

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is surgically implanted to pick up external sounds near the ear, and to transmit those signals directly to the auditory nerves, thereby restoring some level of hearing to those with hearing loss.

Powered by their own batteries, these devices can be quite energy intensive.  Depending on the type of battery chosen (e.g. based on their chemistry, and whether or not they are rechargeable), they need to be changed on a frequent basis, from as little as every few hours, to a matter of a few days at best.

Aotearoa’s young inventor, having had a cochlear implant from a very young age, was well aware of the challenges of using such a device and the impacts of limited battery life upon both the user and the environment.

He came up with his idea, which he has called “Smart Motion”, where the user’s own daily activity constantly recharges the batteries of the implant.  This has won him the opportunity to present the concept to inventors, scientists and engineers at MED-EL who can evaluate how to make the invention a reality.


Callaghan Innovation: Championing Young Innovators

New Zealand’s Callaghan Innovation supports a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging innovation at primary schools through to universities.  The goals of these initiatives promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM); encourage entrepreneurial thinking; and support the development of the necessary skills, networks and mind-set to take ideas from concept to real-life success.

It’s fantastic to see such initiatives from around the world supporting the development and growth of our next generation of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Alistair Curson



Callaghan Innovation. “Championing Young Innovators”. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from:

ideas4ears. (2019, November 09). “Contest entry”. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from:

ideas4ears. (2020, January 31). “Winners announced!”. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from:

ideas4ears. (2020). “ideas4ears Children’s Invention Contest”. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from:

MED-EL. (2014, August 06). “What Batteries Should I Use with My Cochlear Implant?”. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from:

MED-EL. (2020). “About MED-EL”. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from:

TVNZ. (2020, March 13). “Seven Sharp – Kiwi 10-year-old comes up with idea to recharge cochlear implant batteries”. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from:

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Australia Phasing Out Innovation Patents (Utility Models)

A few months ago, I posted about the Australian Government’s announcement of its intention to phase out the innovation patent.  On the 26th February this year, the relevant Act received Royal Assent, and from 26th August 2021 applicants will no longer be able to file Australian innovation patents.


Utility Models as an Intellectual Property Right

The Australian innovation patent is a form of intellectual property (IP) right, often referred to in other jurisdictions as a utility model.

Utility models are similar to standard patents in that they provide the owner with an exclusive right to stop others from using an invention.  However, they have a relatively lower threshold for patentability and offer a corresponding lesser level of protection.

Typically, a utility model will differ from a patent in the following ways:

  • Patentability: whilst novelty of the invention is still required, inventive step / non-obviousness typically has a lower threshold or is not required at all
  • Term of Protection: shorter than a patent, usually 7 to 10 years, depending on the jurisdiction
  • Registration: often simpler & faster, because many patent offices do not perform substantive examination prior to registration
  • Costs: utility models are cheaper to both obtain and maintain than patents
  • Subject Matter Qualification: in certain jurisdictions, utility models can only be obtained for certain technologies, and for products but not for processes

Being easier, quicker and cheaper to obtain, utility models are often sought to protect incremental innovations.  They are well suited for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that make minor improvements or adaptations to existing technologies.


Why is Australia Phasing Out the Innovation Patent?

Recent studies have shown that the innovation patent has failed to achieve its intended purpose.

SMEs and individual inventors have not fully embraced the system, often being one-time users only and not maintaining these IP rights for their full term.  The desired incentivisation of research and development within these groups has not been observed either.

Rather, the system has provided a mechanism that enables big business to stifle the innovation of the smaller players.  The costs of the system have been disproportionally borne by the smaller entities, to a net cost to Australian businesses of AUD 11m annually, whilst the larger entities have realised the benefits.


How is IP Australia Continuing to Support SMEs?

The decision to phase out the innovation patent has been driven, in part, by the commitment to ensure the Australian IP system continues to meet the needs of SMEs.

There a number of other resources and initiatives currently available and also being introduced to ensure that SMEs remain supported.  These include:

  • SME Case Management: the availability of a dedicated case manager to support SMEs through the application process for both national and international filings
  • SME Fast Track: a mechanism to maintain the speedier prosecution process associated with the innovation patent, by requesting accelerated examination of a standard patent (usually 12 months) within eight weeks (typical of the former IP right)
  • SME Dedicated Outreach Program: a program of events, webinars and networks to provide educational services to support IP strategy for the entire business lifecycle
  • SME Online Portal: offering 24/7 support and advice, including an IP portfolio management tool


Innovation and Utility Models in New Zealand

A few years ago, New Zealand began formally exploring the introduction of a similar type of intellectual property right, referred to as an advancement patent.  However, the bill did not proceed past its first reading and is currently not being pursued.

New Zealand’s patent law landscape has changed significantly over recent years with the enactment of the Patents Act 2013.  Under the previous 1953 Act, the requirement for patentability in New Zealand had a relatively lower threshold than that found in many other global jurisdictions.

The 2013 Act brought this requirement into line with other territories, requiring absolute novelty, as well as examination for inventive step.  This allows New Zealand entities to compete and operate on a level playing field internationally, as well as attracting partnerships and investment globally, by providing a legislative framework that is comparable to other global jurisdictions.

Removing the lower threshold for patentability, however, may have negatively impacted upon SMEs, in that they might no longer be encouraged to invest in the incremental development of technology, as the return on investment would likely be realised over a much longer time period when now following the slower, standard patent route.

The New Zealand Advancement patent was designed to address these concerns by learning from the experiences of utility models elsewhere, including the Australian innovation patent.  The experiences overseas, however, have shown that utility models often do not function as intended, and this may be one reason why the New Zealand Advancement patent was not pursued.


Support for SMEs in New Zealand

Aotearoa has its own established innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation, that provides a single point of contact for businesses, supporting them at all stages of their innovation journey, with initiatives including:

  • A comprehensive network to access experts for advice, mentoring, partnering or access to technology
  • Research & Development services to take technologies and products from concept to commercial reality
  • Innovation skills delivered through a series of programmes and workshops designed to increase the pace of innovation and scale businesses
  • R&D Funding – including various grant programmes as well as guidance on R&D tax incentives
  • Scale-Up NZ – an online portal and ecosystem to connect New Zealand companies, investors, commercial hubs and multinationals

The utility model may not have taken hold in Australasia, but by learning from the experiences of others and delivering proactive support to businesses, the prospects for continued and leading innovation here are looking positive.

Alistair Curson



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