Category: Patent Analytics

Which Law is Relevant? – Lessons from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Copyright Case

Ex post facto law, the retrospective application of legislation, is not applied in a number of jurisdictions, including New Zealand.  Because laws do change however, it is important to understand which laws were in force and are relevant to the question you are asking.  The recent outcome of the long running copyright dispute over Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” highlights this.


“Stairway to Heaven” Case

The rock band Led Zeppelin has been in a long running copyright dispute over the acoustic guitar intro to their song “Stairway to Heaven”.

The case, originally brought in 2014 by the estate of the band Spirit, asserted that the “Stairway to Heaven” intro had been copied from Spirit’s earlier instrumental work “Taurus”.  In 2016, a jury found in favour of Led Zeppelin, stating that they did not steal the intro, and that their work was original.

However, in 2018, a panel of judges ordered a new trial on the basis that the judge in the 2016 trial had given the jury incorrect instructions, in particular by not allowing them to hear sound recordings of the “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” works for comparison.

The reasoning behind not allowing the sound recordings was that, at the time that the respective works were created (1971 for “Stairway to Heaven”, 1968 for “Taurus”), the US Copyright Act 1909 was in force and the case should be heard according to that law.  Under the requirements of the 1909 Act, copyright only covered sheet music, not sound recordings.  In was not until later in the 1970s that copyright law in the US was extended to include sound recordings.

The 2018 decision to order a retrial was subsequently appealed with a request for a larger panel of judges to rehear the case.  This was heard by a panel of 11 judges earlier this year (March 2020).  They overturned the 2018 ruling, reaffirming that the jury had been instructed appropriately in the 2016 case & that the jury’s decision (in favour of Led Zeppelin) stood.

The case was then taken to the Supreme Court (the highest court in the United States), but a few days ago, the Supreme Court declined to take it up, effectively handing final victory to Led Zeppelin.


Applying this Lesson to Effective IP Management in New Zealand

The “Stairway to Heaven” case highlights the importance for businesses to understand which laws were in force at the time of any relevant activities relating to their business strategy, including IP management.

For example, up until a few years ago, patents in New Zealand were prosecuted under the Patents Act 1953.  The New Zealand Patents Act 2013 (which came into force in September 2014), however, introduced many reforms to New Zealand IP legislation.  Amongst other changes, the criteria for patent examination was extended from local novelty only, to absolute novelty, inventive step and utility.

Many patents prosecuted under the old 1953 Act will still be in force and may be relevant for businesses.  For example, if you are pursuing validity analyses of patents of interest, whether for due diligence on the value of patents you wish to license or acquire, or attempting to invalidate a competitor’s patent, it is vital to understand which Act would be applied to test the strength of a patent of interest.  The introduction of the new Patents Act 2013 changed the criteria for patentability significantly.

It is important in business management generally to appreciate the dynamic nature of the legal landscape.

Alistair Curson



AJ Park. (2014, September). “New Zealand’s new Patents Act 2013: The key differences between the Patents Act 1953 and the new Act”. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from:

Bienstock R. (2020, October). “Led Zeppelin emerge victorious in long-running Stairway to Heaven copyright battle”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

Curson AD. (2018, November 20). “Tech Software and Intellectual Property Protection”. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from:

Dixon G. (2014, August 12). “Patent law change in New Zealand – Five reasons to act now!”. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from:

Kim A. (2020, March 11). “Led Zeppelin wins major copyright battle for ‘Stairway to Heaven'”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s26. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

New Zealand Interpretation Act 1999, s7. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

New Zealand Sentencing Act 2002, s6. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

Reed R. (2019, June 11). “Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’: Appeals Court to Review Lawsuit Decision”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

Ryu J. (2020, October 05). ” Led Zeppelin wins copyright battle after U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear case”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

Sisario B. (2020, March 09). “Led Zeppelin Prevails in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Appeal”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

United Nations. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

Wikipedia. (2020, September 28). “Ex post facto law”. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from:

Wikipedia. (2020, October 07). “Supreme Court of the United States”. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from:

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:

Expanding the Scope of Free Global Intellectual Property Databases

The capabilities and scope of freely available global intellectual property (IP) databases are constantly growing.  Recently, TMview and PubChem announced updates that widen their capability for IP search and analysis from various global jurisdictions.


IP Australia Joins TMview

IP Australia has joined TMview, a free global online tool from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) that facilitates word and image trade mark searching from the 74 participating offices around the world.  Over 1.6 million Australian trade marks have now been added to the database.

A range of IP right, bibliographic and legal status information can be searched and investigated, including the words and images constituting the mark, the goods and services protected, ownership, legal status and registration date.  Access to details at the office of origin is also provide.

This news follows closely the announcement that the EUIPO had launched improved versions of both its TMview (trade marks) and DesignView (designs) databases.  The improvements include a wider set of search criteria and abilities to fine tune queries, a function to compare trade marks and designs side-by-side, and the capability to export to PDF, Excel and Word formats.


PubChem Chemical Search Enhanced with WIPO Chemical Structures

PubChem is the National Institutes of Health (NIH) open chemistry database that provides the world’s largest collection of freely accessible chemical information.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has an extensive searchable database of IP-related chemical data, built through a collaboration with German cheminfomatics software company InfoChem.  This dataset is made available through WIPO’s patent database PATENTSCOPE.

WIPO has recently contributed over 16 million chemical structures to PubChem.  These can be searched within PubChem by name, molecular formula, structure, and other identifiers.  Information including chemical and physical properties, biological activities, safety and toxicity information, patents, and literature citations can be retrieved.  PubChem users also have access to relevant patent information via direct links back to PATENTSCOPE.



These developments expand and advance the provision of freely available intellectual property information.

For those with an interest in the Australian market, who wish to understand the IP landscape there, the provision of Australian trade marks on TMview improves their abilities to conduct such analyses.

Similarly, for anyone working in the chemistry and related fields, WIPO’s contribution to PubChem is a welcome enhancement for accessing comprehensive patent information in such disciplines.

Alistair Curson



European Union Intellectual Property Network. (2020, April 02). “News: The EUIPO has launched improved versions of TMview and DesignView”. Retrieved April 09, 2020, from:

European Union Intellectual Property Network. (2020, April 06). “News: Australia joins TMview”. Retrieved April 09, 2020, from:

European Union Intellectual Property Network. “TMview”. Retrieved April 09, 2020, from:

European Union Intellectual Property Network. “Tools”. Retrieved April 09, 2020, from:

InfoChem. (2019). “InfoChem”. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2020, April 07). “IP Australia joins global trade marks database TMview”. Retrieved April 09 , 2020, from:

PubChem. “Explore Chemistry”. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from:

PubChem Blog. (2020, March 25). “Integration of WIPO’s PATENTSCOPE data with PubChem”. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from:

World Intellectual Property Organisation. (2020, March 25). “WIPO Contributes Millions of Searchable Chemical Formulas to Database at U.S. National Institutes of Health”. Retrieved April 09, 2020, from:

World Intellectual Property Organisation. “Patentscope: Chemical Compounds Search”. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from:

New Japanese Imperial Era: Retrieval of Japanese Patent Information

On 30th April 2019 Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicated and his son Emperor Naruhito acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne on 1st May.  This marked the end of the Imperial Heisei era and the beginning of the Reiwa era.

In this post I look at how the Japanese Imperial eras define the calendar dates and passage of time in many Japanese documents, including (in previous years) patents and patent applications.

Although the Japanese Patent Office started using Gregorian calendar years in 2000 and no longer uses the Imperial calendar, searching, retrieving and analysing older Japanese patents and applications still requires knowledge of the Imperial calendar system.


A History of the Japanese Patent Numbering System

Many aspects of Japanese society mark time by the Imperial calendar – the eras defined by the reigns of individual emperors.  Japan first adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873, however, the extent of usage of the two systems varies.  The Japanese Patent Office, as an example, used the Imperial system up until 2000.

Within the Imperial calendar, one era ends and a new era starts with the accession of a new emperor.  The remainder of the corresponding Gregorian year then represents the first year of the new Imperial era.  Full subsequent Imperial years are then counted in synchrony with the Gregorian calendar, until the accession of a new emperor and the beginning of a new era.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the last three emperors of Japan in the figure below.



Wikipedia. (2019, May 25). “Akihito”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

Wikipedia. (2019, May 26). “Hirohito”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

Wikipedia. (2019, May 26). “Naruhito”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:


Emperor Hirohito came to the Chrysanthemum Throne on 25th December 1926, and his era was known as Showa.  When he died on 7th January 1989, Emperor Akihito acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne, and the Heisei era began.  Emperor Akihito abdicated on 30th April 2019, and Emperor Naruhito acceded, thus beginning the Reiwa era.

1926 is the first year of the Showa era (S1), 1927 is the second Showa year (S2) etc.  1976 (Showa 51) is when the Patent Abstracts of Japan database began (containing bibliographic information of published unexamined patent applications).  The Showa era ended in 1989.  This year is Showa 64 up until the accession of the new emperor, when it becomes the first year of the Heisei era (H1).  Documents published in that year will have either a Showa 64 or Heisei 1 designation depending upon the exact date of publication.

Similarly, Heisei 2 is 1990 and so on through out the reign of Emperor Akihito.  The Japanese Patent Office (JPO) used the Imperial calendar up until 2000, when it then switched to using the Gregorian calendar for dates assigned to new patent publications.  Thus, the last documents published by the JPO using the Imperial calendar system were published in 1999 (Heisei 11).

The Heisei era ended on 30th April 2019 (Heisei 31) and the first year of the Reiwa era began the following day.


Types of Japanese Patent Documents

There are three main types of national Japanese patent documents.

The first are Kokai, or the publication of an unexamined patent application.  These are usually identified with a kind code “A”.

The second (relevant to patents prosecuted prior to 1996) are Kokoku, or the publication of an examined patent application.  These are typically identified with a kind code “B”.  After 1996, Japanese patent law changed and Kokoku documents were no longer published.

The third are Toroku, or the publication of a granted patent.  These are identified with a kind code “B”.


Retrieval of Japanese Patent Documents

When identifying, searching and retrieving Japanese patent documents, it is necessary to have an understanding of the numbering formats of the different document types discussed above.  The formats of each of three document types are illustrated in the following figure.


Toroku documents (on the right of the figure) are the simplest, having a two-letter country code “JP”, a seven-digit document number, and the kind code “B” suffix.

Kokai and Kokoku are a little more complex.

Kokoku documents (centre) have a two-letter country “JP”, a two-digit Imperial year code (corresponding to the Imperial era discussed above), followed by a six-digit document number, and the kind code “B” suffix.

Prior to 2000, Kokai documents (left of the figure) followed the same format as Kokoku documents, except that they have an “A” kind code.  From 2000 onwards, the two-digit Imperial year code was replaced with a four-digit Gregorian year – the other parts of the number format remained the same.

When working with Japanese patent documents, it is important to accurately identify the document concerned by careful consideration of the procedural stage and the year of publication, which may not be immediately obvious if one is not familiar with the various date formats described in this post.

Additionally, care should be taken to understand how specific databases require publication numbers to be entered.  If not, there is a risk of falsely assuming a document is not available in the database, when in fact it is, or worst, end up retrieving the wrong document.


Avoiding Pitfalls

Common pitfalls to avoid include determining whether or not the database you are using requires additional information such as an “S” or “H” within the publication number to distinguish the Showa and Heisei eras.  Some databases are indexed this way.

In such databases, JP54123456A would be searched as JPS54123456A, and JP10123456B would be searched as JPH10123456B.  Omitting this additional information can result in a document not being retrieved when it is actually available.

Further, documents from the early Heisei era can sometimes be presented with the leading zeros of the Imperial year omitted.  Thus, JP01123456 may come to you initially as JP1123456, which can easily be misinterpreted as a Toroku (granted) document rather than a Kokai (published application).

It is important to treat such documents carefully by first identifying the procedural stage you expect, and as necessary applying the right imperial year code to ensure the correct document is retrieved and worked with.

It is always advisable to double-check the documents you are working with by crossing-checking against other information such as application and priority data, document title, or other published family members.

Alistair Curson



European Patent Office. (2019, May 14). “Numbering system – Japan”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

Japan Patent Office. “Searching for Patents, Utility Models, Designs, Trademarks”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

Korteman J. (2019, April 01). “How to Read a Japanese Calendar”. Notes of Nomads. Retrieved May 03, 2019, from:

Reynolds I, Mori K. (2019, May 01). “Japan’s New Emperor Naruhito Ascends World’s Oldest Monarchy”. Bloomberg. Retrieved May 03, 2019, from:

Wikipedia. (2019, May 25). “Akihito”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

Wikipedia. (2019, May 26). “Hirohito”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

Wikipedia. (2019, May 26). “Naruhito”. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from:

World Intellectual Property Organisation: Handbook on Industrial Property Information and Documentation. (2005, December). “Presentation of Application Numbers”. Retrieved May 03, 2019, from:

New Online Patent Search Tools

Many national and regional patent offices provide access to their public patent information via their own online tools.  Often these can be extremely valuable in accessing information that may not be available from any other source, even if it means working in unfamiliar languages.

As recently reported by the European Patent Office’s Asian Patent Information Service, three offices have launched new services, or new versions of existing services, within the last month alone – Hong Kong, Malaysia and Russia.


Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Intellectual Property Department launched its New Integrated IT System on 14th February 2019, replacing the IPD Online Search System.

The system enables searching of Patents, Trade Marks and Designs, and the interface is available in English as well as both Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

There is both a quick search facility and a fairly comprehensive advanced search.

Accessible data include bibliographic information, fee payment data, legal status information and published documents.  Users may also download individual results as PDF or XML files, or export result lists in various formats.



A new version of the IP Online system from the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO) was recently launched.

This tool enables searching of Malaysian IP Rights including Patents, Trade Marks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications

With an English interface the search capability is reasonably comprehensive.  One point to note is that registration is required.



On 5th March 2019, the Russian Patent Office and the technology company Yandex launched a collaborative project making Patents and Utility Models published by the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation available online.

The search features are currently relatively limited, and the interface only appears available in Russian.

Yandex itself is the largest internet search engine in Russia, and this new product is more akin to Google Patents in that it is a patent-related dataset accessible via an internet search engine.



Sometimes local patent office websites are the only available source of certain types of patent information from particular jurisdictions.

It’s worth checking out these new resources, as well as those from other jurisdictions of interest, to ensure you’re able to access all the available patent information you possibly can to support the management of your own IP portfolios and strategies.

Alistair Curson



European Patent Office. (2019, February 21). “Hong Kong: New online search system has been launched”. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from:

European Patent Office. (2019, March 01). “Malaysia: New version of IP Online search tool launched”. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from:

European Patent Office. (2019, March 05). “Russia: Rospatent and Yandex launch new patent search service”. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from:

Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia. (2018). “IP Online Search and Filing”. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from:

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: Intellectual Property Department. “Online Search System”. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from:

Wikipedia. (2019, January 30). “Yandex”. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from:

Yandex. (2019). “Search Patent Documents”. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from:

CRISPR Technology in New Zealand

A couple of weeks ago, MilliporeSigma (a US subsidiary of Merck) announced that it had received a Notice of Allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office that its patent application related to its proxy-CRISPR technology would be issued.  This will be the company’s first CRISPR-related patent granted in the US.

In this blog post I look at the CRISPR technology, the IP landscape surrounding it, and the potential application of this technology in Aotearoa.


What is CRISPR?

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) are part of an adaptive immune response within prokaryotic organisms (such as bacteria).

The name itself relates to the structure and pattern of the DNA sequence involved in this immune response:

  • Short pieces of DNA code
  • That read the same both backward and forwards (a palindrome)
  • That are clustered together and repeated in a specific way within the chromosome of a bacterium or other prokaryote

The mechanism of the CRISPR prokaryote adaptive immune response is illustrated in the following figure.

From: Cavanagh P, Garrity A. (2014). “CRISPR / Cas9 – CRISPR: Prokaryotic Adaptive Immune System”. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from: and

In summary:

  1. The bacterial cell is invaded by foreign DNA that may pose a threat
  2. The cell captures some of this foreign DNA and incorporates it into its own DNA within the CRISPR repeating sequence (exactly how this happens is not known, but this doesn’t matter when it comes to exploiting the next part of the CRISPR mechanism for genetic engineering purposes)
  3. The cell then makes an RNA copy of the CRISPR sequence that contains the foreign DNA
  4. This RNA joins with another RNA molecule within the cell, and:
  5. Together they combine with a protein called Cas9 to form an enzymatically active complex to target and attack the remaining invading DNA
  6. The RNA component of the complex contains complementary sequences to the invading DNA enabling it to specifically target and bind to the invader
  7. Cas9 then cuts, thus inactivating, the foreign invading DNA

Many tools used by molecular biologists exploit naturally occurring mechanisms like this to artificially manipulate DNA in the laboratory and the natural world.  Scientists are able to use the components of the CRISPR mechanism to target, cut and modify regions of DNA from other organisms with a very high degree of specificity.


The CRISPR Patent Landscape

Since the early application of the CRISPR mechanism to the field of molecular biology and genetic engineering in 2012 / 2013, the technology has been further refined and understood.  It is now an established part of the molecular biologist’s tool kit.

There are currently thought to be globally over 4,400 patent families (individual inventions) relating to the CRISPR technology, with nearly 200 new patent families being published each month.  The majority currently originate from the USA, however filing in China is increasing rapidly.

A significant proportion of the new inventions are focussed on the Cas9 protein (which cuts the target DNA), the guide RNA (which targets the exact sequence to be cut), and the application of the technology within the field of diagnostics.  However, patents are being sought for the technology in a wide range of fields from therapeutics to agriculture.

This field of technology and the IP surrounding it is rapidly evolving.  The new MilliporeSigma / Merck patent, for example, develops the technology even further by enabling modification of parts of a genome that were previously difficult to access.  Referred to as Proxy-CRISPR, it involves two CRISPR systems working together where one moves blocking chromatin proteins out of the way for the other system to access the specific, otherwise inaccessible locus for subsequent modification.


CRISPR in New Zealand

The Royal Society Te Apārangi has in recent years published a number of discussion and technical papers exploring the applications and impact of gene editing technologies in Aotearoa.

In particular, the papers have explored the use of the technologies in relation to New Zealand’s primary industries (such as agriculture and forestry) as well as the Predator Free 2050 programme (which is designed to rid Aotearoa of its most damaging introduced predators – rats, stoats and possums – by the year 2050).

For New Zealand’s primary industries, the following five gene editing scenarios are explored:

  • Reducing Environmental Impact: using gene editing to sterilise trees (such as Douglas Fir) grown in forestry plantations, thus preventing the trees from “wilding”, i.e. establishing themselves outside of their intended plantation sites
  • Responding to Insect Pests and Environmental Stress: beneficial fungi associated with rye grass, for example, can protect the grass from insect pests, but at the same time make it harmful to livestock – gene editing can to be used to remove the chemicals that harm stock, whilst retaining the chemicals that protect against pest damage
  • Speeding Up Innovation: gene editing can be used to speed up the lifecycle of fruit trees (such as Apple) to reduce the time from sprouting to fruiting, thereby enabling faster development of economically important new cultivars and varieties
  • Protecting Taonga (Culturally Valuable) Species: using gene editing to increase disease resistance in Mānuka, thereby protecting the Mānuka honey industry
  • Providing New Human Health Benefits: gene editing can be used to remove the proteins in milk to which some people are allergic

For pest control in New Zealand, the use of gene editing associated with gene drive technology to reduce the fertility of the following three pest species are explored:

  • Introduced, invasive wasps (the Common Wasp and the German Wasp)
  • The Brushtail Possum
  • Stoats and Rats (including the Common Rat, the Brown Rat and the Polynesian Rat)

Gene drives are a technology that use CRISPR for specifically modifying the genome of a target species to, for example, make the organism infertile.

Other mechanisms within cells (for example, damage repair mechanisms) are then exploited to artificially spread the modified gene through a population at a rate that is higher than average.

This “drives” the modified gene into more offspring than would occur by chance alone.  In the case of an infertility gene, this process will ultimately lead to a population with such a high level of infertile members that it becomes unviable and dies out.



Gene editing has huge potential for applications in New Zealand, including improvements to agriculture & horticulture, protecting native species, and pest control.

From a primary industries perspective there is currently no global consensus on how to treat, manage and regulate genetically modified organisms arising from the gene-editing technologies discussed above.  Some nations (e.g. the USA, Canada and Argentina) are relatively relaxed, not regulating against, for example, gene-edited plants provided no introduced DNA remains in the final plant, whilst other (e.g. the European Union) treat such plants as they would any other genetically modified organism.  In Australia and China, a regulatory policy has yet to be decided.

For a country heavily dependent upon primary exports, this raises some challenges in deciding which technologies, if any, to pursue.

New Zealand itself currently adopts a relatively cautious approach and regulates all gene editing as a genetic modification procedure.  The government defends this posture because of the country’s significant export market and the recognised need to be alert to both market perceptions as well as the supporting science.  In order to maintain a globally competitive position, awareness of the position of major international partners is essential, and a global consensus would greatly assist also.

From a pest control perspective, this is still new technology, relatively untested in the field and will require appreciable additional research, and public awareness campaigns and consultation if it is to be successfully implemented.

Public perception of genetic modification may well prove also to be a major factor in determining the extent of the application of this technology in New Zealand.  There is a need for better communication and education to ensure an informed debate is held.

Alistair Curson



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New Version of Espacenet

A few weeks ago, the European Patent Office announced the beta release of the new version of its Espacenet patent search tool.  This post is a brief overview of Espacenet itself and of the beta release.


The beta release of Espacenet can be accessed here:

The current version can be accessed here:



Originally released to the public on 19th October 1998, Espacenet celebrated its twentieth birthday last year.  Following in the pioneering footsteps of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and IBM, Espacenet was and is the European initiative to bring the largest freely available collection of patent documents, and the ability to search them, as a public service to the global community via the internet.


Data Coverage

Espacenet has the broadest coverage of patent data of any of the freely available patent research tools.  It covers over 100 million published documents from over 100 countries.  Indexed and searchable data fields include title, abstract, description and claims; applicants and inventors; priority, application and publication dates and numbers; IPC and CPC classifications; as well as images, citation data and legal status information.

The new version will continue to sit atop this complete data set, although in the current beta release not all data may be available and this should be borne in mind when using it.


Assessment of Beta Espacenet

My immediate impressions are of a clean, modern interface that improves upon the previous (current) version of the tool.  Some parts are not fully intuitive, however with a little patience and experimentation the features and functionality quickly become clear.  Once this relatively easy learning curve is overcome, the tool is very user-friendly.


Features and Functionality

Having used Espacenet extensively for many years, I find it a powerful and comprehensive patent research product aimed and suited for general patent searching by the public at large.  Exploring the beta version, I’m pleased to see that none of the features or functionality have been lost.  There are, in fact, some welcome improvements.  Also, there are a few areas which might benefit from re-evaluation.



There are various ways of searching databases including:

  1. Simple individual keyword searches (form-based)
  2. Complex, multi-field searches (form-based)
  3. Advanced command-line searches

All three approaches are available in the current version of Espacenet.  Whilst they are also available in Beta Espacenet, only simple keyword searches and advanced command-line searches are presently accessible directly from the primary launch page of the product.  One has to first conduct one of these search types and view the results before being able to access the multi-field search form (labelled “Advanced search”).

Having noted this however, once the Advanced Search option becomes available it is clearly significantly improved upon that available in the current Espacenet.  All of the search fields previously available are present, with some valuable additions such as further text fields and text field combinations.  A very welcome development is the ability to create (via the form) complex queries using not only Boolean operators, but proximity operators and nesting as well.  The display for these complex queries is also a very well-designed graphical display showing clearly how the query terms relate and enabling easy editing.

Source: European Patent Office. “Espacenet Beta”. Retrieved January, 2019, from:

My only request for further improvement would be to have this advanced search interface available directly from the home page.  In the current beta version, accessing this interface is a two-click process for professionals used to working with this type of interface, whereas those using either simple keyword searching or command-line searching can start working immediately from the home page.


Results List

The results list is a clean easy-to-read layout, with various display options, including an image-only display, which can be very useful when searching in certain technical fields.

One negative point is the abstracts (when selected to be shown) are always truncated – one has to view the entire record to read the entire abstract text.  I would recommend an option to expand the abstracts to full in the results list if desired, otherwise remove the abstracts all together.

Records can be checked to select only those of interest, and the list conveniently reduced to display that subset.  One downside is that the interface is currently lacking a select/deselect all function.

There are download, print and “add to My patents” options, but these are hidden behind a vertical ellipsis and so not immediately obvious.

One great feature, is that the results list now displays to an unlimited length, rather than the first 500 records as in the current Espacenet.  It also displays an accurate hit count.  This is very welcome for any level of user as there is limited use in a patent research product if one cannot examine all the results found.



A new feature, and again a welcome one, is the introduction of Filters.  Not only do these enable the user to drill down in their results sets, but they also provide first-level analytics.  This introduces users to the power of patent analytics and enables the identification of other significant search terms, such as key assignees, inventors and patent classifications with which to develop searches.

The filtering function also benefits from the ability to either “apply” or “exclude” the filter selection to the results set.  Although multiple filters can be applied, it appears these can only be applied one at a time, resulting in a multistep process for some activities.  A breadcrumb trail of filter options is also presented enabling the user to undo any filtering option easily, but again only one filter at a time.

Source: European Patent Office. “Espacenet Beta”. Retrieved January, 2019, from:


Document Display

On the desktop version of the application, the results list, filtering options and individual document display are shown in a clean 3-column layout.  By hiding the filter display results in a one third results list and two thirds document display which is very useful.

The layout of the document data is very clean with all the previous fields available:

  • Bibliographic data
  • Description
  • Claims
  • Drawings
  • Original document
  • Citations
  • Legal status
  • Patent family

Of note are the additions of a claims tree (in the claims display) and a clear link to the Common Citation Document of the IP5 (in the citations display).  Both features add a powerful extra level of functionality for understanding an IP right.

The claims tree enables a quick, interactive interface for understanding and navigating the claims structure of a patent to identify the independent and dependent claims.

The Common Citation Document is a real-time application from the IP5 (the patent offices of Europe, Japan, South Korea, China and the USA) enabling users to understand global interest in a patent and its technology through citation activity at these five offices.

Finally, the European Patent Office’s Patent Translate function (a collaboration between the EPO and Google) remains available.  It allows text translation between any of the 28 official languages of the EPO’s 38 member-states, plus Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian.

Source: European Patent Office. “Espacenet Beta”. Retrieved January, 2019, from:


Session and Document Management

The My Espacenet feature provides a session log (My queries) and single “folder” (My patents) for managing patents of interest.

My queries is a clean overview of the searches run, with the ability to rerun or delete individual queries.  It does however lack a multi-action function, meaning queries have to be deleted individually.

My patents has the same functionality as the results list, with the same limitations (no select all).  Also, there appears to be no way of clearing the list and emptying the folder for a new project.


Cross-Device Responsiveness

The beta version is responsive across different device types.  Having tested it on a smartphone it maintains a positive user experience and retains the necessary functionality.


Overall Assessment

This is a beta version and the EPO acknowledges that the functionality, data handling or coverage are not yet at production level.  Nonetheless I found this a very positive and welcome development of a powerful and useful tool.

The current power of Espacenet is retained and developed to a new level with a modern, clean interface.  I would expect the beta version (when released to production) to do the job very well for basic (and more advanced) patent searching.  It is a great first step to accessing the wealth of patent information freely available online for initial patent searches and as a way to support your business and ideas strategy, growth and development.  For any business, organisation or individual, whether familiar with Espacenet or not, I would recommend exploring the tool and providing feedback with your own views and requirements to the EPO (there is a feedback link associated with the beta version).

Alistair Curson



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