Monthly Archive: March 2020

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:

Wikipedia. (2020, February 09). “Cochlear implant”. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from:

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



AJ Park. (2014, September). New Zealand’s new Patents Act 2013: The key differences between the Patents Act 1953 and the new Act. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Curson A. (2019, October 15). “The Australian Government Seeks to Phase Out Innovation Patents (Utility Models)”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from:

Dixon, G. (2018, April 6). Private Member’s Bill proposes second-tier New Zealand “advancement patent”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Gray, E., Watts, R., Scott, R. (2018, April 26). An advancement in name alone? Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

IP Australia. (2016, May 30). “Examination of a standard patent”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2019, September 16). “Innovation patents harm small business innovation”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2019). “Innovation patents harm small business innovation”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2020, February 27). “Innovation patent to be phased out, and other changes to IP legislation”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from:

IP Australia. (2020, March 03). Types of patents. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Lucas, J. Rothwell, C. (2018, April 11). Second-tier patent system proposed for New Zealand. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Nash, S. (2018, August 10). New strategic direction for small business. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

New Zealand Government. “Callaghan Innovation: New Zealand’s Innovation Agency”. Retrieved March 06, from:

Parmar, P. (2018, April 5). Patents (Advancement Patents) Amendment Bill. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Parmar, P. (2018, April 6). Bill to introduce second-tier patent system drawn. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Summerfield, M. (2018, April 10). With Second-Tier Patent Rights in Retreat in Australia, Are They Making an ‘Advancement’ in New Zealand? Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Summerfield, M. (2018, July 10). A Brief History of the Australian Innovation Patent. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from

Weickmann & Weickmann. “Patents and Utility Models”. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from:

World Intellectual Property Organisation. Protecting Innovations by Utility Models. Retrieved March 05, 2020, from