Issues Magazine

The Power of IP

By Christine Emmanuel

What’s the point of protecting intellectual property? Christine Emmanuel outlines its origins and her experiences in the science IP profession.

Imagine you bought a cheap house, renovated and improved it, and sold it on at a higher price. Smart move? You can do the same thing with your intellectual property (IP).

Intellectual property includes a wide variety of rights such as literary, artistic and scientific works, performances and broadcasts, inventions, scientific discoveries, industrial designs, trade marks, and all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields.

IP can be easily categorised into two main areas. We often refer to registrable rights, where you can describe the nature of your property, apply for protection, and the details will be published on a public register. Registrable rights include patents, trade marks, plant breeder’s rights and designs.

Some types of IP cannot be registered because they subsist in the work, such as copyright and circuit layout rights, and we refer to these as unregistrable rights.

Of the four registrable rights, patent rights are very powerful. A patent right provides 20 years protection. Twenty years monopoly is extremely valuable if you own a patent to something that is likely to be in demand in the marketplace. Examples of some patented Australian domestic inventions are the Hills Hoist clothesline, the electric drill, latex gloves, Aerogard insect repellent and the humble wine cask.

Imagine having a patent that makes you the only person with the right to manufacture and sell lipstick or shaving cream worldwide! You could deal with this property in the same way as you would deal with any other type of property. Taking our imaginary house as an analogy, you could sell your lipstick/shaving cream patent outright in exchange for a lump sum of money. Or you could rent it out (license) to one other person or to several people ( i.e. license the right exclusively or non-exclusively). The patent protection, and therefore the monopoly right, lasts for 20 years unless challenged in a court of law.

Why Protect IP?
Often we can forget that the primary purpose of a system that rewards innovation with a commercial monopoly is to encourage further innovation. This type of system provides incentive for society to be innovative in its thinking, which provides better solutions to the problems we face. Now is a good time to go back to the origins of the patent system.

Intellectual property first came about in the 16th century in Venice. It was first used as a way of attracting talent to Venice. Venice needed builders and tradespeople to build and improve the city, but it was difficult to attract resources and talent. So, a system was conceived by the leaders of the city where if you brought your business to Venice – a glass maker of special glass, for example – you would be allowed to be the only manufacturer of the special glass in Venice for a period of time. In return you had to take on several apprentices and train them in the art of making your special glass. After your period of monopoly expired you would have trained several apprentices to become expert in the art of glass manufacture. Each trained expert could then set up their own business utilising the skills that the original owner of the monopoly bestowed upon them. Venice would be better off, the original business owner would be better off, and many consequent business owners would also be better off.

So we can see that the origins of the IP system encouraged innovation by offering a reward of a monopoly to those prepared to invest in creating innovative solutions. In return, the monopoly owner was required to train others in the subject of the invention. This requirement is still a strong criteria in the current patent regimen. To obtain patent protection a patent application must describe the invention in such a way as to enable others reading the patent specification to be able to carry out the invention without any further inventive steps. Once the 20-year monopoly is complete, others can take advantage of the invention.

Black Holes to Mobile Phones
Managing IP can mean that research that is normally conducted by scientists investigating unexplored areas of science can result in solutions for the everyday person in an unexpected area.

Every patent has a great story. In Australia, CSIRO scientists’ exploration of black holes for answers to the origins of the universe resulted in pioneering work in radioastronomy that involved complex mathematics known as fast Fourier transforms. At the time there were challenges in indoor environments relating to the rapid exchange of large amounts of data using radio waves. CSIRO used its work in radioastronomy to solve these problems in indoor environments in a unique way and at a time when many of the major communication companies around the world were also trying, but with less success, to solve the same problem.

Intellectual Property as a Career
The most obvious career in IP can come via qualifying as a patent and trademark attorney. This can mean working for a firm of patent and trade mark attorneys, or working in-house, close to the technology and the business.

To become a registered patent and trademark attorney you must first have a background in science; after all, the inventions you are looking to protect all stem from various areas of science. You must first be comfortable within your field of science to be able to talk sensibly with an inventor and explore how the invention works, and the range of applications it can have. Sometimes a patent attorney can explore the invention to such a degree that he/she contributes to developing it further, and in applications not previously thought of by the inventor.

Lawyers tend to practise in the less scientific areas of IP that do not require a science background, for example copyright law.

As a patent attorney, I am excited by the idea that I can help in some way to bring really new science into people’s homes. After all, I started life as a scientist.

A Career in Science IP
Christine Emmanuel started off studying science and economics at Monash University and then, after a year working and travelling in Europe, came back to Australia and worked at the CSIRO as an experimental scientist.

Not convinced that the life of science was for her, Christine decided to move sideways from science to intellectual property, which seemed a natural progression at the time. Her science degree and experience working at Ciba Geigy (UK) for a year, and then with the CSIRO, provided great grounding and she jumped at the opportunity to join the Australian Patent Office. She headed off to Canberra to work as a patent examiner for a few years.

Twenty years later, having worked in IP for both private practice and in-house firms in Europe and Australia, Christine has the biggest challenge yet: balancing the role of Executive Manager of Intellectual Property at CSIRO while raising a family with two children. She finds her work at CSIRO hugely rewarding, surrounded by wonderful people, wonderful technologies and so many challenges building and improving IP management processes and practices for such an iconic Australian organisation.