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By  Lucy Crook 26 April 2024 5 min read

Key points

  • This year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day is ‘IP and the SDGs – building our common future with innovation and creativity’.
  • Our research aims to solve these global challenges in many creative and innovative ways, and so do our IP strategies.
  • IP plays an important role in creating value for innovations, and that value can enable commercial or ‘greater good’ outcomes – or both!

In one way or another, our researchers are all working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The IP that underpins their work is key to protecting their innovations. There are lots of ways IP can be used to translate ideas into assets that benefit people, economies and the environment.

A device for safe, productive lands to live and work on

One company that’s using our research to solve almost all of these global challenges is MRead.

Over 100 million landmines are deployed in more than 60 countries. They kill or maim around 6,500 people each year. Most victims are civilians, and over half are children. 

Remember when over a hundred countries signed a United Nation’s global treaty to ban antipersonnel landmines? It made landmine detection and destruction a global priority. 

And our groundbreaking magnetic resonance (MR) technology is here to respond to this very priority. Through MRead, we’re building hand-held detectors that offer faster, more accurate and cost-effective ways of detecting landmines.

MRead and collaborators, HALO, aim to protect civilians from the effects of war, provide access to productive land, enhance living standards and economies.

Ideas take time and a good IP strategy

Dr David Miljak leads the MR team. They developed the MR technology over two decades. Their work first led to commercialising ore-sorting technology for mining sector applications through spinout company, NextOre.

Protecting the technology through patenting and careful curation of key know-how was essential. It created the time and space needed for the innovation process to unfold.

"A big part of our IP strategy has been to harness the power of the MR technology’s patents in specific fields. Knowing it was protected gave us time to carve out specific areas of activity for the technology," David said.

"IP strategy plays a big part in shaping the investment opportunities for the technology, too. Diluting IP rights early in the development cycle risks losing the opportunity to maximise the overall impact and realise the full value of the technology."

MRead is a joint venture between CSIRO and RFC Ambrian. RFC Ambrian are a deep-tech venture building and corporate advisory firm. They’re focused on achieving global sustainability solutions.

Through safe and efficient de-mining, MRead will also enable access to productive lands. It has the potential to enhance the living standards and economies of the most vulnerable communities.

Powerful plants, partnerships and patents for global health and wellbeing

Protecting our ideas and technologies gives us options. This includes deciding who to work with to achieve the biggest impact.

Limagrain is a world player in wheat breeding. We worked with them and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, to develop high-fibre wheat. The wheat can be used to help combat modern chronic diseases like bowel cancer and type 2 diabetes. These varieties have six to ten times the amount of fibre compared to traditional wheat varieties. However, they can still be used to make traditional wheat products.

Together, we commercialised the varieties through a joint venture Arista. This company is on a mission to spread this important dietary fibre widely through everyday foods.

Through spinout company Arista, our high-fibre wheat research is contributing to UN Sustainable Development Goal 3: ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages.

A currency for negotiation

Rob Defeyter is one of our Intellectual Property Managers. He explained that an extensive patent portfolio was developed in parallel to the wheat proving its capability.

"When the time came to commercialise the research, the patents were assigned exclusively to Arista to give them commercial production rights,” Rob said.

"This was important because the patents acted as currency to negotiate freedom-to-operate in this business. It also protected further investment in the product. They gave Arista the commercial power it needed to attract food processors to pay for use of the wheat."

Arista is now working with major global food processing companies and the wheat industry. They plan to create widespread access to high-amylose wheat products. This simple shift in everyday food ingredients for consumers could have potentially life-changing health and economic impacts globally.

Deploying IP for philanthropy

IP doesn’t always have to be registered to make an impact.

In our long-standing research collaborations on cowpea in sub–Saharan Africa, IP has been leveraged for philanthropic outcomes. Aimed at pest-resistant, productive crops for food security, our research saw a new cowpea variety developed. It was commercialised and released in Nigeria.

The genes used to develop the new variety were provided by the licensor, Bayer, on a humanitarian basis. This allowed smallholder farmers in Africa to access it royalty free.

This means African farmers can use the variety to grow highly nutritious crops that are resistant to the pod-borer pest and need less pesticides.

The pod-borer resistant maruca (PBR) cowpea is now available in several African countries, creating food security and income for smallholder farmers. The notorious pest decimates up to 80 per cent of grain yield in sub–Saharan Africa.

CSRIO NatureIQ aligns with SDG 15: to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Old and new IP come together for biodiversity

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history.

Organisations depend on biodiversity to be able to provide goods and services to consumers. Simultaneously, they can also impact it. Sometimes, for the worse.

Organisations are under increasing pressure to meet sustainability benchmarking targets. They are also being asked to track and disclose impacts on biodiversity, or how they plan to restore it.

CSIRO NatureIQ is a new online platform we’re developing to help them do exactly this.

It brings together multiple environmental indicators developed by our scientists over the past decade. These range from biodiversity and climate datasets to weather and national ecosystem models. This means you’ll have all the necessary tools for making smart environmental management decisions at your fingertips.

CSIRO IP Manager, Alvin Lam, helped to develop a strategy that encompasses this work. It spans years and diverse areas of research.

"The individual data models themselves are the result of time and resources dedicated to developing them and the underlying science and research domain expertise. They represent highly valuable IP assets. On top of that is the IP of the platform itself, that brings these assets together as a holistic tool,” Alvin said. 

Users input organisational data, like geographical or site locations, into the platform’s dashboard. It feeds into the models for analysis and forecasting. Its intuitive outputs enable science-backed decisions.

"This is a good example of how the ‘public good’ impact strategy that drove the research can co-exist with a strategy for financial sustainability, derived from the platform’s use.

"We often do this, whether it’s through a spinout company, licensing, or another IP arrangement. And of course, the revenue that we generate from IP is invested back into future research,” Alvin said.

CSIRO NatureIQ is about to embark on its early adopter program. It will include representatives from diverse industries, ranging from agriculture, mining and forestry industries through to banking, government and property development. They will test drive the technology and help shape its future capabilities.

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