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How about a government agency to fund IP?

With the government's focus on building a high-tech knowledge-based economy, why doesn't it join the party and offer funding for IP?

Brian BarradineRecently I’ve been doing some research on the internet to see if I could obtain some funding towards the cost of filing a New Zealand provisional patent.

Whilst the Ministry of Science and Innovation and Tech NZ make R&D funding available to companies, they seem to offer nothing for independent inventors and certainly nothing for IP.

With the National government's current focus on building a high-tech knowledge-based economy and its recent announcement of its plans to invest $166m in its Advanced Technology Institute, it seems incongruous not to offer funding for IP.

The problem seems to arise from the view that offering funding to the private sector for IP is seen as a misuse of public money, as filing a patent creates an asset for an individual (or company) in the form of intellectual property which can then be sold or licensed to a third party for profit.

However since public R&D funding for a private company eventuates in a similar asset, this argument seems to lack credibility.

Would it not therefore be prudent of the government to dedicate a branch of the proposed Advanced Technology Institute to address this inconsistency? BMW has had the initiative and the foresight to set up a Virtual Innovation Agency which has been highly successful – surely the New Zealand government could follow suit with its own public innovation platform to increase our knowledge base.

What I’m suggesting is a government-financed funding agency consisting of a panel of experts in IP and other areas such as engineering and marketing to which individuals (or small startup companies) could submit their ideas and inventions through a secure web portal for independent assessment as to their idea's commercial potential.

As well as access to funding this would provide valuable feedback to the applicant(s) regarding the scope and novelty of their invention, without compromising their right to file a patent due to public disclosure. It would also defer the need for an individual (or small startup company) to pay for a patent upfront. If a submitted idea met all the necessary criteria, funding would then be made available. This agency could also act as a showcase for New Zealand innovation and add leverage to our IP ecosystem.

I suspect there are many ideas out there that have been stillborn due to the lack of available funding; a government agency such as I’ve described above would address this issue. I realise this would be an added expenditure for the government in a time of economic hardship, however as the old saying goes “you have to speculate to accumulate.” Innovation is about creating new assets, not selling the ones we already have.

Offering funding to private individuals and small startup companies would empower the small fish of this country to capitalise on their ideas and turn their inventions into assets which they (and others) could then profit from. Many successful New Zealand companies for example have grown around a single invention, i.e. Gallagher Group Ltd, Hamilton Jet, Duke Engines, and Martin Aircraft Company (jet pack) to name but a few. These companies offer employment to people who might otherwise have taken their expertise offshore.

I would speculate that there are many innovative people out there who would like to commercialise their ideas but do not have the resources to do so, so why doesn’t the government come to the party and fund IP?

I’m thinking it shouldn’t have to be this hard! The question is, is the government thinking this way too?

Brian Barradine is a technical illustrator who has worked for such companies as GEA and Pacific Aerospace. He has also worked as an R&D engineer and as a graphic artist