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Cross-Pollination: Beyond Local Innovation in IP

As a South African who has recently embarked on a journey to Australia (or the “Land Down Under,” as some of my peers prefer), I’ve found it interesting to see how the problems that inventions aim to address differ between the two countries, even when the inventions themselves are sometimes of a similar nature.

On one hand, this is great because it shows how people are driven to solve the problems faced by their own communities, improving their surroundings and contributing to their own economy. On the other hand, it also highlights the potential for thinking outside the box and tackling problems that could have a broader, more global impact. Therefore, it’s important for inventors and businesses to consider the impact their intellectual property could have in other countries, instead of just focusing on the local market.

Innovation Focused on Local Problems

As alluded to above, the unique conditions of a particular country are normally the conditions that shape the innovation in that country.

In Australia, the patent landscape is heavily influenced by the country’s environmental challenges and focuses on environmental sustainability, automation, and agriculture. Given Australia’s size and unique environmental issues, such as droughts and bushfires, it’s no surprise that innovations often aim to address these problems. From advanced irrigation systems to sustainable solutions for everyday issues, Australian inventors are deeply attuned to their local needs.

In contrast, South African inventors often focus on solutions that address the country’s socio-economic challenges, such as access to clean water, safety and security, affordable healthcare, and energy solutions. Innovations like mobile health clinics, tamper prevention technologies, low-cost water filtration systems, and energy generation and efficiency are relatively common and highlight the focus of innovators to improve the quality of life in resource-limited settings.

Opportunities for Cross-Pollination of Ideas

While innovations aimed at solving local problems are crucial, there is immense value in thinking beyond local problems too. Innovations that aim to address the problems in one country/region can often be adapted to solve problems in other countries/regions. For example, Australia’s progress in agricultural technology can offer valuable insights to South African farmers facing similar challenges. Similarly, South Africa’s low-cost, scalable solutions can be beneficial in addressing issues faced in remote Australian communities, for example.

Thinking about how an invention can benefit other societies or countries not only opens new markets for innovators, but it also helps spread solutions around the world. This, in turn, may lead to stronger, more adaptable innovations that benefit more people.

How to Embrace These Opportunities

Considering the above, inventors and businesses should not necessarily have to limit themselves to their local markets. By considering the global applicability of their inventions, they can unlock new opportunities (at least for themselves) that increase the likelihood of commercially successful outcomes, and contribute to solving broader challenges.

A few ways in which inventors and business can expand the impact of their intellectual property is to:

  1. Conduct Research to Identify Target Markets
    • Identifying countries or regions facing similar environmental or socio-economic challenges is an easy way to identify potential target markets.
  2. Leverage International Patent Agreements
  3. Engage in International Collaboration
    • Partnering with organisations and researchers from other countries that may already have a good reputation and understanding of the identified markets could have a substantial benefit in approaching these markets.
  4. Adapt to Different Markets
    • Tailoring marketing approaches or making minor changes to your innovation to better suit the identified market may help in ensuring that the innovation is relevant and appealing to the local audience.

If you are an innovator or business, it is important to talk to an Intellectual Property attorney before embarking on any of the above steps, so as to ensure that you are sufficiently protected to reap the rewards of any form of cross-pollination of ideas.

Different countries have different laws and regulations regarding intellectual property protection, negotiation, and exploitation. Familiarising yourself with these laws and regulations and ensuring you have sufficient protection will help you and the broader community benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas.

The Big Picture

While it is essential to address local problems through innovation, there is tremendous potential in looking beyond one’s immediate environment. Sharing ideas and innovations across borders not only broadens market potential but also helps spread solutions that can benefit communities worldwide.

If you have an innovation you’re considering patent protection for in Australia or other markets across the world, get in touch with Michael Buck IP and a member of our patents team will contact you to discuss your IP situation and options.