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Battle continues over innovation promotions

ONE of Western Australia’s top scientists is calling for more support from venture capitalists and financiers to back innovation and get commercialisation deals across the line.

Office of Science and Innovation chief scientist Bruce Hobbs said the system was failing the State’s scientists, researchers and innovators as they lagged behind the rest of the country in patenting, developing and commercialising their ideas.

Dr Hobbs said work needed to be done to bridge the gap between researchers and venture capitalists in order to improve the “deal flow” between the two.

However, some venture capitalists believe universities and research institutes do not understand what is required to commercialise their ideas.

Dr Hobbs, made the comments to WA Business News following his address to the opening of the WA component of the Australian Innovation Festival.

“There is obviously some kind of failure in the system,” he said.

“The blame is often placed with the scientists and the innovation community but it seems to me that we can’t have uniform failure across one sector.”

Dr Hobbs said the investment community was not educated enough concerning research and innovation in the State.

Further, he said, the small number of commercialisation deals that are done in WA each year is one of the factors preventing WA reaching the critical mass required to develop it into a world class research State.

According to Intellectual Property Australia, 53 patent applications were lodged in WA last financial year. NSW had 236, Queensland had 171 and Victoria had 141.

However, the number of commercialisation deals completed was much lower than that, according to Dr Hobbs, who estimated that less than 10 deals were done in WA last year.

He said other factors included the number of patents, the proportion of the population that has a higher education qualification and the number of high technology companies within the State.

“Maybe you could fix the whole thing by fixing that bit in the middle. The deal flow,” Dr Hobbs said.

“But, some how or another we have to not slavishly follow what is done in other countries.”

Innovation Capital CEO Michael Quinn disagrees.

Mr Quinn said the role of venture capitalists was to back projects that were commercially viable and avoid being “frivolous with investment funds”.

He said universities and research institutes had to be more in tune with the commercial requirements of venture capital firms and was highly critical of the commercialisation efforts within Australian universities.

“Universities across the board do a terrible job with patents,” Mr Quinn said.

“There are some really basic things that need to be rectified.

“We have to work on their patent strategy.

“But having said that, patents aren’t everything. For example, in the IT area, there aren’t too many patents because the area moves so quickly, however, in biotech it is very relevant.”

Mr Quinn said universities often considered publishing a research paper in a well-regarded publication or journal to be more important than securing a patent.

However, he said, the issue of commercial requirements needed to be addressed within the university research system.

“I bet that no PhD student in their first week of their course receives instruction or undergoes a program whereby they understand the value of patents, commercially-oriented research or even keeping a lab book in standards of international patent requirements,” Mr Quinn said.

“None of that is talked about in Australian universities.

“I’m not suggesting that all university research should be commercially oriented. I am suggesting that all university research work should have at least a smattering of understanding about this.”

Dr Hobbs said: “My impression is that we will see very modest deal flow out of WA, certainly compared to Queensland, and [that WA is] struggling to match South Australia.

“We don’t have an office in Queensland or Adelaide, [but] just by having an office in WA we should attract more deal flow.

“I might add that you see more out of WA than you do out of Melbourne.”

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