A LACK of research and development funding is the principal reason Western Australia is falling behind the R&D powerhouses of New South Wales and Queensland, despite continued growth in the number of patent filings in this State.
Although it may be a good indicator of commercialisation activity, many patent filings don’t evolve into marketable products.
Patent lawyer Tony Mizzi from Griffith Hack believes the patent market in WA is solid with increasing applications for a wide range of technologies.
The provisional patent is often the first step for inventors deciding whether to pursue the process, although it does not give the holder complete patent protection.
“Most of our filings come from small to medium-sized businesses and a lot of those are provisional, which lead to complete patents later on,” Mr Mizzi told WA Business News.
In the world of globalisation more local innovators are seeking inter-national patent protection. This is achieved through Patent Cooperation Treaties, something Mr Mizzi said was increasingly in use.
The patenting process itself is relatively inexpensive but the research and development costs involved can be barriers to the development of products to market readiness.
Lord & Company spokesman Kelvin Lord said most patent filings presented to him were from private enterprise.
“For many innovators it’s very hard to get money from the government,” he said
R&D expenditure in the eastern States has grown significantly during the past five to 10 years, which has transferred to a steady increase in the number of patents filed there over that period.
While many patents are filed on behalf of Western Australian com-panies, the figures can be misleading because while development for larger companies may take place in WA, often it is the head office on the east coast that files the patent.
“This [head office issue] can be a barrier to patent filing here although we often see a lot of business from the suppliers of larger companies such as Rio, BHP and Western Mining, all of whom have head offices in Melbourne,” Mr Lord.
Lord & Company filed about 150 patents last year, 50 of which were from local clients.
Mr Mizzi believes governments could do more to provide facilities to ease the patent process.
“At the moment it takes a long time to do an international patent search, and there is a role for government here,” he said.
Intellectual property services, prosecution and defence are also in demand as IP law firms streamline the process for innovators. But the registration of new ideas still drives business for the lawyers in WA.
Stephen Friend from Wray & Associates said that, although his firm offered a range of services to clients, its focus remained regis-tration of intellectual property.
The latest statistics from Intellectual Property Australia show the number of innovation, national phase entry, and complete patent applications in WA rose 62 per cent in the five years to June 2004.
This result was marginally behind Victoria, although NSW and Queensland are outperforming the rest. Over the same period population growth was 5.5, 4.4, and 9.9 per cent in Victoria, NSW and Queensland respectively, while WA’s population grew 6.5 per cent.