Protecting what’s important

Published Nov 30, 2020

Every year, Victoria University of Wellington researchers make numerous discoveries that have the potential to create significant, positive impact in the world.

But in order to transition those ideas into products and services that will reach the people who can benefit from them, first, the ideas themselves must be protected.

“If we didn’t protect the intellectual property (IP) behind an idea, we wouldn’t have any products or services to trade,” says Dr Stephanie Grant, who leads the Wellington UniVentures IP team. “IP protection is the foundation for the entire commercialisation process—it ensures that researchers and the University gain exclusive legal rights to utilise that IP for maximum commercial benefit.”

Stephanie says the IP Team’s role is to help the University’s researchers to identify, protect and strategically manage the intellectual property behind any research with commercial potential. This includes working alongside academics to help them determine the best options for protecting an idea—is it a trade secret? Can it be protected by copyright? Or—if it requires the usual, more substantial protection of a patent—what next steps are required?

“By helping them to successfully navigate the early stages of IP protection, we greatly increase the likelihood that their inventions and knowledge will be able to create impact in the world—while still promoting knowledge-sharing through traditional forums.”

She says that this is an important distinction, and one that is often misunderstood.

“It’s certainly true that inventions can lose much of their potential value if they are disclosed before a patent application is filed,” she says. “But commercialising research does not have to be at the cost of publishing—it’s simply a matter of getting things in the right order. Patent first, publish second.”

Stephanie says that it is never their intention to stop academics from doing what they do best—i.e. research—in fact, the opposite is true. “By protecting the value of their research for the purpose of commercialisation, we can help researchers to generate additional income to fund more research.”

She says the phenomenal growth in the number of Victoria University of Wellington research projects being commercialised —the team’s IP portfolio currently consists  of approximately 475 active patent cases and 54 active trade mark cases—meant she needed more resource, and was delighted to welcome Sharelle Buchan to the role of IP Administrator earlier this year.

“Prior to joining us, Sharelle spent four years at AJ Park—a leading provider of intellectual property law services—so she understands the world of IP very well.” 

Stephanie says that it’s great to have Sharelle’s additional support, as it means she now has more time to focus other tasks. “It’s important to get out of my office and talk to researchers about the process and intricacies of IP protection, and to help translate often complex ‘patent-speak’ into plain English!”

She currently works out at Gracefield, Lower Hutt one day each fortnight so that she is ‘on-hand’ to provide further support for the high-IP-generating teams at Robinson Research Institute and Ferrier Research Institute.

“Commercialising research helps to create a visible profile and reputation for the University, and has the potential to generate alternative income streams,” says Stephanie. “IP protection, together with commercialisation expertise from the wider team, plays an absolutely vital role in that.”

Got a question about IP? Please email Stephanie or Sharelle.