Asia is one of the most important opportunities open to Australian businesses. If we play it right, there are numerous ways innovative enterprises can use their intellectual property to help Asia solve some of its most pressing issues, including food security, energy and environmental challenges.
At the recent IP Forum hosted by IP Australia, Scott Bouvier, a partner with law firm King Wood and Mallesons, outlined the Asian context for Australian firms wishing to expand into Asia. As he noted in his address, given he works for an entity that combines established law firms in Australia and China, he is uniquely positioned to reflect on the potential for Australian businesses to use their intellectual property to expand their operations across Asia.
THE POLICY CONTEXT
Certainly, the policy framework is in place to help support Australian businesses wishing to leverage their intellectual property into Asia. Central to this is the Federal Government's Australia in the Asian Century whitepaper, which acts as a comprehensive roadmap to increase engagement between Australia and Asia.
The paper sets out five pillars of productivity, of which innovation is one. As Bouvier notes, "intellectual property is a large part of innovation." Therefore, it will be key to identifying better ways of doing business, as well as developing new business models and products tailored to Asian nations.
The second key policy initiative that will be central to Australian businesses capturing commercial opportunities in Asia, explains Bouvier, is the Federal Government's recently released statement on industry and innovation, "A Plan for Australian Jobs".
Part of the statement is a pledge by the Federal Government to set up Industry Innovation Precincts. The 'Manufacturing Precinct and Food Precinct' will likely be a springboard for Australian businesses to develop Asian-centric initiatives.
"Precincts will enable firms to collaborate and build scale with researchers and with each other to improve knowledge and skills, deploy technology, create new products and services and take advantage of business opportunities," explains Bouvier.
He believes the Industry Innovation Precincts will boost productivity by fostering clusters of innovative firms and encouraging better connections with Asian researchers and industries.
The third plank in the policy armour that will help shepherd the best of Australian intellectual property into Asia is the National Food Plan, which outlines the immense opportunity for Australian food exporters to Asia. As the paper notes, "By 2050, world food demand is expected to rise by seventy seven per cent in monetary terms. Much of this growth will occur in Asia where demand will double."
The food plan works in concert with the cross-border governmental study Feeding the Future: A Joint Australia-China Report on Strengthening Investment and Technological Cooperation in Agriculture to Enhance Food Security.
The report recommends the initial focus of technological cooperation should be sustainable agriculture, plant genetic resources, plant biosecurity, animal disease control and health, plant biotechnology, agricultural processing technologies, animal genetic resources, environmental remediation, remote sensing technologies for agriculture and supply-chain development and improvement.
"These policy initiatives focus on Australia being Asia's food bowl, in the context of a growing need for food security in Asia," explains Bouvier.
"There is a significant emphasis on innovation, collaboration and R&D with China in these policy initiatives. In my mind, this sets the scene for intellectual property to play an important role in developing Australian commercial initiatives across Asia," he adds.
THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CLIMATE IN ASIA
Bouvier notes that across Asia, intellectual property laws are becoming stronger, and the number of patent filings is increasing, especially in China, Japan and Korea. "But there seems to be real challenges in turning innovation into commercialisation," he says.
Nevertheless, there is huge potential for Australian firms to be part of the shift as the Chinese economy, which has traditionally been based on manufacturing, moves to a knowledge-based economy.
"What we're seeing is a shift from 'made in China' to 'designed in China', which is a reason why there is a focus on strengthening their IP laws," he explains.
Bouvier acknowledges counterfeiting, especially in electronics and pharmaceuticals, remains a problem. He stresses the ability to enforce intellectual property rights is improving in Asia, but points to the failure of foreign investors to establish rights in China as a key issue.
"Many fail to register their trademarks or patents, often turning a difficult enforcement situation into an impossible one," he says, adding that the "best solution is to file early and monitor carefully."
Of course, China is not the only Asian market to offer Australian businesses economic opportunities. As Bouvier notes, Japan is a key intellectual property market and there are more patents held in Korea than any other Asian country. There has also been a big increase in patent filings in India, but he says enforcing intellectual property rights is extremely challenging on the sub continent.
Overall, says Bouvier, the intellectual property system is strengthening in Asia, which is a positive for Australian businesses wishing to leverage their intellectual property in Asia. He also stresses that although it's easy to hold a stereotype that Asian intellectual property laws, as well as the enforcement system, remain difficult, the situation is rapidly progressing.
"Things are improving in Asia, a region that will be at the centre of the world's economy in twenty years. It's important to remember that even in Australia we don't always get it right. What's key is to focus on using our technologies to help Asia face its food, energy and environmental challenges. It's a great opportunity and it's important we don't miss it," he says.
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