Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) is proud to support the second Australian edition of the I&I Journal. KCA is the non-profit, peak body leading best practice in commercialisation and technology transfer for Australian research organisations since 1978. The organisation undertakes training for commercialisation and technology transfer professionals as well as providing a forum for exchange of best practice within Australia, New Zealand and internationally.
It is often reported that Australia performs well in research outputs but poorly in the commercialisation of this research. What does this actually mean? The assessment seems to stem from Australia’s performance in a number of international innovation rankings. These rankings include a variety of metrics such as the national level of industry R&D funding, levels of venture capital investment and numbers of first to world products launched.
The amount of investment in R&D by Australian business as a percentage of GDP reduced from 2015-16 (1%) to 2017-18 (0.9% ). This places Australia 25th out of 31 OECD reporting countries. The level of venture investment in startups and other early stage investments in 2019 was 0.007% of GDP. This compares with Canada 0.077%, the UK 0.062% and the USA 0.22%. The amount of government spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP is at its lowest level in 40 years at 0.48% in 2019-20 . A low research investment base limits opportunities to increase commercialisation outcomes.
In addition to a strong research base, successful technology transfer requires market sophistication in new product development. Australia has a number of successful, R&D focussed companies including CSL, Resmed and Cochlear. However, in a list of the world’s most R&D intensive companies, Australia’s highest entry is Telstra at 182. A 2017 report on the Australian Innovation system found that Australian innovation-active firms overwhelmingly specialise in modifying innovations introduced by other Australian firms but are not particularly strong at introducing new-to-market innovations. These are structural issues that cannot be fixed overnight and require long term, consistent focus and support.
Interestingly, the innovation rankings where Australia performs poorly do not include metrics accepted by our peers as important in measuring the process of public sector commercialisation and technology transfer. Table 1 provides a summary of key commercialisation specific metrics benchmarked internationally. The data indicates there is room for improvement in harvesting ideas, in the form of invention disclosures, from Australian Universities as well as increasing the number of startup companies based on public sector research. However, Australia performs comparatively well in its conversion of ideas to deals in the form of licence, options and assignments, the most common form of intellectual property transactions. Australia also compares well on conversion of research dollars to commercialisation income. This data would indicate that we are efficient at the process of commercialisation in a parallel to how we produce good research outputs off a relatively low research investment base.
Table 1. International commercialisation benchmarking (2019 data)
There are many great examples of successful products and services developed based on public sector research. Examples of companies founded on such products include Cochlear, Resmed, Monash IVF, Phoslock, HiSeis and Elastagen. Further examples of successfully commercialised products include Gardasil, Relenza, Nanopatch, Vestaron, Recaldent, Colvera , Exondys 51, Reflux Classifier PERC Solar Cell and Fast WiFi. Other examples of commercialisation of Australian public sector research can be found in this and previous editions of this I&I journal.
We are efficient at the process and have good success stories but we lack scale and there is no doubt we need to improve performance to remain competitive.
If we want to improve the commercialisation of research outcomes then we need to be both ambitious and patient in support. Some key areas of focus include;
- Long term and consistent support, recognition and reward for the practice of translating research outcomes into new products and services. Successful commercialisation takes time and, based on industry data, the average time for developing a new to world product or service is 7+ years. Constantly shifting management structures and funding frameworks delays this process and, in some instances, means it never happens.
- Building human resource capability in the process of technology transfer and new product and service development. These skills require specific training combined with practical experience.
- Investment at early stages of commercialisation is high risk. It takes a very robust investment market to accommodate this risk. This is not currently present in Australia so direct public investment is required to encourage private investment and address the current market failure.
It is important to celebrate achievements to date, recognise impediments to further success and move quickly to address these if Australia is to build a more diverse economy that with enable it to continue its impressive track record of economic growth. KCA is on a mission to improve outcomes in this field and you can find out more about the organisation at the website https://techtransfer.org.au/
Rohan has been the Director of IP Commercialisation at Curtin University since 2008. Prior to Curtin he spent 8 years as the Chief Operating Officer at Biosignal, a publicly listed biotech company, where he was responsible for business development, project management and general operations.
He has over nineteen years of experience in commercialisation of new technologies including being integrally involved in the establishment of number of technology based companies. He has played a lead role in negotiation and completion of numerous technology based agreements and partnerships with companies in Australia and internationally.
Prior to his role with Biosignal, Rohan worked for 10 years in commercialisation of technology out of UNSW as a Business Development Manager at Unisearch Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree, an MBA from the AGSM and is graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Rohan is a currently a director of i-Cetana Pty Ltd, Scanalyse Pty Ltd, Deepvision Pty Ltd, HiSeis Pty Ltd and Virtual Observer Pty Ltd.