The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – Australia’s national R&D agency – announced this week the creation of a new technology commercialisation fund that will be capitalised using patent assertion and licensing revenues.
According to a press release, the CSIRO Innovation Fund will “support co-investment in new spin-out and start-up companies, and SMEs engaged in the translation of research generated in the publicly-funded research sector”. Since the fund has been created under the purview of the Australian government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, it will be charged with commercialising not only CSIRO’s own research, but also inventions developed in Australian universities and research institutions, as well as the private-sector companies they partner with.
The CSIRO Innovation Fund will be launched with an aim of raising an initial A$200 million ($150 million), which will include a A$70 million commitment from government plus private sector investment.
A further A$30 million will comprise revenues generated through CSIRO’s assertion and licensing of its patents relating to wireless local area networking (WLAN) technology. These activities gained CSIRO a fair amount of undeserved bad press in the United States over the years, with some even going so far as to label it a ‘troll’ after it became the first NPE to secure a post-eBay injunction in the country and settled litigation with telecoms giants including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon for $220 million.
Last month, IAM hosted the first-ever IPBC Australasia in Melbourne. One of the central discussion pointsof the event was the commercialisation and monetisation of public sector IP assets – something in which Australia and New Zealand have so far lagged on the whole, despite both countries’ significant investments in the area. CSIRO has not been an exception; and, having been the subject of stringent government cutsover the past few years, the necessity to generate better returns on its R&D spend are greater than ever.
The appointment of Larry Marshall – an experienced engineer, as well as a veteran of the Silicon Valley venture capital scene – as CSIRO’s new chief executive gave an indication of the agency’s intended direction. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review last year, Marshall highlighted CSIRO’s “Pandora’s box” of around 4,000 patents being central to his plans, while he also emphasised the need for the institution to get better returns from its IP monetisation programmes and leverage these to invest in further technological development.
By repurposing the WLAN patent revenue in this way, the CSIRO Innovation Fund does just that; as Marshall stated this week, it represents a “virtuous cycle of investment in taking our best ideas from bench-top to beta to buyer”.
One other thing worth mentioning here is that, while the CSIRO Innovation Fund does share some attributes with the sovereign patent funds set up in South Korea, France and Japan – namely, to use IP assets to support the public research and domestic SME sectors – it doesn’t tick all of the boxes. The most obvious difference is that purchasing and aggregating third-party patents does not appear to be within its ambit, at the moment at least – but there’s no reason why that mightn’t change.