Archive February 2012

Gene patent debate in Australia — into injury time? Peter Kerr Feb 29


A guest blog – Doug Calhoun’s recent sticK blog on potentially crippling effects of intended patent law changes (see here) encouraged some healthy discussion (including on SciBlogs). In the interests of helping to ensure that upcoming legislation gets it right for New Zealand, Doug continues to enlighten.

The opponents of gene patents in Australia are a determined lot. Having failed in their attempts to persuade senators (twice) and an advisory committee that gene patents should be banned – they are continuing with their case in the Australian courts.

The debate on gene patents has been aired three times on SciBlogs’ Code for Life blog, see here, here, and here:

As Grant Jacobs noted (in a comment added to his third post on 21 February) the validity of the Australian patent (equivalent to those being contested in the US) was being tested in a courtroom. The outcome will be known in a few weeks (months).

(I apologise for hijacking Grant’s blog with a couple of lengthy comments I made on his third post. But readers interested in the topic might find them a useful background to this post.)

Over nearly 2 years the Australian senate Community Affairs Committee considered the broader social consequences of gene patents before issuing its report in November 2010. While the committee expressed its frustration that it did not have much hard evidence about gene patents and their relevance to the delivery of diagnostic testing, it did not find any systematic adverse effects. It therefore did not recommend any outright ban of gene patents.

The link to that inquiry is here:

Not to be deterred, Senator Heffernan and his followers introduced a bill into the senate (the day after the first report was published) that would have banned patents for ‘biological materials’ that were substantially the same as those materials found in nature. That very sweeping ban would not only have caught human DNA sequences but inventions such as microorganisms, non-human DNA sequences, proteins and many others – that have been patented in Australia since the modern biotechnology industry came into flower.

There were a total of 120 written submissions on that bill made to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee of which 37 were in favour, 78 were against and the remainder either confidential or neither clearly for or against. There were two days of oral hearings. The majority of that committee recommended against the bill proceeding.

The link to all the material of that inquiry is here:

At the same time, the Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property (ACIP) was conducting its own much broader review of what ought to be patentable subject matter in Australia. Naturally, in the course of their deliberations they considered the patentability of DNA sequences as well. ACIP recommended that there should be no exclusions of any specific subject matter from being eligible for patents. Rather they recommended (in February 2011) that the existing definition, ‘manner of manufacture’, should be replaced by the contemporary wording ‘an artificially created state of affairs in the field of economic endeavour.’

The link to that review is here:

And in November 2011 the Australian government reacted both to the challenges put to it by the first senate committee and to the recommendations made by ACIP. Its response to the main ACIP recommendation was:

‘The Government accepts these recommendations in principle, and will develop legislation to define patentable subject matter using clear and contemporary language. The Government recognises the important role of patents in commercialising health research and the need to provide industry with certainty within the patent system. The development of this legislation will be subject to considered and comprehensive public consultation. This will enable an opportunity to consider benefits and impacts on the health sector.’

The link to that report is here:

So the opponents of gene patents will have a challenging time persuading the court that two senate committees and ACIP got it wrong. And if the court were to rule in their favour, the government has signalled that it does not intend to ban gene patents in its proposed changes to the law.

Looking at it from a New Zealand point of view it is apparent that the policy review process involved in changing Australian patent law is a far more exhaustive and inclusive than is the case in New Zealand. The Senate Community Affairs Committee hinted that the review process was so comprehensive that it had become paralysis by analysis — but now that log jamb is to be broken if the government’s intention becomes action.

~ Doug Calhoun
IP Mentor

Academic swot and study…..simplified Peter Kerr Feb 28

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It’s not the first time that Dunedinite Rodney Tamblyn has been involved in an internet-based business.

But, as he looks to take his team’s web application for on-line academic study to the global market, he is looking for a different name to the OB3 moniker it currently has. (See the OceanBrowser site here).

That’s just one of the tasks for the tool whose first target market is medical.

Tamblyn’s spent a year on further development of OB3 (see sticK story here and here).

‘OB3 is a web application for working with study and documents,’ he says. ‘It’s designed around the processes and activities students and teachers use while studying online, with beautifully simple features for creating, sharing, and collaborating together around complex content.’

Coming from New Zealand’s most heavily-oriented university city, Tamblyn’s strongly aware of the academic level of processing information. From gathering, organising, summarising and collaborating (discussions) and producing an output (essays, exams), ‘it’s like interlocking wheels,’ he says.

But, unlike in previous times where students would use sticky notes and bookmarks, with books spread out over a table to help with their learning and writing, people want to do this electronically nowadays.

Throw in multimedia, and time-starved participants in medical learning, and there is a ‘pain’ that Tamblyn’s looking to ease. ‘This product solves a real problem that we know academics and students are facing,’ he says.

Though the medical profession (and its ongoing professional development) is OB3’s first target, other academia are also in his sights.

Over the last couple of years the team has grown to 9 people, 4 fulltime, as the project has ramped up. Tamblyn says ‘for OB3 we’ve put equal emphasis on design and engineering, tested beta releases extensively with our target audience to be sure it’s going to meet their needs.’

‘Ultimately, customers have an expectation of a very high standard, certain type of activity, an elegance in the tools that they use,’ he says. ‘To get noticed, used and not discarded, the bar is higher.’

Especially for the education market ‘you’d better be good.’

And though a new name is important, it isn’t as critical as the marketing and sales and ultimately relationships to be developed in getting the product to market and used by academic institutions around the world.

Already over the last six months sales have been strong. Tamblyn is using a licencing model, with organisations paying a fee on an annual basis according to the scale of the operation and what they’re trying to do. He describes it as a software as a service type business.

Tamblyn also (luckily) enjoys the sales process — talking to people, finding what they need, what their problems are. By acting as a connection between customers and the design and development team he is able to help build a better product.

Over the last few months ‘we’ve worked hard on streamlining our processes and preparing the company for growth.’
He’s working to ensure they have an equal focus on developing the business and the product.

‘My primary role is in sales and business development these days,’ he says.

The Vikings changed culture as well as institutions Peter Kerr Feb 23

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Help…. the Viking’s coming; at least Knud Erik Hilding-Hamann was at the Ministry of Science & Innovation.

The Danish Technical Institute’s head of its Centre for Technology Partnership, and is out to give some of the good oil on how Denmark’s gone about transforming itself into an innovation-led country in the past 10 years. (See his speech and power point presentation here)

Whether, or how much, the DTI’s model is used as a guide as to how Industrial Research Ltd transforms itself into an Advanced Technology Institute remains to be seen.

The 105 year old DTI has a different model to IRL, and of its €80.5m turnover last year, 34% was from consulting and development. Certification and testing’s 27%, training is 25% and other services 14%.

A question was later asked about the danger of DTI crowding out private sector consultants and advice — something that Hilding-Hamann says is an issue, though somewhat avoided through the review of performance contracts by the general and business public.

One area is have been growing however is R&D. Lately it has had a picked up a number of contracts from the European Research Centre — which rewards talented individuals and teams for excellent science. (See here for explanation of some of ERC’s role).

The DTI has grown from €10.3m R&D turnover in 2006 to €36.1m in 2010.

It is part of Denmark’s GTS network (roughly equivalent to NZ’s CRIs), which itself comes under the Danish Innovation System — driven largely by its Innovation Council. This sets the country’s innovation and science strategy, currently focusing on globalisation.

One thing that DTI has to do (as does every GTS), is every three years put out a performance contract — open to the public for a three month consultation. Though this was originally thought to be ‘extra work’, it fulfils a purpose of demonstrating actual value.

For future DTI projects and consultancy, it ‘shows what type of services we are expected to deliver and why companies should or will buy into that,’ says Hilding-Hamann. ‘It’s the foundation for a pipeline of services that are unique, not in the market, and that companies need to develop competitiveness.’

Denmark’s often considered to be a bit like NZ, mainly because it had a strong primary industry base to its economy, and is small.

One area it is completely different to NZ is in its manufacturing. The numbers involved may be similar, though Denmark’s dropped 100,000 people in the sector in the past 10 years to 350,000. However, the interesting component is even though Denmark has struggled to retain home based manufacturing, its companies in total employ another 1.5million people around the world.

So DTI (and the GTS network) spends a lot of time and money developing the commercialisation of research — really helping companies to do so — and audited in how well they succeed.

Talking to Knud after the presentation, he observed that Denmark has exactly the same challenge as New Zealand in growing small companies into large ones — surprise, surprise, they get bought by foreign owned companies as well.

However, it is also clear that Denmark has changed its culture and business thinking about successfully implementing innovation. The Danish innovation system (slide 3 on the presentation) is a well-thought-out framework to turn an idea into income.

The inspiration and motivation for this culture change has started at the highest level of government. As Steven Joyce grapples with not only the science and innovation system, but also economic development and education changes to boost value-added products, it is the culture change aspect that is key to how we reinvent ourselves.

Joyce’s role as prime innovator is as much about changing attitudes as it is about institutions and systems — which, though unstated, is the real feature of the Danish transformation.

Do Patents Really Have Nothing to do With Innovation? Peter Kerr Feb 16


A guest blog – Doug Calhoun’s recent comments, here and here, on the potential fate of NZ IP law encouraged sticK to ask Doug to write more fully

As Stephen Joyce, the new minister both of science and innovation and economic development gets to grips with his new portfolios, he should be addressing the disconnect between the innovation policy and the patent policy of both the current National and the previous Labour led governments.

In mid-November 2011 the Ministry of Science and Innovation released a report entitled “Powering Innovation”. The link is here:

The third recommendation of that report was:

“Individual commercialisation units [of CRIs and Universities] should continue to develop or increase capability both through embedded skills and through networked activity, to deliver high quality screening of IP opportunities and increased good quality commercialisation deal flow nationally.”

The MSI terms of reference identified the “high value manufacturing and services sector” (HVMSS), to which the recommendations apply, as including:

“… biotechnology, processing, electronics and embedded systems, mechatronics and robotics, sensing and scanning devices, medical technologies, advanced materials and manufacturing technologies (including plastics), marine technology, pharmaceuticals, agritechnologies, digital technologies and information and communication technology (ICT)”

The disconnect is most graphically illustrated by clause 15 of the Patents Bill, which proposes to exclude the following technologies from being patented in New Zealand:

• Treatments of second medical indications in humans
• Methods of medical diagnosis practiced on humans, and
• Computer programs.

Medical technologies are becoming more and more focussed on genomics, proteomics and other emerging “omics” evolving from the ability to analyse the components of DNA. Inventions that are being made involve finding new uses for or better administration of known medicines through targeted diagnoses of patients according to genetic traits. And infometrics and diagnostic algorithms involving sophisticated software are indispensable tools integral to such inventions. Most of the other HVMSS technologies also incorporate software to make them work. Yet the Patents Bill would ban patents for many of these technologies.

How did we get to this?

Government policies for promoting innovation and for reforming patent law were developed in separate silos in a fiercely tribal public service culture.

Patent law reform was done in the Ministry of Economic Development (IP policy) silo. MED has been particularly vigilant in protecting its patch from any outside dissenters (for example, me). At the heart of the MED policy is the observation that about 90% of New Zealand patents are granted to foreigners. The benefits of these may flow overseas. Therefore, we should make it as difficult as possible within our international obligations to get a patent in New Zealand.

The main international treaty obligation MED have in mind is the TRIPS treaty. That treaty sets minimum standards of IP protection that member countries must provide. Article 27 of TRIPS requires countries to grant patents in all fields of technology with some exceptions. The medical treatment and diagnosis exceptions in the Patents Bill are permitted under TRIPS.

The exclusion of patents for computer programs came as a result of the proponents of open source software successfully playing a game of last tag. They stayed on the sidelines throughout the consultative process in the eight years before the bill was introduced and then ambushed the select committee with tales of US patent “thickets” and how they would be put out of business if software patents were permitted. (They did not mention that software related inventions had been able to be patented here since the 1990s and that they were still in business.) The select committee introduced the ban, in spite of the earlier MED recommendation and cabinet decision to the contrary. The controversy generated can be distilled from the submissions made on the proposed guidelines for determining what is to be excluded. The link is here:

The MED view of patent economics is a very narrow one focussed on protectionism. Rather than seeing patents as an incentive to invest in innovation involving the commercialising of inventions, MED advised the Commerce Select Committee:

“One consequence of the large number of New Zealand patents granted to overseas owners is that New Zealand may bear the potential costs imposed by these patents, but may not gain any benefit over and above what would have been gained if these patents had not been granted in New Zealand.”

The only evidence on which that analysis was based was the repeated observation that about 90% of New Zealand patents are granted to foreigners. The supposed consequence of that percentage is speculative – note the use of the word “may”.

The MED advice concluded:

“In developing patent legislation for New Zealand, the aim must be to maximise the benefits of the patent system to New Zealand. In light of the preceding discussion, there would seem to be no value to New Zealand in having a patent system that provides wide patent rights. This would probably have little effect on innovation in New Zealand or anywhere else, but would, because of the high proportion of overseas patents, potentially impose significant costs on New Zealand for little compensating benefit.”

“The best policy for New Zealand, given what is known about the workings of the patent system, would be to have the strictest criteria for granting a patent that are consistent with our international obligations, and apply these criteria as rigorously as possible.”

What was the nature or quantum of the ‘significant costs’ was not identified.

The link to the briefing paper is here:

MED did commission a survey of patent users and an analysis of academic papers on the economic effects of patents – after the bill had been drafted and was about to be introduced into parliament. MED released the resulting report (the Uniservices Report) after the select committee had dealt with it. The link to the report is here:

The two main conclusions of the Uniservices Report were:

• while most people surveyed had heard of intellectual property, there was a very low understanding of how it worked or how to manage it, and
• technology transfer has an important role in advancing innovation and patents are the currency of technology transfer.

And the MED response?

‘The views in this report do not represent the views of the Ministry of Economic Development. Should the Ministry decide to act upon any of the recommendations in the report, we will consult with stakeholders.”

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has a team of economists who have recently produced a 186 page analysis of the economic effects of IP (primarily patent) systems. The link is here:

The depth of analysis and large number of papers cited in the report shows that those economic effects are very much more complex than the MED view. There is growing investment in and internationalisation of science and innovation. IP is increasingly being treated as a tradeable end in itself, as well as a means to an end. There are emerging new collaborative mechanisms for trading IP and IP intermediaries for doing it. It echoes and expands upon the Uniservices Report conclusions: tech transfer is important for innovation and patents are its currency.

Among its conclusions are that the objective of any patent policy maker should be to achieve “quality” patents. By quality they mean that a patented invention is both novel and inventive, it is properly described and that the invention claimed is of the same breadth as the description. But the WIPO report also emphasises the importance of “appropriability” in promoting investment in innovation based on inventions.

The primary policy objective of MED in patent law reform has been to make patents as difficult as possible to get in New Zealand. One consequence of that policy is that any patent that is granted under the new law is more likely to be a quality patent. However the Patents Bills goes far beyond that and aims to have a chilling effect on seeking New Zealand patents — going so far as to ban patents for some HVMSS technologies. If the HVMSS technologies cannot be patented they are not going to be appropriable.

The MED policy does not take into account that New Zealand (or foreign) based innovators, seek patents in New Zealand to protect their investment in commercialising their innovations here. And at the same time, MSI is advocating that innovators, led by the CRIs and universities, should be doing exactly that.

Understanding patent law and developing policy is a bit like peeling an onion – there are a lot of layers to it. The respective ministers who have been in charge of patent law reform since 2000 – Laila Harre, Judith Tizard and Simon Power – have recognised this and largely followed the advice of the MED. None had any mandate to look into innovation policies – and science and innovation policy advisors had little incentive to look into patent policy. Any quantum tunnelling between their respective silos has been effectively stamped out.

The silo approach is perpetuated in the post 2011 election briefings to incoming ministers. Responsibility for patent policy rests with Craig Foss, the new minister of commerce. His briefing paper urges him to get on with the Patents Bill. (That bill has been awaiting a second reading since the end of March 2010.) The briefing for Stephen Joyce urges him to be the leader of interdepartmental promotion of innovation — but makes no mention of the role of patents in innovation.

It is time that government recognised that a patents regime has a role to play in innovation. That role is the granting of high quality patents and promoting innovation that embraces IP management as a key component.

And what can Mr Joyce do?

• He can amend the Patents Bill to get rid of the HVMSS technology exclusions
• He can commission a review of the Patents Bill with an aim to amending it to achieve a regime that grants quality patents but does not create chilling red tape in doing so
• He can promote IP policy that supports innovation within New Zealand and the development of excellence in the management of IP.

Good luck minister.

~ Doug Calhoun
IP Mentor
Serial Stirrer

Europe’s big picture research funding backs individual, not institution Peter Kerr Feb 14

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As science and innovation minister looks to further enhance policy he’s no doubt well aware any changes will have to be kiwi-centric.

It is not geographically, economically or culturally feasible to wholesale adopt what’s worked in other countries and jury-rig it for us.

This is one reason to be wary when overseas experts and delegations, or NZ visits to such countries such as Israel, Denmark or Singapore declare ‘this is the way we should do it’.

However, a recent visit by the President of the European Research Council (ERC) will give Joyce some food for thought. An excellent overview of the ERC’s role is here, via Wikipedia.

Prof Helga Nowotny was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Asia Pacific Science Policy Studies Research Conference in Wellington on 8-10 February.

She also took part in a Science Media Centre telephone conference briefing before her address (find podcast here).

Among some of Nowotny’s comments about the effect and role of the ERC (whose website banner headline states: ‘Supporting top researchers from anywhere in the world’), was that even though it is only five years old, such has been its positive effect, it will receive even more than the $8 billion Euros of its 2007-2012 budget in its second term.

Across the 27 EU member states, almost 3% of GDP is spent on R&D.

The ERC’s main role is to carry out ‘Frontier Research’ — somewhere between the known and unknown. ‘We believe in the usefulness of useless knowledge’ she says. In other words, big picture stuff. Individual countries still carry out their own R&D as well.

The interesting thing about the allocation of ERC funding, split 17% on social science, 47% on physics/engineering and the rest on life sciences, is that the sole criteria is the scientific excellence of a proposal put forward by an individual.

The individual (or Principal Investigator) within a smart specialisation will have a team of a half-dozen or so PhD students.

There’s enough funding for the team for a decent time period — a bit like the Marsden Fund, but on super-steriods.

A smaller pot of money is available for Proof-of-Concept funding — a bridge between research and the earliest stage of innovation. This stage looks at IP rights, how much something will cost to develop, ‘a package to help move ideas and results to innovation’.

The interesting thing about this is that it most often is another member of an original Frontier Research team other than the PI, who is invited to pitch.

Only half these pitches are provided with ERC money to develop up a product/service. However, such is the cache/mana of those invited to pitch, those that miss out on ERC funding invariably are invited and funded by individual EU member countries to continue the innovation.

‘Yes, we have an economic crisis,’ says Nowotny. ‘But it is also clear in policy making and the general public, that we have to invest in innovation. There’s no other way we’re going to achieve levels of prosperity that we desire.’

The ERC’s approach of backing individuals, obviously highly talented scientists, feels intuitively right.

It also trains up the next coterie of young researchers, and is self-selecting in that the ones to develop a proof of concept, and presumably business person, comes from within the original Frontier Research group.

The Financial Times rated Prof Helga Nowotny as one of their most influential women of 2011 in the field of science and technology.

Steven Joyce, who at the same Science Policy Studies conference said that following a (wet Auckland!) summer recess of lots of reading, is yet to lay out all his S&I oriented thinking,

As he pulls together multiple threads, Nowotny’s visit may possibly be inspired timing and tailor-made for the kiwi psyche.


There’s already a few Kiwis involved in ERC sponsored research in Europe. Individual NZ teams are as welcome as the rest of the world’s scientists to bid for a Frontier Research grant. You never know, what might be considered useless knowledge in NZ, could be just the ticket on the continent!

Minister Joyce has the opportunity to redefine ‘failure’ Peter Kerr Feb 09


Apparently, new super minister Steven Joyce (Minister of Science & Innovation, Economic Development and Tertiary Education, Skills & Employment), likes to dive deep into details of a new role or portfolio, before surfacing with a strategic direction.

So, as he tries to figure out the government’s lines of science and innovation attack for the coming three years; let him consider failure.

And, specifically in New Zealand’s case, with consideration of the Kiwi psyche, the opportunity he has to redefine so-called failure, and promote innovation.

Considering that Joyce is on the (hopefully) revenue creating side of the equation, how he ramps up the return on investment from his three portfolios is crucial, and pivotal for New Zealand.

Kiwis’ attitude to failure is often regarded as the first cousin of our tall poppy syndrome. The attitude may be, probably is, changing.

However, if Steven Joyce is looking for an easy win he could do much worse than further tweak our notion of failure.

As he cranks up the ‘innovation’ part of MSI, part of the message to Kiwis should be to have a go and more especially ‘have another go’.

‘Failure’ under such a scenario, can be defined as non-success due to a combination of factors…….assuming someone’s not an absolute idiot.

Alternatively, it could be as our American friends refer to it as ‘experience’. It was such experience that enabled Tait Electronics to re-emerge, phoenix-like when it went to the wall twice.

Joyce is sure to have experienced setbacks from when he set up Energy FM in 1984 and expanded it to become RadioWorks with 22 stations and 650 staff under its wing when it was sold in 2001.

He’ll appreciate that success isn’t an overnight thing, and that sometimes, in fact more than half the time, new businesses fail.

Particularly in the clever technology, smart use of natural resources, food and IT areas — sectors with potential for New Zealand to globally scale — a heck of a lot of businesses are going to fall over.

So what?

More important is that we learn the lessons, and apply them to the next venture.

Joyce has the opportunity to spout a new mantra on behalf of all New Zealanders.

It’s not necessarily something that bureaucrats lower down the science & innovation foodchain can do — since no government worker wants to be associated with ‘failure’.

Therefore Joyce, in throwing out a national challenge that success and its close cousin failure is to be celebrated and promoted, has a much better chance of cranking up the revenue side of the equation by giving ourselves permission to ‘have a go’.

Sure, there will be some failures.

But the ‘risk’ also is, there will be some outrageous successes.

The areas likely to take off are as Sir Paul Callaghan describes as niche/niche. That is, tightly defined segments of a larger business/science area, in which a Kiwi company is particularly strong and makes good margins.

So, redefine failure as a revenue-enhancing philosophy.

The ball’s in your court Steve.

NZ research gets a showcase portal ….. at last Peter Kerr Feb 07

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It’s good to see that, at last, some of the ideas and intellectual property residing in many of our universities and CRI’s has a bit of a national showcase through KiwiNet.

When you think about it, New Zealand’s combined research pool is only the size of that of a medium sized USA state — so providing a potential first place for the wider world of people looking for skills and expertise makes a lot of sense.

Being curlish, you could ask why it has taken so long.

But let’s give credit to KiwiNet, which has set up an Innovation Database (see here), briefly showcasing 80 projects from its nine core members, plus some others around New Zealand.

Those (original) nine are Waikatolink, AUT Enterprises, IRL, Viclink, University of Canterbury, Plant & Food Research, Lincoln University, Otago Innovation and AgResearch.

Of interest however, considering that Auckland University and its commecialisation arm UniServices wasn’t in the original group hug, are the projects that link to UniServices (a cancer imaging technology and a cell penetrating peptide among others).

Auckland Uni has had a bit of a love/hate relationship with many of the rest of the country’s academic/research organisations over the past years.

Delving among the tea leaves, perhaps there’s an olive branch being extended by KiwiNet — which, given the small size of our research base can only be good.

UniServices CEO Peter Lee commented (see press release here), that ‘showcasing our technologies and capabilities in an easy to access portal like this we can have a greater impact internationally.’

You’d have to hope that this is a living and expanding database — though heaven help the poor person assigned the role of coordinating the whole thing.

It’s frightening to think that (the royal) we, can only come up with 80 potential products!

A cracker trap minds its own business Peter Kerr Feb 02

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The guys at goodnature have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making and perfecting their resetting and toxin free pest trap since establishing in 2005.

Sure, they’ve received half a million dollars from DOC’s innovation fund, and a bit of help from NZTE, but that hasn’t managed to cover the cost of die tooling and other development work required for their innovative and patented solutions to the introduced mammals devastating our forests, birds and other fauna.

Like many start-up businesses, the three friends who all graduated from Victoria University’s design school in 2004 as mature students have bootstrapped their way to developing two unique traps that are only just now being commercially released. The opportunity to grow a global business now beckons.

Along the way they’ve created a logic for trap design that has probably never been applied before, ‘incorporating industrial design to solve a whole problem,’ says Stu Barr. While all three partners are intimately involved in the traps’ designs, by evolved definition Barr is goodnature’s marketing/sales guy, Robbie Craig, the possum, stoat and rat behavioural specialist and Craig Bond, the technology and model making expert.

In the middle of last decade, it was clear that as well as requiring a humane way of killing pests, the Dept. of Conservation (DOC), and others, were after something that was light, durable and easy to use. Barr makes the observation that sometimes it is school groups, or retired volunteers who are helping defend forests and birds; and thus these requirements are even more key for them.

An initial, but quickly discarded, trap prototype proved the feasibility of goodnature’s ‘power’ for resetting traps. As far as Barr’s aware, no one else in the world has adapted the use of CO2 cartridges as the means to operate a trap.

The jaws-oriented proof-of-concept was enough to convince DOC’s innovation fund managers of the promise of a gas powered, completely non-electronic — and with the initial backing in 2007 in Sept. 2009 the Henry 8 Rat and Stoat Trap was the first of goodnature’s products. (Richard Henry is regarded by many as New Zealand’s first conservationist).

‘This worked OK,’ says Barr, ‘but not as well as we intended.’ As observed in trials, the trap’s success depended on the rat or stoat carrying out a certain action (essentially climbing a type of ladder), but the Henry 8 couldn’t guarantee consistent behaviour.

‘The reality was, we spent 80% of our time on the technology, and 20% on behaviour study,’ he says. ‘But, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You can’t do a huge amount of behavioural stuff until you have the product.’

Although in hindsight, they might have attacked the production of the trap differently, the development of a first product hugely influenced the progress of goodnature’s Possum Trap. The team constantly thought of improvements and modifications to Henry 8, and was able to spend 80% of their time on behavioural observations.

As a result the Possum Trap achieved a 10 out of 10 instant humane kill — an ‘A’ class pass, humane pass and the only trap to have achieved the feat.

With the development of a fantastically effective Possum Trap and iterative changes to Henry 8, goodnature ‘swallowed our pride and spent a year on observational stuff for rats and stoats,’ Barr says.

In doing this they understood the drivers for the rodent and mustelid and came to the conclusions:

 The technology has to be as perfect as possible — since creating and modifying the injection moulds is an expensive process
 Lures are crucial (in the Henry 8, the lure was a secondary consideration)

The Henry 10 Rat and Stoat Trap is definitely new and improved. It also shares the same regulator as the Possum Trap, as well as an in-house developed Auto Lure Dispenser. This drips a small amount of lure onto a pad over time, and will last 8-10 months depending on the temperature.
goodnature also developed a new (self) triggering device (again, non-electronic), with all the technology based on compressed gas.

Which means that goodnature now has two highly effective traps to sell. Its Possum Trap has been on the market since July, and the majority of the 2000 entirely NZ-made are being used in DOC study sites. The Henry 10 will be available from March 2012, and has been part of a DOC trial from the beginning of December.

There is also a large World Wildlife Fund sponsored project in East Taranaki to determine whether a Kakako recovery area will control possums to the level required.

At this stage the Possum Trap sells for $130 + GST each, compared to about $70 for well-known yellow Timms Trap.

The company only sells direct at the moment, and Barr sees that the Possum Trap could sell for more, ‘as people are prepared to pay up to three times more for a clearly superior product,’ he says.

‘At the moment we’re getting the trap known, getting it validated,’ says Barr. ‘We have one guy who bought 10 traps, and killed 47 possums in three and a half weeks. We packaged and sent them. He did everything else.’

As well as conservation groups, the Possum Trap will be desirable for those areas with Bovine Tuberculosis, and for private property protection — orchards for example.

As far as the Possum Trap is concerned, the only market for this animal is New Zealand. The possum’s protected in its native Australia, and no other country has been silly enough to have released it into their environment.

But, almost every country in the world has their equivalent of rats and stoats. Hawaii has the mongoose for example, the UK and Scandania the mink. Japan has a critically endangered rat it is trying to protect from the rat that’s familiar to us all.

‘And once you cross over into pest control compared to conservation management, it’s a completely different story,’ says Barr. ‘The amount of rice lost to spoilage and eating by rats in Indonesia and Asia after all the work in planting and harvesting is simply immense.’

The development of the traps’ core technology, in NZ conditions which are among the harshest in the world, provide major opportunities. The team needs to change their approach from a conservation path to a pest control mentality, and again new learning.

‘But, if the rat trap is in a warehouse, say 50 metres from the user, the job should theoretically be easier,’ he says.

goodnature has patented much of its ‘suite of technology’, even though the cost of IP lawyers has been large.

Barr makes his first foray to the United States in February, to see where this market might head. ‘It takes at least 12 months between someone seeing the product and the sale being made,’ he says.

The job now is to engage with and look after customers, and create new, overseas markets for the Rat and Stoat Trap.

Having spent the past six years bootstrapping their way to highly effective means of killing pests, the goodnature team is naturally looking forward to some paydays.

Using good design to perfect a humane pest destruction system is clearly a driving ethos for the three directors — making some money now will be a vindication of the effort and belief that has perfected a world first.

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