SciBlogs

Archive September 2012

ATI Establishment Board role far bigger than most people realise Peter Kerr Sep 27

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For something that has the extremely important job of kicking along (on an NZ Inc basis) the never simple endeavour of turning of an idea into income, the Advanced Technology Institute’s Establishment Board has so far operated very below the radar.

What the ATI EB is being asked to do, extremely quickly, is much more than the body tasked with creating the Crown Research Institute structure(s) over 20 years ago from what was then the DSIR and MAF Tech.

Perhaps part of its challenge is that some people think it is going to be about a new building or two – and that hasn’t been helped with the announcement that the institute will be named after the late Sir Paul Callaghan. That strikes me as being ‘institute’ as a noun.

But, if you have a look at the ATI EB’s Terms of Reference it is clear its seven person team has an extremely wide mandate. This is ‘institute’ as a verb.

This is seen in the ToR’s Purpose:

The purpose of the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) is to support firms in the manufacturing and services sectors to improve competitiveness and growth through science and technology-based innovation and its commercialisation.
 
It will achieve this through being:

  • an intermediary to improve connectivity and capability in the innovation system; and
  • a service provider working closely with business clients and collaboratively with other service providers and research organisations

It is no wonder that the date for establishing the ATI has been put back two months (at this stage) to Feb 1 2013 – and even that is an extremely ambitious timeframe considering what is being asked of it.

Indeed, reading between the lines, what the ATI EB is being asked to come back with are suggestions around broader issues such as routes to market, funding/capital options and partnering.

As well as the morphing of Industrial Research Ltd into a new Crown Agency structure (being developed/consulted on as we speak), The ATI EB is being asked to work closely with the NZ Food Innovation Network, and NZTE and MBIE and ….. well everyone really. This includes figuring out how to work with and alongside the CRI and university technology transfer offices and commercialisation units – most of which are biologically-oriented.

That makes sense – one aspect of our economy that could really do with improving is adding value to the raw materials our country produces. Think milk, meat, trees, horticultural produce, fish. And not only adding value, retaining the value for NZ Inc as we get much closer to the market.

There’s some excellent science around these areas, as reasonably favourably commented on in a ‘Supply Side Report’ in some of the background policy work on the ATI in June this year.  

But, turning what are good ideas, processes and products into sustainable new businesses (or new areas within older businesses) is something we’ve found hard to do.

There’s a suspicion that super minister Steven Joyce recognises that as a country we need a circuit-breaking change/adaptation/boot-up-the-rear in the innovation area.

Asking the ATI EB to propose what this institute (as a verb) should be is either:

  • a recognition he’s not quite sure what to do
  • a hope it comes up with some more than useful suggestions, or, and more likely
  • a bit of both

Now all this is a roundabout way of saying, all power to the ATI EB seven charged with the task setting the strategic direction of the new entity (whatever it looks like).

The discussions it is having, and path it is plotting will be uniquely New Zealand in its structure – no one else has our mix of biology, skills, distance to market and investment-adverse capital markets.

Rumour has it that (original ATI proposer) IRL is fully onboard in its desire to move and act as the foundation of the new Crown Agency – which makes a damn good start.

Now, if the EB’s super seven can ‘simply’ come up with some clever solutions for those route to market questions….we’ll be singing their praises for a long time to come.


The Patents Bill and the Wai 262 Report: two solitudes in search of common ground Peter Kerr Sep 26

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A guest blog by Doug Calhoun

In an earlier post on the Patents Bill: I mentioned that the introduction of the Bill had been delayed for 14 years because of concerns about the Wai 262 claim. Nearly fifteen months after the Wai 262 Report was completed there has still been no formal government response to it.

The Patents Bill proposed to “address” the Wai 262 claims by establishing a Maori advisory committee to advise the Patents Commissioner (on request) on whether:

“a) an invention claimed in a patent application is derived from Maori traditional knowledge or from indigenous plants or animals; and
(b) if so, whether the commercial exploitation of that invention is likely to be contrary to Maori values.”

The Commissioner must consider but is not bound by the advice of the Committee.

Quite apart from whether or not it implements the Wai 262 Report recommendations, the provision contains the vague and subjective expressions “derived from” (derived to what extent?); and “contrary to Maori values”.

The critical question that is left unanswered is, so what?

The Patents Bill requires the Patents Commissioner to examine every patent application and if it is found to meet the patentability criteria – to grant a patent. But it does not specify what the Patents Commissioner is supposed to do if the Committee advises that an invention is derived from traditional knowledge and that its exploitation is likely to be contrary to Maori values. Neither is among the criteria the Commissioner is to consider.

The Green Party Amendment

The Green Party introduced a proposed amendment (SOP124) on 11 September. This will come up for a vote during the committee stage in the next few weeks. The amendment would declare that organisms and traits in organisms are not patentable inventions. “Organism” would mean the same as it does in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act. It would include both naturally occurring and modified organisms.

The amendment seeks to exclude “traits in organisms”. But patents are granted for products or processes that are a practical application of a trait – they are not now and never have been granted for the traits themselves. The HSNO definition of “organism” includes a microorganism. Such an exclusion is not permitted under Article 27.3 of the TRIPS Agreement.

Steffan Browning, in discussing the amendment in the second reading debate, said:

“Allowing the passing of this bill without supporting my Supplementary Order Paper will lead to the continued blocking of pure research, of open research. Private profit-making from our collectively owned genes and resources will, importantly, continue the process of stealing resources, this time including the intellectual property of Maori—removing it from the commons for private gain.”

This argument was made by Greenpeace New Zealand to the GM Royal Commission. The GM Report, Chapter 10 concluded:
“117. The economic benefits of intellectual property systems are generally considered to be positive. Removing biotechnology developments from coverage by patent or property rights systems would not necessarily have the effect that opponents to such applications want. New inventions or ideas would probably be kept as trade secrets or “know how”, and, in the absence of the disclosure required by patents and PVRs, be held even more tightly. Not allowing New Zealand inventors and investors to protect their work under an IPR would leave them in an invidious position against the rest of the world. It would also place New Zealand in breach of its obligations under major trade agreements.”

“118. The Commission sees a need to address some tensions or gaps, notably in the exemption for patenting of human beings and their biological processes, and the development of an appropriate framework for the protection of traditional knowledge and taonga of Maori. However, we are not persuaded that the IPR system is antithetical to the appropriate development and regulation of genetic modification.”

This recommendation was followed in both the original Patents Bill and the Bill as amended by the select committee.

The Green Party proposal is also not an approach recommended in the Wai 262 Report.

The Wai 262 Report

The Report is in three volumes of over 1,200 pages. So it is not that surprising that there has not yet been a government response. The interface between patents and the Wai 262 claims is only a relatively small part of its recommendations.

The report reviews developments in science and then analyses its understanding of the concerns of both sides in the debate:

“These developments have created a point of potential tension between those who wish to utilise private property rights in the genetic and biological resources of plants and animals to create wealth, and kaitiaki who often have very different priorities. We explained above how research science is founded on an empirical world view that is blind to many aspects of te ao Maori. Patents, and the commercial system they serve, are likewise at odds with te ao Maori in fundamental ways. The idea that knowledge about the specific properties of a taonga (such as kawakawa or manuka) can be parcelled up and assigned to different owners is, in itself, alien to the relationship-based world of mauri and whanaungatanga. As with research science, the patent system is founded on a set of values that are not those of kaitiaki. Its central concerns are the advancement of knowledge and the protection of commercial interest in that knowledge, rather than mauri or environmental values.

There is also tension between Maori and Pakeha approaches to access to knowledge. Pakeha culture places great value on unrestricted access to knowledge and ideas. This has long been seen as a precondition to progress. Of course, access to knowledge and ideas even in the public domain is constrained in Western societies by laws relating not only to IP but also to public safety, defamation, moral standards, and privacy, to name a few. But the principle that access should be as unconstrained as possible is fundamental to Western thinking. By contrast, Maori culture does not place such great value on free access. Concepts of tapu, mauri, and whakapapa tend to suggest that access must be earned. The first priority of kaitiaki is to protect rather than publish information. That is not to say that matauranga Maori is always secret. Far from it. But kaitiaki are often very uncomfortable when they have lost oversight of readily available matauranga Maori.”

The Report then attempts to measure the dimensions of the square hole and round peg it has been tasked to accommodate:

“ These tensions go to the heart of the ways in which we generate knowledge and wealth in New Zealand. The central question is whether our current system can accommodate a new set of rights to be held by kaitiaki communities and individuals who do not share the values upon which the system was built.”

… the issues the claimants brought before us were focused on specific but related areas :

  • unauthorised use of matauranga Maori in research based on bioprospecting, and the resulting unauthorised scientific or commercial use of genetic and biological resources of taonga species;
  • offensive interference with the whakapapa of taonga species when they are subjected to genetic modification ; and
  • use of the IP regime to exploit rights in the genetic and biological resources of taonga species in ways that exclude kaitiaki and undermine the relationship between kaitiaki and taonga species.”

The Patents Bill debate is focused on the third issue – the use of the patents regime in exploiting rights in the genetic and biological resources of taonga species.

The Wai 262 Patent Recommendations

The Tribunal tried to take a balanced approach that both sides could live with:

“As will be seen in the chapters to follow, we do not always agree with the way the claimants framed this problem, but where we do, we look for ways in which the priorities of kaitiaki can be relocated from the margins of legal or policy discourse to the centre, where they can be properly and transparently weighed against other considerations. Sometimes our recommendations are procedural – a simple requirement on the Crown to notify or consult with kaitiaki; sometimes we recommend that new substantive standards be introduced – for example, positive obligations on Crown agencies to explore partnership opportunities with kaitiaki; and sometimes we recommend statutory decision-makers should change – whether by vesting power directly in kaitiaki in some cases or by the creation of new partnership mechanisms.”

“In all cases, the innovations we recommend are designed to express the new generation of Treaty partnership in which Maori have a meaningful voice in the ongoing fate of their taonga, and the partnership itself is not static but is being constantly rebalanced.”

“It is no longer possible to deliver tino rangatiratanga as full autonomy in all cases in which taonga Maori are ‘in play’, as it were. After 170 years during which Maori have been socially, culturally, and economically swamped, it will no longer be possible to deliver tino rangatiratanga in the sense of full authority over all taonga Maori. Yet it will still be possible to deliver full authority in some areas. That will be either because the absolute importance of the taonga interest in question means other interests must take second place or, conversely, because competing interests are not sufficiently important to outweigh the constitutionally protected taonga interest.”

The specific recommendations that the report makes that might be incorporated in the Patents Bill are:

  1.  “… kaitiaki relationships with taonga species and matauranga Maori are [to be] expressly protected in accordance with their proven depth (unless it can be demonstrated that other interests deserve priority). This includes a mechanism to ensure that any matauranga Maori is treated as a key factor in decisions about whether a patent application is novel or involves an inventive step.”
  2. “… the establishment of a Maori committee to advise the Commissioner of Patents about whether matauranga Maori or taonga species have contributed in any way to the invention, and whether the proposed use is consistent with or contrary to tikanga Maori. This advice should be relevant to the requirements of patentability and (even if the patentability criteria are satisfied) whether there are kaitiaki interests as risk.”
  3. “… the commissioner be empowered to refuse patents that are contrary to ordre public as well as morality. … the committee should not be reactive : the commissioner should be required to take formal advice from it, and work in partnership with a member of the Maori committee when making patent decisions that affect the kaitiaki relationship.”
  4. “… kaitiaki be able to formally notify their interest in particular species or matauranga Maori by way of a register. … kaitiaki should always have a right to object to a patent application, whether or not they have registered their interest.”
  5. “… patent applicants be required to disclose whether any matauranga Maori or taonga species have contributed to the research or invention in any way. IPONZ must make these records publicly available. Patent applicants who fail to comply with a disclosure requirement can be subject to a range of outcomes, from no sanctions at all to the being revoked, to be decided by the commissioner and the chair of the Maori committee.

My Thoughts

The following are my thoughts of how easy or difficult it might be for the Patents Bill to implement the five recommendations:

  1. The second part of this recommendation is already accommodated. Under the Patents Bill novelty and inventive step are to be judged against a prior art base. Matauranga Maori fits within the definition of “prior art base”, provided it has been made available to the public in some way. Where there may be difficulty is if matauranga Maori has not been made available to the public, and kaitiaki are opposed to it being made available. But how does one judge when “other interests deserve priority” – a call that is to be made under the first part of this recommendation?
  2. The Patents Bill would establish the committee. But the words “contributed in any way to the invention” and “use is consistent with or contrary to tikanga Maori” are fraught with uncertainty, especially when used to define the boundaries of property rights.
  3. The third recommendation answers the “so what” question left hanging by the provisions in the Patents Bill. But the understanding of the meaning of “ordre public” goes beyond what it is understood to mean under the European Patent Convention – where the term that is used in the TRIPS agreement originated. (The report acknowledges that its recommendations must be compliant with TRIPS.) And Recommendation 10.5 of the GM Report urged New Zealand to pursue amending TRIPS “to include a reference to the avoidance of cultural offence as a specific ground for exclusion or reservation” – inferring that the commissioners thought that an exclusion like the Wai 262 Report suggestion would not comply with TRIPS.
  4. The fourth recommendation would assist in doing a prior art search to determine if any matauranga Maori is in the prior art base. But, given the optional nature of the recommendation, a negative prior art search could not be relied upon.
  5. This is the most problematic of the recommendations for many reasons. Discovering new properties of or uses for a known taonga species may have been done without any use of matauranga Maori (known to the researcher) – leaving a researcher in a dilemma as to whether any disclosure of origin needs to be made. The nature of the applicable penalties if a disclosure should have been made (and was not) has been the subject of debates over a number of years. They have been hotly debated in both the Convention on Biological Diversity forums and the Intergovernmental Committee of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Any provision to implement this recommendation that is out of step with whatever is finally agreed to internationally could put us offside with our international trading partners.

Accommodating “a new set of rights to be held by kaitiaki communities” within the existing intellectual property regime was never going to be easy – and the new Patents Bill may be where the rubber first hits the road. Good luck to the policy advisors on this one.


If we think beyond the actuality of how we produce…. Peter Kerr Sep 25

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(This post can also be seen at www.pastureharmonies.org)

Science has served New Zealand agriculture extremely well. It should and needs to do so in the future.

It is also that pragmatic rationale approach that has delivered and developed a wonderfully integrated on-farm representation of responsible pastoralism.

Put another way, we’ve engineered a farming solution that makes best use of the temperate climate and relatively thin, bony, young soils of New Zealand.

We are one of the few countries in the world where farmers aren’t peasants.

We tend to take it so much for granted, that what we have, what we project from (most of) our farming, is ‘normal’.

In doing so we forget what it looks like.

Now, while some tourists and travellers may complain our countryside looks like a giant golfcourse, in a way it is a bit of a backhand compliment.

Our farms, from Northland to Southland, from the coast to the foothills and high country, look looked after. They look as if someone intelligent is at home and the land, environment and animals are being cared for.

It looks almost bucolic. One of (many) definitions of bucolic is – <em>of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life</em> – which while a large stretch of the actuality, is a pretty good image or association to have.

The fact, supported by billions of dollars of spending over the past 100 years, we have science to utterly back up the picture.

However, this is a synergy we’ve, (I’m arguing) never exploited.

But first and foremost though, we need to control the imagery of what and how our farms and farming looks in the big picture.

pasture Harmonies can truly represent the idea and the ideal of responsible pastoralism.

By inviting consumers to visit, we can also take part in a conversation.

For example, consumers will (probably) always want a standard that in practice is impossible and/or uneconomic to achieve.

If, when we stake our claim to the rotational grazing territory we initially discovered, then we can take part in a conversation, instead of always defensively reacting .

One of our current challenges, is agriculture attempts to defend an amorphous idea.

When we give that idea a name, we are in a much better, stronger position.

Our farming is about much more than the sum of all its parts.

We are picture (almost) perfect.

Let’s start believing, living up to and improving that picture.

To which end, let’s name it, and with it the science behind the image.

(Or, is our image something we should just let look after itself, and by default decay?)


Pastoral method’s lack of a brand/name is the opposite of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ Peter Kerr Sep 20

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Our failure to neither name nor own the story to our pastoral method is a type of opposite ‘tragedy of the commons’. (See Wikipedia’s explanation here).

The TotC was (and still is in some arenas, e.g. fishing) an overuse and overexploitation of a common piece of grazing land – precisely because nobody owns it, but everyone is entitled to its use.

In our case (NZ Inc) our pastoral method is indeed owned by us all. Having collectively invested billions of dollars over the past 100 years in improving the ‘engine’ that converts sunshine, soil and fresh air into protein products, the knowledge inherent has been bequeathed to all Kiwis.

But because of, or perhaps even in spite of, the collective ownership, there’s never been a central or top-lead imperative to name or brand our agriculture’s key intellectual property.

Even worse, because we’ve given away the I.P. (rotational grazing, working in harmony with natural cycles, understanding soils, agronomy, the nuances of animal grazing in situ), for free, we’ve never valued the know-how.

We’ve taken it for granted that there is no significance to the continuous discoveries we’ve made, nothing worth saying “hang on, this is really cool stuff.”

In other words, collective ownership has meant no one, no organisation has stepped up and gone, “well we should do something about this.” That is, it’s the opposite of the tragedy of the commons.

By good luck and good fortune however, no one else has (yet) laid claim to the idea of our pastoral method. Even if some universities in mid-west America attempt to lay claim to the systems, the plethora of names given to our method shows that, if we in a concerted manner ‘staked our claim’, we’d have first mover advantage.

The tiny, shared steps we’ve taken in developing our systems to the integrated and sophisticated level seen today, has been quite a journey.

If, all those years ago, farmers, scientists and government had realised where the journey was going to take us, surely they would’ve named the destination and/or the trip.

We still have the opportunity to do so – and pasture Harmonies is put forward as a short hand for the story we all own.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m talking nonsense and to call it the opposite of the tragedy of the commons is way out of line.

This is a debate/discussion – what do you think?


Patents Bill Second Reading: A Software Storm in an Ideological Teacup Peter Kerr Sep 17

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By guest blogger Doug Calhoun

Thirty years after the Muldoon government first looked at patent law reform, a new patent law is on track to come into force by the end of 2013. This guest blogger has been involved in working with and on the current act since 1974. And my reaction to the second reading debate?

“This is the way the world ends:
This is the way the world ends:
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

“The Hollow Men”

-TS Elliott

The bill runs to 165 pages with over 300 sections. It emphasises the goal of its authors to make it as difficult as possible to obtain a patent and as easy as possible for anyone to invalidate one. But the second reading debate: was based almost entirely on whether patents should be granted for software. And not a single Maori Party MP took part. Only Steffan Browning (Greens) mentioned that none of the Wai 262 Report recommendations on changes to patent law were implemented – even though the introduction of the Patents Bill was delayed from 1994 until 2008, largely because government concerns about the Wai 262 claim (hence my TS Elliott quote) – but that’s another blog post.

A Bit of History

The Patents Bill was introduced in 2008 by the then Labour government. The original bill did not have any software exclusion. In the policy development process, the MED officials had issued policy papers, considered submissions and recommended that there be no software exclusion. The practice of the Intellectual Property Office (following a decision of the Commissioner of Patents) was that if an invention involved software as a means to an end and it was novel and inventive then it could be patented; but if the software was an end in itself it could not be. This had been the practice since 1994. It was founded on old UK decisions that you could not get a patent for a mere mathematical formula – and software code itself is a form of mathematical formula.

In the select committee hearings most of the submissions on software patents came from software developers who were vehemently opposed to them. And the squeaky wheels got the grease. The committee introduced an amendment saying:

“A computer program is not a patentable invention”.

The committee reported in March 2010 and the bill sat on the Order Paper for nearly two and a half years until this month. The government then introduced a proposed amendment that qualified the exclusion. The exclusion would, “prevent anything from being an invention for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such.”

The effect of the exclusion is that there is no real change in the law. Software as an end in itself is still not patent eligible; software as a means to an end still is patent eligible. That is the beginning and end of the effect of the words, “as such”.

But in politics reason is the first casualty.

The Second Reading Debate

The commerce minister, Craig Foss, stated that the intention of the select committee:

“was that granting of a patent should be prevented only where the novelty and inventive step lie in a computer program. In order to make the committee’s intention clear, and to avoid any doubt as to what is intended, I propose that the computer program provision be amended so as to provide that only computer programs as such are ineligible for patent protection.”

The opposition was adamant that the change had completely cut across and changed what the select committee had recommended. And the consequences were said to be putting the software development industry at risk.

Clare Curran was the lead Labour spokesperson. One example she gave of an industry at risk was the games development one:

“The chair of the New Zealand Game Developers Association said: ‘We’ve learnt how to make money from business models like digital distribution, freemium, virtual goods and crowdfunding. Exporting and acting global from day one have been key to the industry’s growth.’ Ninety-seven percent of Kiwi games were digital downloads, with low distribution costs and high margins. Ninety-nine percent of sales revenue came from exports, with the USA and Europe being the largest markets.”

The trouble with that example is that the New Zealand patent law is only applicable in New Zealand. So (on her quoted figures) only one percent of the games developers’ sales revenues would be at risk from infringing someone else’s New Zealand patents. Any sales made in the USA or Europe are still going to be subject to the patent laws there.

Trevor Mallard joined the fray:

“What has become clear over the last few days is that this Government has been captured. This Minister has been captured by offshore people who are involved in the software industry.”

What Trevor Mallard did not mention was that he was a member of a Labour cabinet that agreed to a cabinet paper (Review of the Patents Act 1953 – Stage 3, Part 1)

that included the paragraph:

“50. There are, then, no strong arguments for specifically excluding business methods and software from patent protection. In light of this, I consider that business methods and software should continue to be patentable as long as they meet the requirements for patentability.”

It could equally be argued that the select committee had been “captured” by the software development lobby. And it should be remembered that the select committee was chaired by Lianne Dalziel, also a member of the same Labour cabinet that could see no strong arguments for excluding software from patent protection.

No Software Patents Petition

The opponents of software patents are quick on their feet. They set up a website:and collected over a thousand digital signatures asking that the “as such” wording proposed by the government be replaced so that it says that the exclusion:

“does not prevent an invention that makes use of an embedded computer program from being patentable.”

The origin of that wording is in the select committee report where the committee expressed some reservations about the effect of the ban. While embedded computer programs are an example of inventions relating to software as a means to an end, they do not represent all such inventions – and the exclusion would not be of much assistance in making the more general distinction.

Clare Curran tabled the no software patents petition during the course of the debate. She also introduced a Supplementary Order Paper seeking to amend the government amendment exactly as proposed in the petition. And then her colleague, Mr Mallard, accused the government of being captured by an interest group – not the first pot to call a kettle black.

Those who signed the petition might well consider the complexity of making the distinction between software as an end in itself and software as a means to an end in this post by Australian blogger, Mark Summerfield.

The No Software Patents contains a space for comments as well as for signing. There are several recurring themes in the comments. Many petitioners are under the mistaken impression that the original Patents Bill was introducing software patents for the first time:

“The potential introduction of software patents in New Zealand critically threatens our ability to innovate in the information technology field.”

“It greatly disturbs me to think we may bring in software patents to appease the Americans with the TPPA.”

Others are under the mistaken impression that inventions related to computer code as an end in itself would be patentable:

“Computer software programs are essentially mathematical algorithms, i.e. methods to solve problems. If software were to be patented, then any thought process can be patented – an absurd situation.”

“Computer software is nothing more than design decisions mixed with algorithms.”

Many expressed concerns about the complexity and costs of enforcing patents in international markets. While these concerns are real, any change in New Zealand patent law is not going to have the slightest effect on the laws of other countries or the players that seek to take advantage of them there.

I am left with the same feelings as Ken Perrot in this recent post:

The Labour opposition has sided with an ideological ghetto that has not taken the time or effort to try to understand both sides of the debate on the worth of patents.

Patents and Innovation

Jonathon Young was the only speaker who talked about the positive role of patents:

“Recently it was announced that the Advanced Technology Institute is going to be set up and established. It will be named after Sir Paul Callaghan, one of our great scientists. He said that science could make New Zealand a better place, and that is such a true thing. We are focused on boosting growth and creating jobs, and you do not do that just by talking about it. You have to innovate, you have to invest, and you have to then commercialise those inventions and those products in order to get the financial gain from them.”

One of the man objectives of the Patents Bill is to ensure that quality patents are granted. A quality patent is one that claims an invention that is novel, inventive and of a scope that is fairly based on what is described. I know of no patent attorneys who do not strive to get quality patents for their clients. But the policy development and debate have been single minedly focused on how to make it more difficult to get a patent in New Zealand and how to make it easier to block patents from being granted and to overturn granted patents. What if the balance has been tipped so far against patents that very few innovators can be bothered, or afford, to get patents? The Paul Callaghan Institute mentioned by Mr Young will have to overcome the higher barriers being set by this law in order to fulfil its roll of transferring its inventions to the firms that will commercialise them.

What this country needs is a change in culture that embraces technology transfer – both inwards and outwards – as a path to improving innovation and thereby increasing productivity. And we need to acknowledge that patents are the currency of that technology transfer.


An angel lines up in books’ corner Peter Kerr Sep 13

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Lisa Buchan and Mike Peters are looking to socialise books in a digital age with Literary Angels

Here are two aspects of books – an industry ripe for a social media makeover.

Firstly, chances are, if you’ve had a good read lately, you’ve told someone else about it.

Secondly, with the sometimes predicted death of printed books through e-books, the publishing industry is experiencing the same kind of digital disruptive change experienced by other industries…..and is desperately looking for new ways to engage with readers.

Hello Literary Angels – a newly launched Facebook facing (with other social media to be added) service looking to allow readers, publishers and authors to have a group hug, and promote and excite in this new bits and bytes world.

L.A. are the brainchild of longtime computer/IT involved friends, Lisa Buchan and Mike Peters under the Vangelizer label.

“Literary Angels go forth and promote books,” Buchan says. “They let people tell others what they may like. The main idea is to present a way to socialise a book.”

Buchan says, as is especially being seen in America with bookshops closing all over the place, there are increasingly few people working in the retail environment who can recommend books or genres for someone walking in off the street. LA is one way around this she says.

Like many things in life and the digital world, LA have a front end and backend.

How it works is, after having read and enjoyed a book (hardcopy or an e-book) a fan touches or scans a Q.R. (quick response) code. This takes them straight to the book’s LA page, and the fan can in turn select, via Facebook, friends they wish to inform about the book.

The same fan is also able to give away, for free, one copy of the book (which, when you think about it is what often happens with a paperback).

These (non-gifted) friends may purchase the book, and in turn create a virtuous circle of recommended reading.

Meanwhile, at the backend a publisher, literary publicist or author (or all three) can see any action carried out on that angel.

These include who has downloaded a sample chapter, clicked on a back page, clicked on the author page off Facebook.

“All this is incognito, as Facebook cannot give out personal attributes about a person without their express authorisation,” Buchan says. “The only time we do ask permission is when a person gives or receives a free e-book. That’s so people don’t set up a scam giving away thousands of books.”

In the four months of beta-testing, such permission hasn’t been an issue. Many avid readers like to be the first, to be noticed and noted as one step ahead. They’re happy to be identified as recommenders.

LA/Vangelizer’s business model is to charge a publisher and/or author. Publisher’s always have a publicity and advertising budget, the majority of which goes to the distribution and retailing side of things.

As publishers too look for a new way of connecting with readers, LA will pick up some of this spend Buchan says.

She and Peters have test-crash-dummied Wellington author John Draper’s new book Minstrel Boy using Literary Angels under an e-book model, and an English publisher has LA for a hard copy book ‘Harry Potter on Location’, a film location guide for the UK-made movies.

Buchan says as with all these types of new ventures, their team is learning by doing and as they do it.

Their main target is the Frankfurt book fair in early October.

“That’s when we’ll really launch publicly,” she says. “That will set the expectation, and we’ll be taking orders and getting angels out the door from late October.”


We’re the only protein production system that can say VISIT Peter Kerr Sep 11

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(This blog post also appears at www.pastureharmonies.org)

Forget the science, briefly, about our agriculture, even though that’s the wonderful legacy that has got us to where we are today.

Forget the rational.

Forget the food safety, the genetics of plants and animals, the fertiliser….all those things that are objective or measureable in their input and output.

For many of us, myself included, that’s a difficult thing. We’re programmed, almost obliged to look at the facts, to deal with what’s real.

Instead think emotions, hearts and minds, soul even when it comes to our farming.

Because that’s the trigger, hook, main consideration (even if they don’t realise it) for consumers.

In a sense, they don’t care about how a piece of meat ends up on their plate. They assume (correctly) that those technical aspects of creation and distribution take care of themselves.

(Heaven forbid that there’s a whole slicing and dicing industrial process that delivers that piece of protein – in a sense none of us want to overly dwell on that).

What they do care about is the imagery. The spirit. The essence.

And it is these intangible aspects that we’re completely failing to capture.

If we slightly modify what it is we think we offer to consumers (at least those with discretionary income who have a choice beyond cheap) we have an opportunity to prompt a passion, elicit a feeling.

That’s because consumers have a mental image of what a pastorally-based system looks like. The sun is shining, the water is clean, the animals are happy.

Indeed for the most part, the image matches the reality. From that point of view, we, our pastoral system, pasture Harmonies, is the only protein production system that can say VISIT. (It is also part of the reason you don’t see a picture of a beef feedlot or a chicken broiler barn, or soybean farm on advertising for these forms of protein).

We have nothing to hide, and from my experience, most NZ farmers welcome visitors. What you see is what you get and we don’t have to make up a story to match the reality.

We have the opportunity to globally represent responsible pastoralism.

We can own the word VISIT.

We can link into consumers’ emotions, and operate in that market space where price is less of an issue than perception.

To do that, we need to own our story.

But perhaps we’re too straight, too dour, too emotionless to go down this path, while all the time repeatedly trying to reinforce the science behind image.

Are we capable, as NZ Inc, of responding to the emotional cues consumers display in all their other purchases?


Relationship broking connects the dots between money and markets Peter Kerr Sep 06

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June Ranson often finds herself matchmaking between wealthy people from overseas and innovative New Zealand businesses

There’s a certain ‘tell me more’ aspect to June Ranson’s description of her business as being a relationship broker.

The managing director of Woburn International carries out many roles in what initially might be considered a licensed immigration advisory business.

But, as well as helping companies in New Zealand and overseas get hold of bright technical people, Ranson is also proud of the introduction and hand-holding function Woburn’s carried out in the past 12 of its 22 year existence.

To date she’s matched 13 overseas individuals and companies with opportunities in New Zealand – both to live and expand promising businesses looking to expand. Usually there’s several zeroes in the dollars being talked about.

Attending a recent Industrial Research Ltd innovation showcase, Ranson says she takes a long term approach to initially introducing the idea of an American, European or Asian investor thinking about a technology-savvy Kiwi company, and of them eventually taking up residency in New Zealand.

Technology-led New Zealand companies often need new investment to grow, and often the principals have no succession plan says the Lower Hutt based director, who is also on the Hutt Valley’s Chamber of Commerce executive.

Presentations about opportunities downunder

She often attends overseas conferences and gives presentations about the opportunities downunder, including a recent trip to Pheonix, Arizona.

“A lot of these people had never considered New Zealand,” she says. “I see one of my jobs as creating awareness to then enter a conversation. From that we can spark things further along.”

Given its experience and reputation, Ranson is aware of, or introduced to a number of New Zealand companies looking for the overseas investment and market distribution opportunities that Woburn offers she says.

“I’ve had others ask how we do it. The answer’s simple, hard work,” she says.

It also takes up to a couple of years between introducing New Zealand companies and lifestyle as an option and the final deal coming through.

But once investors become aware of New Zealand’s footprint into Asia and the excellence of many of the technology-led companies, these people with money and connections are keen to explore further.

The internet can provide an initial, simplistic idea of opportunities on both sides, but after that, “you have to talk to people face to face,” she says.

Woburn’s fee for such relationship brokering is a mix and match, depending on where the deal’s emphasis is.

She also occasionally finds herself becoming involved in matchmaking advice when an original venture discussion has broken up.

At this time too, as well as helping companies source talented staff, Woburn’s immigration advisory service kicks into full operation.

However, Ranson’s obviously keen on joining the dots between people and businesses who wouldn’t necessarily know the other exists.

“It’s hard work, but it is fun. You’re knocking on doors, connecting people to allow them to get places,” she says.

Note: this story originally appeared in Idealog; see here


So, tell me why we shouldn’t be global custodians of responsible pastoralism? Peter Kerr Sep 04

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(This is a copy of a new blog, pasture Harmonies, which can be found at www.pastureharmonies.org)

The purpose of this blog discussion is to debate whether New Zealand Inc should become global custodians of responsible pastoralism.

It is test the hypothesis that we have a golden opportunity to profitably unite around a common story and the reality embodied in our pastoral method.

To own the story I contend, first we must name it.

Instead however of debating what the name should be, a brand/name is proffered, and as shorthand for our entire story, an argument will be presented as to why we should go down this path. Hence, pasture Harmonies – a descriptor, a promise.

As with any hypothesis, any and all contentions are up for debate. The next few months is an opportunity to discuss this, and perhaps set up an ownership structure on behalf of NZ Inc.

pasture Harmonies can exist because of three major factors.

  1. The consumer currently has no way to have a ‘relationship’ with products from a pastoral origin, and just as importantly, the people who produce it
  2. There is no name, much like an ‘Intel Inside’ for example, for products that have a pasture-based start
  3. New Zealand has both the mandate and chance to stake a claim as global custodians of responsible pastoralism

The question is whether we can be brave enough to seize the opportunity – and completely reframe our offer to the world.

My contention is that by naming our story we will also provide ourselves with a strategic platform to escape the commodity spiral of death, and sell the knowledge alongside the agritech products we currently market.

To capture the opportunity inherent in the fact there’s an unclaimed global market position will take a change in our mindset however.

It would require that we collaborate – though given that there is probably a more money for us, as NZ Inc, to make from putting ourselves up as global custodians of responsible pastoralism – that could take care of itself.

Admittedly, we need to test the proposition.

But pasture Harmonies can act as a co-brand, through being an umbrella name/story, or in its case an underlying or bedrock truth that helps justify a meat, wool, milk or other product’s market price premium.

However, the major psychological change we’d have to make is realise, utterly, that we are selling much much more than a piece of meat or a milk product (if our dairy produce manages to be branded in front of a consumer!)

We have the opportunity to sell an ideal.

We can sell and have a consumer-oriented relationship that’s based on a romance + reassurance (which is the fantastic science behind our offer).

No New Zealand company can do this alone. Only together can we punch above our weight.

Or can we – perhaps we’re doomed to always looking in the rear view mirror?

What do you think?


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