Kiwi inventiveness patently apparent

JAZIAL CROSSLEY
Last updated 05:00 05/03/2013
Wellington builder Dean Hopkins shows off his patented iPhone app.
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

REVERSING INTO THE FUTURE: Wellington builder Dean Hopkins shows off his patented iPhone app.

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Wellingtonians are an inventive bunch, with many in the capital applying to patent ideas they could create income from.

In the year to July 2012, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand received 6253 patent applications, compared with 6163 a year earlier.

Last year, 124 were filed from the Wellington region and only 27 were accepted.

None had been rejected, but some applications could have been abandoned if an objection was raised they were too similar to an existing idea.

A Wellington invention successfully patented was a meat-stretching device that could manipulate the shape of cuts of meat to improve tenderness and colour while controlling the portion size.

The system behind Im-Able's stroke-recovery bilateral exerciser, the Able-X, was one of the patents successfully approved last year, although it was originally filed in March 2010.

Dean Hopkins, of Trentham and a builder by trade, patented a camera-safety system for tracking the area behind a vehicle using a mounted camera and transmitting the data to an iPhone or other device on the driver's dashboard.

He patented several ideas in the past including building products for putting up bracing Gib board and stand-up timber frames.

The idea for his vehicle-reversing camera system came while he was driving. The poor quality of his truck's built-in camera compared with his iPhone camera's strong image made him think of linking a camera to the Apple device.

"You don't have to fully make the idea, you have to just secure the idea. Then if you want to go down the track of development further you can, it all depends on money."

Hopkins cautioned it was hard to get patents, unless an idea was particularly unusual. His patent application came up against a forward-looking camera, from the United States, for mounting on bicycles, as potentially conflicting. Each time a conflict came up, it cost more in lawyer fees to update the application. "You'd be surprised what could be close to your idea that's got nothing to do with your idea."

Intellectual property specialist law firm A J Park partner Matt Adams deals with patents for ICT and engineering inventions.

He said about five ideas a week came through to his Wellington office, which worked with several organisations that developed intellectual property such as Callaghan Innovation, VicLink and Creative HQ.

He described his job as helping people grow their ideas and develop a strategy for commercialising their concepts once they had decided if it was a work to be copyrighted, a trade secret that should be kept hushed, or an innovative product, function or process that would need to be patented.

"There is a lot of finding problems and solving them," Adams said. "Typically we would have an initial meeting to sort out what it is they want to do to make sure their business structure is right and their intellectual-property strategy is right."

Callaghan Innovation applies for between 20 and 60 international patents a year. Its general manager of industry engagement, Gavin Mitchell, said patenting was an important form of intellectual-property protection, but not the only method.

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"Overall, it is very important to develop a sound IP strategy that may or may not involve patenting.

"Choosing patenting as the approach boils down to whether it's commercially sensible or economical to do so from a business point of view. Considerations might include a company's needs to formalise intangible IP assets to facilitate capital-raising."

Patent application costs varied but using a lawyer could cost between $5000 and $10,000.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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