Australian Innovation

Commercialisation - The pendulum keeps swinging

Commercialisation has fallen in and out of favour over the years, often depending on the state of the national economy and government budgets. After several years of uncertainty surrounding the outlook for the commercialisation of new ideas and research in Australia, commercialisation still remains in the headlines, and is once more demonstrating its potential to play a valuable role in national economic development.

Over the past year, both the University of Queensland and CSIRO each recognised incoming royalty payments exceeding $100M for their successful licensing of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil and IEEE 802.11 wireless networking technologies respectively. Both revenue streams are “home runs” for the institutions, and will be used to help fund new research and development that will further strengthen the national interest and support the development of Australia’s scientific endeavours.

Since its inception in 2002, the Australian Institute for Commercialisation (AIC) has been working with researchers, entrepreneurs and governments to help create a culture where commercialisation and industry engagement is widely practiced, and to provide services to help convert know-how and intellectual property into products and services that benefit the community. Throughout that time, a notable gap has been substantive funding support for ideas at the stage where they are ready to be developed into a demonstrator model, known as a proof of concept.

Since the announcement of  the $196 Million Commercialisation Australia (CA) initiative in May 2009, a number of new commercialisation projects have received funding However, the venture capital markets still remain dormant and many hundreds of potentially worthwhile initiatives have received no seed capital.

Commercialisation Australia is providing funding to support the development of proof of concept, and assistance to fill the void that has prevented numerous ideas reaching the stage where further investment from the private sector can be obtained. A key requirement is that firms applying for funding be able to demonstrate “need”, i.e. that they would not be able to proceed with commercialisation in the absence of such funding. A second requirement is that research has been completed, so that technical risk has been reduced. This is a sensible requirement, and consistent with the Australian Government’s moves to reshape the R&D tax concession towards firms undertaking genuine R&D.

The primary commercialisation pathway adopted by CA is to provide grants to early stage companies - a venture capital model. This technology-push approach complements the commercialisation pathways encouraged through AIC services, which focus more on demand-pull and the progression of new ideas and IP through to commercialisation within existing companies. The AIC also provides a full suite of commercialisation support services such as market research and IP strategy that many of CA’s companies will find helpful for their growth.

This article was extracted from the AIC’s 2009/10 Annual Review – a full copy of the review can be viewed here.

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