29 May 2019

Lessons for IP commercialisation from the LESANZ Annual Conference

This article was written by Scott Bouvier, James Ellsmore, Karen Litherland.

The Licensing Executives Society Australia & New Zealand held its annual conference in Brisbane this month.  The three-day event was a fantastic opportunity for attendees to learn about the latest trends and developments in licensing and commercialisation practices, as well as network, attend training events and catch-up with clients and colleagues.  Sydney-based senior associate James Ellsmore and Brisbane-based solicitor Karen Litherland attended the conference.

While the agenda was diverse, here are five interesting talking points from the conference.

Businesses are still doing a bad job capturing and protecting intangible assets

Businesses typically do a poor job in identifying, managing and reducing risks around intangible assets.  Most C-suite executives focus on identifying, managing and protecting tangible assets and are doing so at the expense of intangible assets.  In the words of one presenter, intangible assets have “low boardroom visibility” and in the opinion of another, directors are failing in their corporate responsibilities if they aren’t identifying and protecting those assets.  Intangible assets include not only registered IP rights like patents and trade marks but are much broader than this and include systems and processes, data, software, regulatory approvals, know how, content, customer information and relationships.

Legal support should be built in to all stages of commercialisation process

Businesses and organisations are setting themselves up for failure if they don't involve legal until the final stages of a transaction.  Commercial teams need to be more proactive about bringing their colleagues with legal training into the commercialisation process at earlier stages – to help craft the product R&D lifecycle, provide input on strategic issues and ensure the project does not run into any legal dead ends.

How do you make a new technology or business more investible?

This was a theme explored in a number of presentations.  In short:

  • Shore up the chain of title to all intangible assets.  This requires good practices and procedures – as well as discipline on the part of IP managers and technology transfer offices.
  • Have conversations with investors at earlier stages.  Such conversations might guide the commercial team on a quicker path to market, help them identify research priorities and make the opportunity more appealing to investors in the long run.
  • Spend each dollar as if it’s your last.  Yes, you have to spend money but this doesn't mean cost control isn’t necessary or that a founder should splurge on a new house. 

People, people, people

The importance of hiring and supporting the best possible management team was a strong theme from the final day of the conference.  Businesses – whether established or in the start-up phase – need to recruit and hire the best possible people, even if the person doing the hiring is threatened by the skills and experience of the new recruit.  The difficulties of finding the right executive with the necessary skills was a problem that reverberated with a number of attendees.  There isn’t any easy solution to this but it was clear, if someone is not performing, poor performance cannot be allowed to continue and the poor performer must be let go as soon as possible.

Don't be overly concerned about the repeal of the IP exemption to Australia’s competition laws

That was the message from the ACCC.  In an eagerly anticipated presentation, the ACCC’s representative set the scene by reminding attendees that prior to its repeal, the exemption was restricted to limited forms of IP rights and anticompetitive conduct.  They also explained that the ACCC’s default position is that licensing IP rights, and commercialising new technologies, is pro-competitive because it encourages competition and innovation.  When the exemption period ends later this year, the ACCC will focus on education and compliance.  For more on this topic, read our more detailed blog post here.


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