Australian start-ups are often cash-poor – and IP costs money. We get that. To that end, Spruson & Ferguson’s “Cleantech” team is constantly on the lookout for ways in which our local start-up community can combine the “necessary evil” of expenditure on intangible assets with funding sources specifically dedicated to such purposes. With ARENA, we may just have found one.

What is ARENA?

One of the most critical steps for any start-up is finding the capital to successfully bring a new product to market. This is especially true for renewable energy projects which typically require significant R&D expenditure to produce a viable product and test it on a commercially-relevant scale. The Australian Government has recognised this entry barrier and has established the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (“ARENA”) to assist Cleantech innovators in bringing their ideas to fruition. ARENA funds projects that advance renewable energy technologies along the innovation chain, from the early research stage in the lab to the later demonstration stage in the field.

Criteria for eligibility

Successful applicants for ARENA funding must be able to demonstrate that their project satisfies the following three fundamental criteria:

  1. The project is innovative or novel;
  1. Has a clear pathway to commercialisation; and
  1. Has the ability to unlock future investment.

Establishing these points helps validate the project as one that is potentially commercially-viable and therefore worthy of taxpayers’ support.

Priority for ARENA funding is given to applicants based on the alignment of their project objectives with ARENA’s investment priorities. The four current investment priorities for ARENA are:

  • Delivering secure and reliable electricity; including grid stability technologies that could balance the grid with higher shares of renewable energy, new ways to evolve electricity grids to integrate more distributed energy sources, and projects that provide knowledge and information relevant to deliberations on energy policy, market rules, regulation or network practices and procedures.
  • Accelerating solar PV innovation; including new technologies and tools to reduce installed costs of PV systems, improve system reliability and longevity and develop materials for new markets or applications as well as opportunities to translate thee ideas into PV manufacturing supply chains.
  • Improving energy productivity; accelerated improvements in energy productivity and adoption of renewable energy by industry, innovative building technology, improved energy productivity in the transport sector, and opportunities to improve energy productivity and integrate renewable energy by optimising value chains across sectors.
  • Exporting renewable energy; including innovative technologies to improve cost and efficiency of using renewable energy to supply export value chains and feasibility studies for first-of-a-kind projects that use renewable energy to supply export value chains.

How can patents help Australian start-ups obtain ARENA funding?

Establishing that a project involves novel and innovative ideas is the first fundamental criterion for ARENA funding eligibility. These ideas form a basis for the other two fundamental criteria in that they provide a point of distinction and advantage in the marketplace, opening the door to future investment and highlighting a pathway to commercialisation. The novel and innovative aspects of the project can often be embodied as intellectual property, which are, in effect, an asset (and indeed for many start-ups, the only asset). Intellectual property can be documented and protected through registrable rights such as patents for inventions.

Seeking patent protection through a patent application therefore helps demonstrate the novelty and inventiveness of an idea by documenting the intellectual property assets relating to a project from which investment can be attracted and a commercialisation pathway developed. As a bonus, the investment in the intellectual property can be recouped by funding obtained through a successful ARENA funding application.