Last week Wrays was pleased to take part in neXTek, a one day forum including exhibitions, talks, workshops, short courses and networking aimed at providing an insight into the best technology available, current innovations, and what’s on the horizon in the resources industry. Wrays’ Principals Peter Caporn and Albert Ferraloro, in partnership with the Resources Innovation Group (RIG), presented a well-attended workshop on how to leverage your innovation in the resources sector.

A number of key themes emerged through questions at the workshop and in discussions that arose at the Wrays’ booth and with other exhibitors. These included:

  • Those operating in resources are generally aware of intellectual property (IP), including patents, copyright and confidential information, in broad terms. However, exactly what these rights are, and how to get the most out of them to create and sustain value, is poorly understood.
  • Resource sector companies need to understand the importance of Freedom to Operate (FTO) reviews (whether or not they have developed and protected their own IP rights). This is a critical business step when providing solutions to ‘big mining’, for example, as their terms and conditions of engagement often require the 3rd party supplier to provide warranties and indemnities in respect of IP validity and infringement.
  • The ability and need to conduct at least some level of patent searching was appreciated by most attendees. However, the range of resources that is available for patent searching was poorly understood, as was the potential impact of what was locate during that searching. Not many appreciated the structure and function of a patent specification and how to interpret the breadth of coverage it provides to the patent owner or licensee.
  • There remains an ongoing need to clarify that patent rights do not confer an automatic right to commercialise, they instead confer a right to exclude. FTO reviews and searching are still required to minimise risks of infringement of 3rd party IP rights.
  • Companies developing IP/solutions still need to appreciate that they should properly capture, codify and suitably protect their valuable IP assets, and in a timely manner. Many are still not addressing this properly or are only doing so in a reactionary manner when something negative happens to them.

The challenging times in resources continue to be difficult for all involved, including ‘big mining’. Conditions have caused most of these companies to significantly downsize their permanent workforce, including those tasked with addressing key problems/technical challenges in their industries. These companies now look externally to draw on specific expertise – which brings with it problems in terms of whether it is available on terms that they are happy with and, with the reliance on consultants, a range of IP issues arise.

Despite what may be said by governments, the feedback we received during the neXTek event is that times will remain challenging for resources in Australia and overseas for some time to come. Of course, how those in resources choose to address these challenges is likely to continue to generate significant levels of IP – which will ideally be captured and put to good use in building value for the future.