Getting science from CSIRO isn’t just about start-ups

A crop of BarleyMax™ in the field

BarleyMax™ crop in the field Credit: Carl Davies

By Jan Bingley, general manager of business development and commercial at CSIRO

I learned a long time ago that “commercialisation” is a greatly misunderstood activity. Most often, it is interpreted narrowly as the process of developing IP, protecting it in the form of patents and licensing them for royalties or equity in start-ups.

It’s not surprising that commercialisation is seen this way. Many universities and publicly funded research agencies continue to measure performance by counting the number of royalty-bearing licences, number of start-ups formed and the revenue received each year from these transactions. Indeed we do it here in Australia via the National Survey of Research Commercialisation published by the federal government. The largest association for university commercialisation – the Association of University Technology Managers – measures this annually via its large commercialisation survey covering hundreds of North American Universities.

However, the comparison between CSIRO’s annual revenue and the revenue received from commercialisation transactions published in this forum on July 7, is based on misunderstandings and is misleading. About 34 per cent of CSIRO’s annual revenue, just over $400 million, is provided by our industry partners and other clients to fund specific collaborative R&D projects. The balance is provided by the federal government. CSIRO has hundreds of collaborations every year with industry – both big and small – and every one of them is all about commercialisation. Alongside our industry partners, we identify the problems that need solving, work together to solve them, and the resulting IP – in the form of know-how as well as protectable IP – rests with the industry partner. Those partners may go on to develop it further, often involving many more years and millions of dollars to reap the commercial benefits.

CSIRO sometimes secures a future financial benefit as a reward for collaborating with an industry partner, but in revenue terms this will be tiny. However, in impact, having an industry partner go on to become bigger, better and stronger is what CSIRO strives to achieve. This is why we continue to enjoy considerable government funding. We are here to assist industry for the benefit of Australia and Australians. Industry in all its forms – not just start-ups.

It is rare that CSIRO develops IP in its own right: most of our IP has been developed in collaboration with our partners and is therefore encumbered through that collaborative activity. This means that CSIRO’s patent portfolio is not littered with “Rembrandts in the attic” that some think we must be hiding. Occasionally, we see an opportunity to generate impact through licensing to start-ups and we are immensely proud of the success of these start-ups and the impact they are generating for Australia .

OUR PATENTS ARE OFTEN SCIENCE-BASED

There are numerous examples of start-ups that have benefited from licensing IP from CSIRO – BuildingIQ, Benitec, Radiata, Starpharma, Windlab, BarleyMax, Advantage Wheats, GeoSLAM, and many others. CSIRO can improve on its licensing regime to ensure we are as efficient as possible when transacting with start-ups. We are learning from this feedback and we’ve taken steps to address this, including coming up with standard licence terms. However, it is wrong to think CSIRO’s patent portfolio is the answer to generating more start-ups in Australia. Our patents are often very science-based, far away from productisation and require significant amounts of money and time before any prospect of commercial returns are possible. In short, our patents are rarely suited to a start-up model.

I’ve been approached over the years by many entrepreneurs looking for an opportunity to commercialise our IP – only very occasionally has this engagement resulted in spotting something in the portfolio suited to a start-up model. On average, we license our technology to two or three start-ups each year (a high rate in comparison to most publicly funded research agencies). CSIRO’s mission is to deliver innovative solutions for Australia’s industry, society and environment through great science – we’re about doing Science for Impact. Getting our science out of CSIRO and into the hands of businesses – big and small – that have the resources to go on and commercialise (use) the science for positive impact for their business and therefore generate positive outcomes for Australia and Australians.

We also partner extensively with established Australian SME’s so they can access CSIRO’s extensive know-how and intellectual horse-power to better their businesses – in some cases we even provide funds to those SMEs so they can access innovation to ultimately become bigger, more competitive companies. CSIRO’s SME Engagement Centre assists small to medium Australian enterprises by identifying and connecting companies to technical expertise and resources, defining technical issues, developing research projects for industry and providing guidance around access to funding for research.

If CSIRO receives small amounts of revenue in recognition of our involvement along the way, that’s great as we reinvest that into new science. But it is by no means a measure of the significant impact we seek to generate from taxpayer funds in research. The real impact of commercialisation is not the narrow discussion about royalty earnings, it’s about benefits to the economy and society. One of our best known inventions is our WLAN patent that has earned $425 million in licensing revenue, but in evaluating the success of this invention we also have to take into account the value created by the fact that our wireless technology enables over seven billion devices around the world.

Think about how much that CSIRO invention is the basis of today’s connectivity – how we each use it, every day. Now that’s impact.

This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review 22 July 2014


How did Australia’s plants and animals get to be so unique?

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 2: Major Features

Australia is known for its weird and wonderful critters and plant life – the kangaroo, platypus, Banksias, wattles, emu… the list could go on and on. But how did these icons come to evolve in the ways that they did? Science can help us piece together the story.

In the millions of years since Australia separated from Antarctica and drifted north, our continent’s biodiversity has evolved mostly in isolation, while periodically taking on new ‘passengers’ from Asia.

In the second video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Leo Joseph talks about the factors that have shaped the life we find on our continent, and how new technology is revealing more than ever:

To find out more about the major features of Australia’s biodiversity, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

You can also review the other videos in the series.


Five uses for WiFi even we didn’t see coming

CSIRO_Wifi_highres-01-01 Remember the internet of the 90s? When browsing online meant being stuck at your desk with your whiz-bang 56k modem. It was an era without smartphones, without tablets – some might say, without freedom.

Luckily the clever folks in our labs came up with a little something called WiFi using the same mathematics that astronomers initially applied to piece together the waves from black holes (for more on the WiFI story click on our handy infographic on the right).

While WiFi has given us the freedom to work wirelessly in our homes, offices and out-and-about, it has also inspired a few other – err, interesting – innovations. Here’s a few that even we didn’t see coming:

  1. No more queuing for beer at the footy – thanks to a digital upgrade at Adelaide Oval, sports fans won’t even have to get out of their seats to order a drink. Or hot chips.
  2. Keeping Rover happy – this WiFi enabled system is a fully autonomous robotic dog sitter complete with video conferencing capabilities, remote tug-o-war, ball fetch mechanism, and treat dispenser.
  3. The humble bathroom scale has taken a leap forward – why waste energy (and calories) having to get up to manually record your weight when your wireless bathroom scale can do it for you?
  4. Did someone say bionic butler? For a couple of hundred thou’, this guy will get you a drink and even flip your pancakes.
  5. Yep, it’s a WiFi rabbit. We’re sure he’s useful in some way. We just can’t figure out what it is yet.

Find out more about how we invented and patented wireless LAN technology on our website.


The challenge of sorting fact from fiction on coal seam gas

Fracking site wellhead

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

By Alex Wonhas, CSIRO

Can you match the following three statements with the answers just below?

  1. Coal seam gas is bad for the environment and we should all protest against its use.
  2. Genetically modified foods are a part of multinational plans to take over the world’s food supply.
  3. Wind farms are dangerous to human health and should be restricted.

a) Yes, everyone knows it is bad news.
b) Well, I used to think that, but now I wonder if I was being manipulated by interest groups playing upon my emotions.
c) I’m not really sure about that. I think there is more misinformation than information around.

I’m guessing if you passed these questions around at your family dinner table, you’d match different statements with different answers. This is largely because we tend to look for answers that suit our views – and often form our views based on what our “tribe” thinks.

But imagine a new technology came along – let’s call it Technology X – that could provide a source of energy for Australia, but which comes with social and environmental impacts. How would you form your opinion on it?

You might consider doing your own research, but be quickly overwhelmed by the amount of information for and against, and not know quite what to believe. At that point you might look for the opinion of somebody you trusted, or make a decision based on your intuition. In this article I encourage you to form your own opinion based on your own and independent assessment of the facts.

Our rational and emotional brains

Our intuition is a useful thing that has served us well for tens of thousands of years, keeping us from wandering out of our warm caves into the dark and dangers of the night – but it is something that has become less suited to the modern high-technology world.

We like to think we are rational beings. But when faced with uncertainty, we still have a tendency to make decisions based on emotions, before looking for information to support our decision; even sticking with that decision when data proves it is wrong.

What if we were able to put that aside and make decisions on contentious issues, such as coal seam gas, based on our own individual assessment of the data?

What is conventional versus non-conventional gas?. The Grattan Institute, Getting Gas Right, June 2013.

As with any issue, there are interest groups on all sides that would have you believe that they are the only people providing a true interpretation of the data.

Yet despite differences on interpretations, there are some common things we should be able to agree on about unconventional forms of gas, including coal seam gas and the process of hydraulic fracturing (often nicknamed fracking or fraccing). Some of these coal seam gas facts include that:

  • There are clear benefits and there are clear risks.
  • There are many overstated benefits and there are many over-stated risks.
  • There are impacts on the economy, environment and communities, and it is not really possible to talk about one without including the others.
  • Despite all the things we know, there are still some unknowns.

Putting bad science to the test

A healthy approach to any contentious issue is to treat all information as possibly coming from a self-interested point of view, until you can confirm it or not.

There are some great resources for testing the claims of dubious alternative medicines, such as Quack Watch and of the claims of major pharmaceutical companies such as Bad Science. But where do you go to test the claims being made about unconventional gas?

I’d start by saying look at the calibre of the data, rather than the source. What studies support the statements being made? Who conducted them? Where were they published? Has any independent source agreed with the claims, or disputed them? When figures are given, do they give all the information needed?

As well as giving this scrutiny to statements you’re a bit uncertain of, it’s also useful to apply it to those that appeal to you.

Deciding whether coal seam gas is good or bad is wholly dependent on the individual’s definition of the words “good” or “bad”.

It is in the interests of the industry to make you believe that coal seam gas is good for Australia, while the opposite is true for other groups. The role of scientists, and organisations such as the CSIRO, is to act as an honest broker and try to bring some clarity to the debate.

We know that coal seam gas can be used as a source of energy and that Australia has vast reserves. But we also know that its development can have environmental and socio-economic impacts on our rural communities.

CSIRO’s aim is to inform the community, government and industry about the risks and opportunities that stem from developing Australia’s unconventional gas resources.

It is a complex issue, and a divisive one. There are things we know and there are things we don’t.

So what would you like to know? Please leave your questions and comments below, and let’s start the discussion.

Alex Wonhas will be available between 3-4pm AEST today (Tuesday 22nd July) to answer your questions about coal seam gas, fracking, or other issues related to unconventional gas.

Alex Wonhas oversees a team that receives funding from the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA), which is a collaborative vehicle co-funded by CSIRO, Australia Pacific LNG Pty Ltd and QGC to undertake research that addresses the social and environmental impacts of Australia’s natural gas industry. The partners in GISERA have invested more than A$14 million over five years to research the environmental, social and economic impacts of the natural gas industry. GISERA projects are overseen by an independent and publicly transparent Research Advisory Committee and made publicly available after undergoing CSIRO’s peer-review process.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Climate models – why they’re not just hot air

We rely a lot on climate models. They not only help us understand our present climate, but also allow us to understand possible future conditions and how different regions of our planet are likely to be impacted by climate change.

Having access to this information is vital for the community, government and industries to make informed decisions – sectors like tourism, farming and transportation to name a few.

As useful as these tools are, the reality is that the Earth’s climate system is incredibly complicated. It is affected by an infinite number of variations in the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, ice, and biosphere.  How these factors interact with one another, and our socio-economic decisions, further complicates the issue.

Our climate system is affected by variations in the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, ice and biosphere.

Our climate system is affected by variations in the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, ice and biosphere.

In the absence of a twin Earth to use as an experimental control, simulations are the only method we have to understand the future.

Using observed data, advanced algorithms and software systems, scientists have been developing and refining these valuable climate models for years. However in recent times, there has been conjecture about a key aspect of the reliability of these models; whether they are accurately predicting temperature trends?

A new study, published today in Nature Climate Change, shows that yes in fact, they are.

According to the study’s lead author Dr James Risbey, the key to evaluating decadal climate variations  is recognising the difference between climate forecasts and climate projections.

He explains that climate forecasts track the detailed evolution of a range of factors, including natural variations like El Niño and La Niña (which put simply is, warm water sloshing around the ocean). This is important because in El Niño and La Niña dominated periods, temperature trends will naturally speed up and slow down.

climate model

A visualisation of temperature projections for a mid-level greenhouse gas emission scenario (ACCESS)

“Climate projections, on the other hand, capture natural variations, but have no information on their sequence and timing. Since these can impact the climate on a short timescale as much as human activities, their omission from projections creates a mismatch with observed trends. In other words, comparing the two wouldn’t pass the old ‘apples with apples’ test,” he said.

For this latest study, James and his colleagues looked at a range of different climate models that were in phase with natural variability. In doing so, they were able to make meaningful comparisons between model projections and observed trends.

Their analysis showed that in these instances climate models have been very accurate in predicting trends in our climate over the past half century. In other words, climate change models are a lot more than hot air.

Fine out more about our research into climate in our recent report State of the Climate: 2014.

Media Contact: Simon Torok +61 409 844 302 or simon.torok@csiro.au


Three ways we’re helping combat diabetes

When it comes to our greatest fears, we’re not a particularly logical bunch. Surveys commonly show that we tremble at the thought of public speaking, creepy crawlies or visiting the dentist.

Diabetes_Book_CoverV2

While we understand that these fears are irrational, these aspects of life still seem to get our stomach churning.
Conversely, one area many of us don’t seem too worried about is our health. In particular, the very real risk of developing diabetes.

A new survey has shown that nearly 80 per cent of Australian adults do not believe they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is despite evidence that over 2 million of us already have pre-diabetes and are at high risk, and many more Australians are at medium risk of being diagnosed with this serious condition.

While these figures are concerning, the good news is that in almost 60 per cent of cases, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through early detection or lifestyle changes. Making simple adjustments to reduce weight and improve health can make a huge difference to your outlook.

This is where we come in. Through our research, we’re coming up with practical ways to help everyday Australians combat diabetes. These include:

  1. Our Diabetes Diet and Lifestyle Plan –  a guide to help Australians make the best diabetes management choices, in order to live full and satisfying lives. It’s got all sorts of helpful info, including how the glycemic index works.
  2. Our Diabetes Recipe Book this collection of recipes will help you manage your weight and feed your family and friends healthy, satisfying and tasty food. It contains a variety of yummy meals such as this teriyaki pork and stir fried greens.
  3. Our research is leading to new products that are keeping you healthy such as BARLEYmax – a natural wholegrain with enhanced nutritional benefits. BARLEYmax contains twice the dietary fibre of regular grains, four times the resistant starch and has a low GI.
Grilled salmon

Grilled salmon with crunchy cabbage salad from the CSIRO and Baker IDI diabetes recipe book.

This week is National Diabetes Week, which aims to raise awareness of the seriousness and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Check your risk here or learn more about other ways  CSIRO is keeping you healthy.


From critters to creeks – everything you need to know about our sunburnt country

Whether it’s bagging a barramundi, eye-balling an emu, or sitting under a snow gum, Australians love getting out amongst nature, and our scientists are no different. For nearly 90 years we’ve been counting, tracking, measuring, recording, and analysing Australia’s amazing plants and animals. And in that time, you’ll be glad to hear we’ve learnt a thing or two. In fact, we’ve learnt so much we’ve written a whole book about them!

Front cover of the CSIRO's Biodiversity BookLaunched today, Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia aims to provide the latest scientific knowledge on Australia’s biodiversity in an engaging and clear format. The book describes the ancient origins and unique features of Australia’s plants, animals and ecosystems, and looks at how they are currently tracking. It highlights indigenous perspectives on biodiversity and describes how Australia’s biodiversity interacts with agriculture, the resources sector, cities and with our changing global environment. Perhaps most importantly, it also identifies practical solutions for managing Australia’s globally unique natural assets.

We’re so keen to share what we’ve learnt that we’ve made the book available for free. You can download your free copy from www.csiro.au/biodiversitybook. The book is available as PDFs or as an interactive eBook, which contains interviews with the authors, links to additional videos, animations and articles, and detailed information about every species mentioned in the book via the Atlas of Living Australia.

Prefer to watch and listen rather than read? Then the good news for you is that today we’re also launching a series of video interviews that will give you an insight into different aspects of biodiversity – from farming, to forestry to fishing. If you like what you see and hear you can then download the relevant chapter to learn more.

First up is an interview with Dr Steve Morton who explains what biodiversity is and why it is important to all of us, often for different reasons.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,807 other followers