Thinking | 22 May 2020

Innovation and intellectual property: towards a greener future

By Ben Hamilton and Alicia Bray

The close relationship between intellectual property and innovation is no secret. Intellectual property rights can promote innovation, including by protecting innovators.

In celebration of the recent World Intellectual Property Day, with the spotlight this year on innovation for a green future, we took the opportunity to reflect on the role intellectual property can play in contributing to environmental sustainability. We spoke to a number of organisations who are active in this space to highlight how they are using IP to contribute to a greener future.

SNFL Australia Pty Ltd – plant breeder’s rights (PBR)

SNFL Australia is part of the SNFL Group, a leading breeder of new and innovative table grape varieties.

According to Rachael McClintock, General Manager of SNFL Australia, demand for table grapes has grown from both a consumer and farming perspective over recent years, with grape varieties continuing to develop and improve. SNFL Group has utilised advances in genetic technology to continue to create new varieties of high quality grapes.

The key legal rights which underpin the investment and subsequent exploitation of these new varieties in Australia are found under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994 (Cth). A grant of PBR confers exclusive rights over the propagating material of a protected variety throughout Australia.

SNFL Group has four commercial grape breeding collections worldwide – Sheehan, Australis, Navsel and Genesis. The Sheehan collection is SNFL’s main collection, containing around 15 high quality grape varieties, including four of the most popular seedless varieties sold in association with the following trade marks: Ivory, Great Green, Timpson and Allison.

Rachael McClintock believes the continued development of new varieties of grapes has the potential to result in:

  • longer lasting grapes, allowing increased export opportunities (which is significant given table grapes are Australia’s second largest horticultural export crop) and reduced food wastage;
  • improved fruit quality (with larger, sweeter and crisper grapes) resulting in a better consumer experience;
  • even fruit quality, resulting in less food wastage and improved utilisation of natural resources (such as land and water);
  • more resilient plants, with improved disease resistance and less chemicals required during the farming process; and
  • greater health benefits, due to antioxidants and resveratrol being bred into the grapes.

PlastOil Australasia Ltd and Plastoil Australia Pty Ltd – licensee of patented technology

PlastOil Australasia has an exclusive licence from PlastOil EU to exploit innovative patented technology to supply and manufacture agile processing plants to assist in recycling plastic waste.  The technology turns plastic waste into a valuable hydrocarbon oil, which can then be blended for fuel used in generators, ships, trains, power turbines and boilers for generating electricity, or directly used on roads or as a lubricant.

According to Arjuna Wimalasuriya, Managing Director of PlastOil Australia, the technology can be used flexibly in various contexts, including in any municipality, due to the agile purpose-built turn-key plants. These turn-key plants are relocatable, modular and physically the size of a 20 foot (6 metre) container.

The processing plant, which is essentially odourless and silent in operation, is based on low-pressure depolymerisation and reverses the plastic making process to convert it to its original state, oil.

Arjuna says working with high efficiency and minimum emissions and residue, the processing plant and technology can:

  • process plastics which cannot be recycled or are difficult and uneconomical to recycle, such as polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene;
  • contribute significantly to the reduction of plastic waste going to landfill;
  • reduce transportation costs as plastic waste can be processed on site; and
  • process 1,000 kilograms of waste plastic per day, with an output of 1,000 litres.

Australasian Bioplastics Association Inc (ABA) – registered trade marks

The ABA is the peak industry body for the bioplastics industry in Australia and New Zealand, and advocates for the appropriate use of bioplastics, whether certified compostable (and therefore biodegradable), biobased (based on renewable resources), or both. The ABA administers a voluntary compostability verification program which involves the licencing of its trade marks to certain users once certain conditions are met.

Organisations can apply to the ABA for verification of conformance with the relevant standards and, if compliant, licence the ABA’s trade marks for use on their products. Rowan Williams, President of the ABA, explains that some of the benefits arising from the use of the ABA’s trade marks include that the trade marks signify compliance to consumers purchasing and disposing of goods and give confidence to organics recyclers who receive certified products at end of life for use in products such as potting mixes, composts and soil conditioners.

According to Rowan, unlike conventional plastics, ABA verified and subsequently certified compostable products, will fully biodegrade due to the presence of microorganisms. These microorganisms are an inherent feature of certified compostable or certified soil biodegradable bioplastic. When the bioplastics break down, you are left with small amounts of carbon dioxide, water and biomass.

According to Rowan:

  • diversion of food waste from landfill, in using certified compostable products such as waste bags or garbage bags to source separate food waste in the home or commercial premises, has many environmental benefits such as reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the amount of organic material that can be returned to soils;
  • the use of compostable end-of-life products for soils supports climate change mitigation, reduces water use and reduces the need for fertiliser; and
  • the production of certified soil biodegradable bioplastic mulch films (which are used in growing fruit and vegetable crops) offers an alternative to conventional non-recyclable plastics.

Tyre Stewardship Australia Limited (TSA) – funding research and development

TSA operates a voluntary, Australian industry-led tyre product stewardship scheme, which is committed to developing innovative solutions for end-of-life tyres which have traditionally been a waste product.

By collecting a voluntary levy from certain tyre importers and auto-brands for passenger and truck tyres sold in Australia, TSA aims to increase resource recovery and develop new markets and uses for end-of-life tyres in an environmentally sustainable manner.

In order to achieve these outcomes, TSA operates a market development and research fund for initiatives that lead to higher demand for tyre-derived products and processes, with applications for funding open to applicants at various stages of development projects.

Lina Goodman, Chief Executive Officer of TSA, explains how these initiatives encourage innovation and have resulted in the creation of various intellectual property rights, including the filing and grant of a number of patents for funding recipients. To date, TSA has committed over AU $5 million towards new projects, which has resulted in end-of-life tyres being recycled for use in roads, pavements, equine tracks, blasting and construction.

Lina says some of the benefits arising from the work being conducted by TSA include:

  • fostering continued innovation in Australia of solutions that increase demand for end-of-life tyres, including through the creation of valuable intellectual property;
  • the reduction of waste by recycling end-of-life tyres which would otherwise go to landfill into valuable products; and
  • increasing investment within Australia, which has the potential to result in new jobs and export opportunities.

The organisations and activities mentioned above illustrate how important IP can be in encouraging innovation, and the commercial and environmental benefits that may ensue.

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