Australia’s Net Inventor Loss – a must read for both sides of politics

by Mike88Jul 19, 2013

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Dear Election Candidates

I would like to draw your attention to the following graph. The graph shows the net immigration and emigration by  inventors who have filed patents in PCT Countries (Patent Co-operation Treaty) from 2001-2010.

Net Inventor Migration by Country

Net Inventor Migration by Country

What this graph illustrates is that the USA, Switzerland, Singapore, Belgium and Finland are kicking our asses in attracting new inventive talent and keeping their existing talent. Focus on the black dots, they show the net gain or loss of inventors.

Australia had a small net decline in inventors over the 10 year period, which is surprising given our countries wonderful environment, natural beauty, great living conditions, multicultural society, economic strength, rule of law and safety.

Australia doesn’t even make it on the top 30 list of migration destinations.

Largest Inventor Migration Destinations and Flows

Largest Inventor Migration Destinations and Flows

But given our awful community attitude to immigration (ironic given our heritage) and our lack of Governmental support for matters entrepreneurial, I suspect they either can’t make it into the visa requirements or they don’t feel welcome or they feel like they will end up driving taxis because they don’t fit the existing University system.

Whilst I can’t show you a graph that proves a co-relation between increase in number of patents = increase in GDP, I believe its safe to say that a decrease in inventive talent is a major missed opportunity that will result in lower GDP somewhere down the road.

Conversely if we can work out how to increase Net Migration of Inventors and put them in an environment that allows them to invent,research and commercialise, then we stand a chance of increasing our scientific and technical capabilities and this will lead to greater income for the country.

Whilst the USA and Silicon Valley is always going to be a magnet to some of our most inventive talent Australia, we should be a magnet to the professors, researchers and entrepreneurs seeking to leave countries that have civil unrest, economic problems, war or are just plain bad places to live.

Immigration and jumping the queue is a politically charged topic, both sides of politics know the wrong policy could lose them the election.

Its not enough to say that we have existing programs in place, I know a lot of inventors 20+, I feel confident in saying only a few would satisfy the skilled migration points system.

If you are University Professor who managed to leave (either legally or as a refugee) the Middle East, Africa, North West Asia or the former USSR, it is not realistic to expect you would have more than $800,000 in assets, 4-8 years experience running a business and yet you could be very inventive and have substantial invention and innovation experience.

If you accept that we are having our asses kicked by the US and Switzerland (really?) and you accept that increasing net Inventor Migration and creating an environment to boost invention, innovation and commercialisation is a good thing for the country than here is some suggestions to do something about.

I want both sides of politics to consider the following and put focused Inventor Migration on the agenda.

  • Establish a Inventor Migration Policy to fast track and prioritise new inventors entry visas and citizenship
  • Anyone who can show they have lodged a patent somewhere in the PCT and has a legitimate scientific, technical or entrepreneurial background should be granted fast track status
  • Each capital city should have an Inventor HackSpace, that is office space, workshops and labs open to all but priority given to known inventors
  • Give the new inventors a desk or lab space and the equivalent of a Jobstart payment for 6 months
  • Provide access to a competitive grants program to allow the inventors to fund further research in their chosen topics.
  • Target these inventors through scientific publications, social media and conferences and start selling Australia as the place to migrate if you are an inventor.

The full report is located here

We welcome any comments

Mike Nicholls


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About The Author
Mike Nicholls Australian Inventor + Entrepreneur working with a small team of engineers building prototypes from Inventions including two medical devices. Publishes and has assessed/reviewed +500 inventions and +200 startups in the last 3 years. Mentors Sydney Startups via Incubate and other incubators and helps members of the Australian Startup Community via the website with free publicity and advertising. Experience in numerous industries including Digital Publishing, Cloud Computing, Apps, Hardware, Aviation, Real Estate & Finance and Health/Medical Devices.
David Hocking
David Hocking

I am not surprised by the statistics on the exodus of inventor talent from Australia as the tall poppy syndrome is still alive. Interestingly, governments of all political persuasions have long had the view that “we don’t pick winners”, which I find rather curious a statement to make when it is obviously setting up the answer, “I know you don’t” (see the textiles and clothing and automobile manufacturing). Sadly though I note that you have taken the path of assuming that innovation is the province of the universities and government funded organisations. While these are potential areas of innovation they are by no means the only centres of innovation – the private sector has a pretty good record in this country. Australian innovation occurs pretty regularly but we often don’t hear much about it as there is no easy way to get media interest, unless someone from overseas kicks in a lot of money to buy the IP. This country has tended to rely on innovation grants from government to stimulate innovation, which to me is a rather strange way to fund things. Giving money to universities is one mechanism for encouraging innovation but a proper system of funding innovation in the private sector is arguably more efficient. Why? The private sector will have a fair idea of the commercial value of an idea than a university or nation science agency. Of course the best approach would be to link both systems together in a practical way. I know that there are various innovation models around that purport to do this but the reality is that the grant money is largely chewed up in public sector administration systems that work something like a sponge. And heaven forbid if some of this funding went to the private sector to develop an idea. The red tape is over the top. What Australia needs to do is establish a functioning partnership between public research bodies and the private sector (some American companies have these and call them sand pits). This would put inventors in a place where they can actually be supported in their efforts both financially and with back-up expertise and in-house technologies. Companies could send their brightest, to a place (call it a university-linked Centre) where they can work with other clever people to develop and implement the idea. The investment would be shared between the public and private sectors – what a novel idea. Or s single individual with a good idea could come along and be welcomed with open arms rather than put in a holding pattern while we consider your idea against a thousand others over the next four years - the way to kill innovation. While attracting the brightest here through mechanisms such as immigration sounds good the reality is that we have plenty of clever people here now – some of whom have come from overseas as immigrants – but we don’t manage them well at all. The discussion should be around what we do to enable innovation in Australia not how do we get more people from overseas. The attraction of innovators to Australia will be easy once we get the right innovation settings established. So, let’s have a discussion about what the innovation settings should be to attract and retain our brightest inventors.


Thanks David, maybe I should elaborate, re: Innovation, my view is quite the opposite, I want to break out the tools and make them available to anyone who wants to or can use them. My issue is that if you don't fit the University/NICTA/CRC/CSRIO profile you are left out in the cold. What if we had an International Rugby Match and 50% of the worlds best players couldnt play because they couldn't get a visa or they were not part of a team (ie the Unis). There would be universal uproar and yet that is what we have in the local inventor market. Private industry is great, they just can't invent or commercialise at scale and have problems with accessing capital and getting top talent to work for them let alone fitting out labs, workshops and hackspaces Right now if you can't get a job at one of the quasi Government Institutions there is no where for you to invent, work in a lab or run experiments or build anything with any degree of precision. I think its wrong and I am trying to work out how to change it. What are the right settings, here are some suggestions Visa changes with a bias to recruit inventor/entrepreneurs/innovators from overseas, (staple a Visa to their PhD or Post Graduate Degree) with none of the restrictions in the Skilled Visa system except PhD/Postgrad or startup experience. Capital Eco system ie real funds, major tax breaks we need $1 billion of funds to be created not a few $100m High Tech Manufacturing and Hack Space Lab facilities to anyone who wants to use them in capital cities and possibly regional centres. 12 month startup program with access to a desk, lab, workshop and Funding to cover living expenses (like Jobstart) It cracks me up that we pay people to be on the dole but if you are trying to create the next major start-up you get treated like a leper by Governments.

David Hocking
David Hocking

Thanks for the response Mike; I think we are on the same page. I have tried for years to get governments interested in talking about solutions to the innovation problem but to no avail. The funding of all the government bodies (universities, CSIRO, CRCs, etc.) is something that governments do because there is little need for accountability. Unfortunately, this method of funding is also poorly linked to industry innovation needs. I am currently consulting for an Australian start-up that has developed a leading-edge technology already and is now in the commercialisation phase. The next ‘Australian problem’ that arises is that there is no funding to spend on test-beds nor will government commit to use the technology – despite the fact that the US military and others around the world are testing it for various uses. This technology is a disruptive technology that has huge potential but governments “don’t pick winners”. It has already been demonstrated to save millions of dollars in mining alone. I see your point on the visa issue but I still feel our energy needs to go into fixing the problem before we bring out people who, as you comment in your reply, won’t necessarily get into one of the government funded research bodies. There is much that needs to be done but there doesn’t appear to be a way to bring together those with the ideas on how we might fix the problem. There are brilliant ideas across many sectors but no one seems to be able to bring these ideas people together with government and industry. I note that, so far, only you and I are having this discussion. The discussion needs to be bigger. Having been in the government influencing game for many years now, I am fully aware that investing in the future is far less attractive that sugar hits to immediate issues. The only way I know to overcome these challenges is persistence.


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