University of Sydney

New Inventions – Three easy ways to destroy your chances of getting a patent

Justin Blows

Justin Blows

Guest Post – Justin Blows is a Patent Attorney and the founder of Phoenix Intellectual Property. He has extensive experience in protecting a very broad range of technologies, including mechanical, electrical, information and communications technologies (ICT), mining, optoelectronics and photonics, water, and energy.

Prior to his present career, Justin co-founded and was a chief investigator of The Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) at The University of Sydney and a reviewer of IEEE Photonics Technology Letters, and be a member of technical committees such as the Conference for Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO).

Justin has authored over 100 articles in the fields of science, engineering and patent law, including the effects of Carbon Emission Trading Schemes on patent strategy. You can contact him via his Linkedin profile.

* The invention diagram above has an interesting story, see the panel down the bottom


Destroying your chance to patent an invention is easy. Here are several traps and how to avoid them.

The trap of early disclosure

Every couple of weeks or so, I receive an enquiry from a business owner with an invention they wish to protect with a patent. We have a very pleasant conversation about how effective the invention is.

Then I am unexpectedly deflated by their revelation that their invention is selling well.

Disclosing the invention before filing a patent application restricts, and in most cases destroys, your chance to patent the invention.

Disclosing your invention generally includes, for example:

  • telling others about the invention
  • selling, or offering to sell the invention
  • providing gifts or samples of the invention


The best way to avoid this trap is by filing a patent application before you progress too far. Selling or disclosing your invention after filing a provisional patent application will not destroy your chances of a patent being granted to you.

If you wish to speak to a person about your invention before patenting your invention, another option is to have the person sign a non-disclosure agreement, which is also known as a confidentiality agreement.

Passing on information which is covered by the non-disclosure agreement to the person will not destroy your chance to patent the invention.

Non-disclosure agreements, however, have weaknesses. For example, how do you prove that leaked confidential information was leaked by a party bound by a non-disclosure agreement? In my view, it is generally better to either file a patent application or keep the information secret than rely on a nondisclosure agreement.

The trap of poor patent drafting

Drafting a specification for a patent application requires great care and consideration. A provisional patent specification, for example, is the foundation for the entire patent process. Saving money with poor drafting is false economy.

That is why the law stipulates that only qualified patent attorneys can professionally draft a patent specification in Australia. Drafting a quality patent application which survives rigorous patent office examination is intellectually challenging even for a patent attorney with years of experience.

Patent applications are not just rubber stamped. The patent office is actively looking for reasons not to grant a patent application. A poorly drafted patent specification is less likely to survive examination and any aggressive legal challenge by a team of highly motivated patented attorneys, technical experts, and lawyers.

I have been asked if I can prepare a very cheap provisional patent application. This can only be done by taking short cuts that reduce specification quality. Alternatively, I am asked if it is possible to self-draft a provisional patent specification. I assume that the requestor wants a sense of security that they have a patent application.

This sense of security is false and potentially dangerous. If the requestor discloses the invention during the life of the provisional patent application and the provisional is found to be consequently invalid then patent rights may be lost. The amount saved is a tiny fraction of that lost by reduced drafting costs.

I have found that a well drafted patent application attracts significantly less objections from patent examiners. The amount saved during examination then generally greatly exceeds the amount saved by cheap drafting. Spending money for a well drafted patent specification actually saves money.

The trap of trying to patent an old idea

An invention is only patentable if it is new. With over 100 million published patent documents, it is likely that one of them discloses something similar to your invention. It is, in fact, relatively easy to inadvertently try to protect a new invention with language that encompasses an old idea. When this is discovered it is necessary to narrow the scope of the language used.

Any amendments must be well supported by the disclosure in your patent specification. If your proposed amendment is not supported then it cannot be made and you will be stuck with the language that encompasses the old idea destroying your chance to patent the invention.

Prior knowledge of a document disclosing a similar idea generally results in a superior draft that gives the client a better outcome.

It is prudent to conduct a search of the patent and other literature before drafting the patent specification, so that language of appropriate scope can be used at the outset to avoid destroying your chance to patent the invention.

You can contact Justin if you need advice on Intellectual Property and Inventions.

Important Patents

Ed: The back story behind the feature patent image is that this is one of the inventions that revolutionised the mechanisation of farming.

Harry Ferguson was an Irishman who invented the 3 Point Hitch that solved the problem of tractors overturning when they hit an rock in the ground when ploughing often killing the driver, this also ensure the ploughs constantly stayed in the ground, made the attachment of various implements universal and basically allowed the tractor to drive any implement which could be attached to the 3 point linkage.

Harry built a few of these in the UK where he invented them but they didnt sell very well, he then took it to the US and made a handshake deal with Henry Ford to use this on the Ford tractors, who went on to capture 20% of the tractor market in a very short time.

Eventually Henry reneged on the deal when it became very profitable for Ferguson, Ferguson sued him and got awarded $USD 9 million which in todays money is a great result for a patent payout.

.Ferguson and Ford, the handshake agreement

I like this one in particular as 60 years later I find myself the owner of a vintage Massey Ferguson 35 which amazes me, it is still going like a train and is one of the most fantastic pieces of kit, for a 60 year old tractor it has so many smart mechanical and hydraulic features, starts every time and is tough as an old boot.


Fordson 8N


Interesting Startups – SwarmFarm Robotics

Andrew Bate & AgBot - Swarmfarm

Andrew Bate & AgBot – Swarmfarm


Startup Name SwarmFarm Robotics
What problem are you solving? The United Nations states that we need to double agricultural output to feed the burgeoning world population by the year 2040.Yet it is widely known that the world has almost reached “Peak Farmland” – there is very little land left undeveloped to bring into production.Future increases in food production will come from increasing yields from existing farmland.We are introducing robotic technology into agriculture that has the potential to increase yields, improve efficiency and produce food in a more environmentally sustainable way.
is your solution? We are developing small, simple robotic technology for agriculture. Our vision is “Small simple robots that do simple tasks very well”A “Swarm” of small robots replace large single tractors that are used in agriculture today.Our machines are lightweight to prevent soil compaction and scale able to any size farming operation- from 3rd world up to corporate farming.Robotics will be an enabling technology for agriculture- it will enable new farming methods and technologies not previously possible in traditional farming systems.We aim to tend crops at an individual plant level, rather than at an entire paddock level.
Why is this a great opportunity? Robotics offers the next big revolution in agriculture, similar to the Green revolution in the 1970’s and the Genetically modified revolution int he 2000’s.Mining is over and Agriculture is the next big thing.There is a lot of interest in investing in agriculture in Australia, but the track record of corporate farming or overseas investors buying farms in Australia is very poor.This is an opportunity to get exposure to the “Dining Boom” without investing in farmland. Australia is a world leader in outdoor robotics (check out Rio Tintos’ mine of the future and Patrick Stevedores’ automated waterfront).We have great experience in this area of robotics here in Australia. We are partnered with The Queensland University of Technology and The University of Sydney’s Australian Center for Field Robotics.
Learn more about us here.
Target Market Agriculture – All sizes of farm business – from small family farmers, larger private farmers up to corporate farmers. Out technology would also carry over to the 3rd word where food security is a huge issue.
How will you make money? Software as a service.
Founders Names Andrew Bate, Jocie Bate, Neville Crook
What type of funding has the company received Bootstrapped/self funded

Swarmfarm Agbot

Swarmfarm Agbot

Agbot Sprayer

Agbot Sprayer Analysis


We like a lot about this startup, the problem is real. Farmers biggest costs are labour and fuel and one of their biggest issues are weeds.

Agtech & Foodtech is a massive market and there is a lot of opportunity for improvement in food production so we are keen about this space.

I like that instead of spending two years and $200k building some super robot that would have lasted a week on a farm they took a known tough John Deere Gator for $15-20k and retrofitted it with their robotic control units and spent all their time on the control software not the engineering of the robot.

Swarmfarm are hiring

Swarmfarm are looking for Mechatronics and Electrical Engineers, apply via their contact page.


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Drones, Bushfires & NSW Rural Fire Service – Big Opportunities to help our fire fighters

MQ-1 Predator - Credit

MQ-1 Predator – Credit

After 3-4 anxious days of living on the edge of four bushfire zones (Update a new fire has flared overnight 12km from my home) and seeing helicopters and water bombers flying over to Richmond air base, it seems to me that our fire fighters could use some help from the local drone community.

The NSW RFS has done an awesome job in what was arguably the most difficult week we have faced in some years, but seeing these planes fly past at 10-15 minute intervals I got to thinking life would be a lot easier if the Rural Fire Service had access to a fleet of drones.

Turns out Drones have been used very successfully in California to monitor wildfires earlier this year. Using MQ-1 Predator UAVs normally used for military and security purposes the drones were piloted from hundreds of Km away from the site. With infrared and high definition video and the ability to stream this video and data back to base the drones are very effective at surveillance and spotting new outbreaks, they are also reasonably immune to human error that comes with flying in thick smoke and having to use instruments (something which not every pilot is equipped to handle in a bush fire situation)

Think about this, a long-range drone such as the Predator can stay in the air for nearly a whole day. Most humans in a single-seater aircraft would be lucky to do 4-8 hours (I think this is probably a stretch). Assuming you wanted 24 * & coverage of NSW you could arrange 4-5 of these Drones to fly patterns every few hours like a big loop over the affected areas.

Humans in Aircraft are Expensive

The thing that makes aircraft expensive to build and run and limits their range is humans.

When you put a human up into the air, you need a stack of systems and extra hardware to carry the human and to keep them alive which increases weight and reduces the range.

If you build a Drone there is no cockpit, seats, instrument panels, air conditioning, canopy, control sticks and other equipment to operate the aircraft, a very large chunk of the equipment needed on a manned aircraft is eliminated when it is unmanned.

Every time you remove weight you increase range for a given power and lift.

And frankly humans can’t perform effectively for 22 hours and in the dark they are unlikely to see much and on surveillance duties they are unlikely to add much value.

Wildfire in California Credit

Wildfire in California Credit

Have a look at this footage captured by a group called (the name makes me think they are ex defence types, no info can be found online about them except their twitter account).

This amazing footage of a quadcopter drone fitted with a Gopro flying through burnt out buildings shows how versatile drones can be in these situations.

Drones are much cheaper to run and build, you can put them together in weeks rather than years it takes to get aircraft built, they can be set to do certain tasks autonomously such as fly search patterns to observe for fires or to keep station on a particular point.

I know of teams of University students in University of Sydney, UNSW and societies of hackers that could assemble a world-beating set of drones in a very short period of time.


Potential Methods of Operation

If we had a spotter drones with a hyperspectral or infrared cameras, they could conduct surveillance on a very wide range and keep flying 24*7 at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft.

Some of these UAV using various types of high-tech cameras are able to ascertain different types of plants, one University researcher I know can tell from Satellite photos if Power Stations are running at full steam or if a paddock is fully irrigated or if you have weeds.

I they can do this, then spotting fires from 10,000ft should be relatively easy. Also if the military drone builders can work out how to drop a bomb on a single building then waterbombing a fire front should also be achievable.

When the spotter drone finds fire outbreaks, they could alert the operation centre and provide live video, in this instance a drone QuadCopter could be launched from the roof of a truck and go look over the ridge or into the valley to see where the outbreak is.

A water bomber drone could be launched and deployed to the same co-ordinates within 30 minutes of the outbreak and not wait until it has taken hold.

The aircraft aspect is relatively easy, most of it is 20-year-old technology, the harder part is the software and systems to manage this, the semi or fully autonomous drone is essentially a flying software play and we have the guys sitting in Sydney that can do it.

With autopilot and mission planning software from a company like 3D Robotics a UAV company founded by Chris Anderson the former editor of and an aircraft designed for maximum time aloft such as the Zephyr which managed to smash the record for unmanned flight by recording a time of 14 days without landing due to its solar power and lightweigh construction. This is probably not quite robust enough (as the winds hit 50kmh out of my window) but a high aspect ratio solar powered drone could easily staff aloft for days at a time with operators sitting on the ground in safety.



I think the biggest challenges are both human and operational. The hardware and technology is available to do this. Both RFS and CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) have come out warning drones owners to stay away from fires or risk a $30,000 penalty.

I can understand their issue, its hard enough trying to manage air traffic control in a fire zone without a bunch of drones doing sightseeing trips however I think the RFS with CASA’s blessing needs to engage with the local drone community and see if they can contribute their skills to help.

There is no reason that they couldn’t dovetail their capabilities into a normal air traffic control framework, in fact the a surveillance drone could become the virtual Control Tower for a whole operation.

It’s obviously not the time now, but in a few weeks when the fires have settled, I challenge the drone community of Sydney to come together and build a fleet of piloted and autonomous drones that can help fire fighters with surveillance, close in support, water bombing and mission control and I challenge NSW Rural Fire Service and CASA to come together and work out how to facilitate the introduction of drones into active service.

Dream Team

Here is my dream team of guys to take up the challenge.

Its my contention these guys could build a working surveillance drone capable of 12 hours of continuous flight within 6 months that gives command and control capability to NSW RFS and then after that start working on other drone roles such as water-bombing and locally deployable quadcopter for tactical intelligence for local brigade commanders could be developed to work with the surveillance drones.
I think it’s about time we created our own technology for firefighting drones and not wait for the US to let us have it, also much of the technology which drones use very successfully in the US Military for surveillance and targeting is is most likely classified information so if we want the best methods we should be creating it ourselves.

If you think someone should be on this list or you think that I missed something, please let me know.






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University of Sydney Researchers build iPhone App that detects heart conditions that lead to stroke

Iphone App detects heart rhythm that could lead to stroke

Iphone App detects heart rhythm that could lead to stroke

A team from the University of Sydney has created a special iPhone case and app that can be used to quickly and cheaply detect heart rhythm problems and prevent strokes. The research found the AliveCor Heart Monitor for iPhone (iECG) was a highly effective, accurate and cost-effective way to screen patients to identify previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation (AF) and hence help prevent strokes and the test is able to be used in local pharmacies and general practitioner surgeries with a single-lead ECG taken on an iPhone with a special case and is being trialed in GP surgeries.

Many of you would have heard me rant about startups focused on 1st world Silicon Valley problems and how so many startups I see are solving trivial non problems, well I am happy to say this story is the complete opposite. You also know I love seeing hardware projects being prototyped here in Australia so double kudos from me. In my opinion this is a major win for reducing strokes at the same time doing so in an extremely elegant and inexpensive way.

“We are now getting receptionists in general practice to record an iECG before patients see their doctor,” Lead Author and Researcher Ms Nicole Lowres said.“Our economic analysis has shown the iECG is highly cost-effective and in fact this is the first mass screening program that is likely to be cost-effective, unlike traditional 12 lead ECGs recorded by a practice nurse, also the iECG is extremely portable, which gives great flexibility for screening, and is simple to administer.

Senior author, Professor Ben Freedman, said that the device was an exciting breakthrough and would greatly assist in the challenge to improve early identification of atrial fibrillation and prevention of stroke.

“Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm problem and is responsible for almost one-third of all strokes,” he said.

“AF increases with age, affecting more than 15 percent of people aged 85 years and over. And people with atrial fibrillation face up to a five-fold increased risk of stroke, and tend to have more severe and life-threatening strokes. Research found that about 1.4 percent of people aged over 65 (50,000 Australians) have atrial fibrillation, but do not know it. There are a large number of people with unknown AF who are at high risk of stroke, but who are not on any medication. The good news is that stroke is highly preventable with anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin, or the new oral anticoagulants, which can reduce the risk by 66 percent”

“The iECG allows us to screen patients for atrial fibrillation in minutes and treat people early. This is a huge boost in the fight to reduce the amount of strokes, particularly in people over the age of 65,” Professor Freedman said.

In my opinion this is arguably one of the most cost-effective screening solutions I have seen, an app, an inexpensive case and an iPhone, whilst it is not going to replace normal ECG machines and operators, it will make testing more accessible and cheaper and will pick up more cases that may have otherwise gone undetected.

This is an awesome step forward to saving lives and preventing the massive disruption and costs that Stroke victims and their families endure and a great example of cross discipline co-operation between Medical Skills, App Skills and some electrical engineering.

About the iECG: When taking a reading, the iECG can be seen on the iPhone screen in real-time. In addition, the iECG is transmitted to a secure server (cloud) where a specialist can review the iECGs remotely. The website can automatically analyse the reading to make a diagnosis of AF. The researchers tested the website’s automatic prediction in the SEARCH-AF study and found it correctly diagnoses atrial fibrillation 97 percent of the time.

The University of Sydney research was funded by a number of investigator-initiated research grants from BMS/Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Bayer. The National Heart Foundation provided a scholarship for lead researcher, Nicole Lowres. The team named on the research includes Lau JK, Lowres N, Neubeck L, Brieger DB, Sy RW, Galloway CD, Albert DE, Freedman SB.



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