What do you predict is going to be the next biggest megatrend and why?
We're seeing greater use of data and collecting data - and we're integrating our physical and virtual worlds. Wearable computing will become common; we already have Google Glass, for example. Augmented reality will grow too, for example looking at an object through a lens, which adds data to the object.
Medicine is another area in which we'll see great change over the next 30 years - for example, there's already a contact lens with a sensor that measures glucose levels in your eye, for diabetics. Many people are thinking about ways to collect more health data - monitoring something physiological, and reporting as soon as something looks strange. Further down to the track, we might see mainstream bio-printing of organs. This could be useful for testing new drugs, rather than using animals, or printing organs for organ transplants.
We'll see innovation in cars - for example, cars that are able to self-drive and self-park.
There's solving the problem of battery life, for example wireless charging and wireless power, instead of having to charge it overnight.
These are just innovations we're seeing round the world, and innovations some clients are asking about. Patents do last 20 years, so we'll hopefully be seeing some of these ideas come to life well within that period.
Can you tell us about what's happening in the New Zealand space with products in megatrend areas?
A big trend is 'give customers what they want'. Consumer engagement has been building over the last 10 years or so. For example, consumers are tired of being fed TV shows at certain times with ad breaks in between - they want to choose content and want it right now. They're geo-blocked and have a limited selection here in New Zealand, along with a distribution model that's quite historic. So we'll see a lot of innovation there.
Another trend is 3D printers. Once it's mainstream, we're going to see exciting things with bringing consumers on board with a particular product. A product could be personalised, for example a customer could make an action doll with their own face on it - engaging them in the design process, creating brand loyalty and perhaps making them the product champion.
What is your client mix looking like - that is, who might be contributing to the next megatrends?
We deal with clients of all sizes. There are tertiary Institutes and Crown Research Institutes doing commercially-focussed R&D and licensing that technology out to companies, and corporations capitalising on their own R&D spend. We also have backyard inventors and start-ups that come in with an idea, and we take them through the design process, see what IP rights they should be looking at, and whether they've got a business strategy that should securewould suggest securing IP rights in the first place.
Is there anything Kiwis need to improve on when they take their awesome idea and launch a business with it?
We're finding that many Kiwis are not intellectual property aware - many don't know what the IP situation is, or even worse, they're getting bad information from people who think they know what the law is.
Patents for example provide exclusive rights. You don't need a patent to go into business, you get a patent to keep other people from going into your business. Not every invention or brand needs to have patent or trade mark on it, but it should be an informed decision.
It's a bit of cliché but we have the "DIY, no8 wire" attitude - "if we can concrete our own driveway, we can file our own patent application". The internet has made available a lot of legal documents to download too, which makes the DIY attitude tempting. The result is often a narrow patent that covers a product nobody wants to buy and is easy to design around.
The other thing we tend to see is we are very trusting - we're quite happy to proceed with quite fundamental agreements for our companies on a handshake. Or we disclose our secret sauce (our algorithm or techniques) to a third party, and think everything's going to be OK - this happens frequently when people get a product manufactured overseas. It's only when things go wrong that we get the IP lawyers involved. By then it is often too late.
Finally, some young companies disclose their idea too early, using media and promotions to drive sales, but fail to think about a patent in a global sense. It's impossible to get IP rights when they eventually try - if it's already out in the market, it's too late to get a patent in some countries. We need to get better at thinking global right from the start.
What's the best piece of advice you could give someone starting out with their idea that could be the next biggest thing?
When you get an idea, think about whether you can sell it. It has to be a marketable idea - an invention without a market is a hobby, but an invention with a market is a business. Ask yourself, is it marketable? And then, how do I protect it, or should I protect it? Because if you get this wrong, it's very hard to fix up later on.An edited version of this article appeared in issue #51 of Idealog - check out the Idealog guide to Megatrends.