IP Australia is the Australian Government Agency that administers intellectual property (IP) rights and legislation relating to patents, trademarks, designs and plant breeder’s rights. It plays a critical role in ensuring that Australian innovation can flourish here and around the world in order to enhance national prosperity.
To optimise the way it does that the Agency was one of the first to embrace the Digital Transformation Agency’s digital service model; in 2012 12 per cent of customers engaged with IP Australia online – today the figure is close to 100 per cent.
It makes IP Australia one of the first fully digital government agencies in the country and is now recognised as an important test bed for innovation across the Australian Public Service.
At the recent launch of its Corporate Plan director general Michael Schwager noted that IP Australia’s focus on delivering new and improved, customer centric digitally driven solutions has never been stronger.
It’s an important issue.
Australia currently ranks 22nd out of 129 countries in the Global Innovation Index. IP management and protection plays a key role in ensuring the nation retains and grows its innovation capability.
Besides supporting IP owners, IP Australia has around 1,200 staff and a wealth of significant international connections. IP management is increasingly a global issue and the IP agencies from the 150 member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation often need to work closely together.
The challenge in the past has been finding an environment that can promote the secure, but streamlined collaboration these international agencies crave. Again, IP Australia is playing a pioneering role in digitally transforming IP management – this time on a global scale – with a Microsoft Teams based solution that it has dubbed IPOcollab.
Teams transforms global interaction
Robert Bollard is IP Australia’s CIO and Michael Burn its Director of International ICT Cooperation. To them, the need for some form of digital collaboration platform that would allow IP agencies around the world together was clear.
According to Burn; “We were at the WIPO ICT Strategy and AI meeting and Rob and myself recognised significant duplication in effort,” as similarly purposed agencies around the world sought technology and processes to streamline their own operations.
Many agencies risked reinventing the wheel. Bollard and Burn realised that if there was a way for agencies to communicate and collaborate internationally and securely it might be possible to share more insights about how to drive digital transformation agendas – and also support the inter-agency communication that is so important to global innovation efforts.
According to Burn; “There are over 150 WIPO member states, and IP Australia works with many of these across various committees, task forces and bilateral relationships. This collaboration between national offices is extremely important across the breadth of our work from policy and core business to technology and digital transformation.
“We find there can be a significant level of duplication of efforts because as an industry we’re faced with very similar problems, and we’re all looking at the different solutions that we can apply to those problems at the same time.”
The face to face meetings that Bollard and Burn attend from time to time work well – but sustaining the momentum when everyone goes back to their home countries remained challenging.
Recognising that there had to be a way to harness technology to streamline inter-agency communication and collaboration, Bollard says he and Burn; “Made a pledge to deliver a platform that enables improved knowledge and experience sharing, interoffice project delivery, reduced duplication of efforts, enhanced product and system leveraging and increased IP Office collaboration.”
IP Australia scoured the market and considered a range of technology platforms that might fit the bill including Slack, CiscoWebex, Google Drive, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams. Having deployed Office 365 across IP Australia the Agency was familiar with its capabilities and recognised the opportunity for simplified integration was important.
According to Bollard; “Teams seemed an obvious choice because it has video conferencing, it has the chat, it has the email, it has everything in the one environment that all of the different users can leverage easily. And it’s a recognised capability across the world.”
With Microsoft Teams as the foundation, IP Australia created a platform called IPOcollab which is currently being trialled with 15 IP agencies around the world. IPOcollab has been set up as a subdomain of IP Australia to ensure there is no blurring between the internationally accessible Teams platform, and the Teams platform that IP Australia is planning to deploy for its own internal use.
Already Bollard says IPOcollab sees; “On average, each week, over 10 virtual meetings being held. We’ve got around 45 active users at any one time. And, in terms of the guests, we’ve seen over 60 join and participate in the various group discussions. And that’s spread over around, I think it’s about seven or eight countries.”
To encourage the broadest uptake IP Australia has left it open to the teams themselves to decide which features they want, which extra functions to integrate or add.
“They are leveraging the chat, they’re leveraging the video, and we also leverage the Webinar, the planner, all that sort of thing. So we’re really fully beta testing it,” said Bollard.
IPOcollab is also infused with AI services; it has a Microsoft based Chatbot and uses Azure Language Understanding (LUIS) to make sense of what people are looking for.
Security stance a global winner
For agencies discussing sensitive issues such as intellectual property protection and regulation, any collaboration platform had to pass muster as far as its security posture was concerned.
Burn says that IP Australia worked with a partner on the design and implementation of the Teams based IPOcollab platform, with its security status vetted by IP Australia’s recently formed architecture review board. The Agency also ensured that Teams met the security expectations of the Digital Transformation Agency and the Australian Signals Directorate.
“One of the nice things obviously within the Microsoft products and Teams in particular, is its ISO certification,” which demonstrates security standards applicable for both Australia and international jurisdictions where other IP agencies are located, says Burn.
The IPOcollab beta test has already allowed teams from IP agencies around the world to collaborate, converse, plan, meet and work together in one virtual space. Agencies can create multijurisdictional project teams without geographical barriers reducing their momentum.
Teams can also be integrated with Microsoft Azure AI services allowing transcription and translation.
Already IPOcollab has been used to establish a cognitive computing community where users are sharing insights about AI and machine learning; a collaborative project focussed on exploring IP economics made up of several geographically dispersed jurisdictions; and IPOcollab is being used by the International Trademark Association as a platform to bring together experts from around the world to discuss and collaboratively consider IP futures initiatives.
Following the success of the initial IPOcollab tests, IP Australia now wants to foster even deeper global collaboration and new use cases, reinforcing its status as a true digital pioneer.
As Bollard says; “IPOcollab, powered by Teams is a hero capability for us – delivering ongoing and trusted collaboration across the global IP community.”