It's like a Wikipedia for intellectual property and it's putting the tools of innovation back into the hands of every citizen.
Global social enterprise Cambia and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have received a US$1.6 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant for The Lens.
The Lens is an open, public web facility containing comprehensive patent information for inventions from almost 100 million documents in 90 countries, linked to millions of scientific and scholarly articles, in a form allowing users to collect, annotate, share and embed their findings.
Launched in Canberra last week at a gathering of Australia's science and innovation leaders, it also recently attracted a US$527,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
The global and growing resource is free to all, and will save innovators, institutions, investors and companies millions in lawyers' fees and will make the world of patents, science and technology vastly more accessible.
It also provides new measures of social and economic impact of public funding of science, and helps create pathways to choose partners, make better decisions and deliver value from that science.
The Lens was profiled in an editorial in this week's Nature journal, calling it "...a bold effort to bring clarity and parity to the analysis of patents".
"Right now, navigating global patents to make new products is like building a jigsaw puzzle in the dark," Cambia founder and Lens Director Richard Jefferson said.
"But, humankind faces unprecedented problems requiring unprecedented solutions - decentralised innovation by new and different people and institutions."
Building on the success of Cambia's popular Patent Lens, the work has attracted funding from and collaborations with some of the world's most prominent philanthropies and institutions over the years, including The Rockefeller Foundation, National ICT Australia, the US National Institutes of Health, the Lemelson Foundation, the US Patent and Trademark Office, global IT company Qualcomm and two previous grants from the Gates Foundation.
The Lens' goal is simple but ambitious: to democratise innovation by freely sharing the knowledge that has until now been locked inside a massive, fragmented, opaque global patent and innovation system that only multinational companies had the money to navigate.
For Professor Jefferson, navigation is a fitting analogy for the effect the Lens will have on our ability to solve some of the world's biggest problems.
"When Jan Huygens van Linschoten published and made public Portugal's secret maps of trade routes to the New World and Asia in the 16th Century, he levelled the playing field for the rest of the world," said Professor Jefferson, who holds appointments in QUT's Science and Engineering Faculty and in its Faculty of Law.
"His actions not only drove a wave of innovation in mapping and navigation, but launched a new era in trade and commerce in a suddenly competitive landscape; maps were built from contributions from all explorers making them faster, cheaper and more accurate.
"What we're promoting is 'Innovation Cartography' - mapping the problem-solving landscape so that anyone can navigate their way through the teachings, the minefields, the partnerships and the pitfalls present in the patent system, to fast-track real innovation on a safer and more level playing field."
Professor Jefferson said The Lens would prove a game changer for individuals, small and medium enterprises, public sector organisations and policy makers. The Lens also enables patent offices to improve their search capabilities and large companies to reduce their costs and decrease their vulnerability to so-called patent trolls.
"The partnership with QUT has been critical: This University is committed not just to studying social change and training others to drive it; QUT is itself making change happen by working with Cambia to give the public the tools to forge their own routes to affordable, relevant and successful problem solving."
QUT was the world's first university to mandate open public access to its entire scholarly work product.
Cambia was ranked in The Global Journal's Top 100 NGO list in 2012 and 2013.
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