World IP Day falls on Wednesday 26 April 2017. To celebrate, we take a look at Australian inventions that have profoundly improved people’s lives on a global scale.

Medical application of penicillin

In 1940, a team at the University of Oxford led by Adelaide scientist, Howard Florey, successfully extracted penicillin from penecillium mould. The drug was the first antibiotic that could successfully treat people with serious infectious diseases. Florey did not patent the drug, as this was considered unethical in Britain during that era.  Instead, he chose to travel to America and helped organise mass production for military use. Few Australians have had the recognition Florey’s discovery has earned him; he was knighted in 1944, shared a Nobel Prize in 1945, became president of the Royal Society in 1960 and a life peer, Baron Florey of Adelaide and Marston, in 1965.

Anti-flu medication

In 1999, the drug Relenza was launched world-wide. It has since been approved in over 50 countries for the treatment of influenza, an illness which severely affects between three to five million people each year. The drug was the culmination of approximately twenty years of research by various Australian scientists, with several gaining recognition by receiving the Australia Prize and the Nobel Prize. 

Cochlear implant

The Cochlear Implant was developed at Melbourne University by Professor Graeme Clark. Inspired by his close relationship with his deaf father, he began researching the possibilities of an electronic implantable hearing device in the 1960s. The Cochlear 'bionic ear' is an implant to assist hearing-impaired and profoundly deaf people who are unable to benefit from traditional hearing aids.

Gardasil and Cervarix cancer vaccines

In 1991, Dr Frazer and Dr Zhou patented the vaccine (GARDASIL) targeting human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many strains of HPV and some can cause cancer, with strains 16 and 18 causing approximately 70 per cent of all cervical cancers. The GARDASIL vaccine prevents infection from HPV strains 16 and 18 if individuals are vaccinated before they are infected with them.

Electronic pacemaker

In 1926, Dr Mark Lidwell of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital of Sydney, supported by physicist Edgar Booth of the University of Sydney, invented the world's first electronic pacemaker. Dr Lidwell was working at Sydney’s Crown Street Women’s Hospital and had a newborn baby patient about to die from heart failure. He connected the child’s heart to electrodes and saved its life by stimulating the heartbeat with electric pulses. He never patented the pacemaker and avoided recognition as he was troubled with ethical concerns about prolonging life unnaturally.


In 1987, synthetic sunscreen compounds imitating those in Pacific staghorn coral were patented.

Embryo freezing

In 1983, the first successful implantation of an embryo that had been deep frozen was achieved by Dr Alan Trounson’s team at Monash University. The baby was born in good health the following year in Melbourne. This was an advancement in technology from 1960, when frozen embryos were first successfully transferred in sheep by Neil Moore of the University of Sydney.

Baby safety capsule

Invented in the early 1980s by Colin Michael Nagel and Robert Boyson Heath, the baby capsule consists of a basinet inside a base, which is kept in place by a car seat belt. During a collision the capsule has a release mechanism that activates and allows the bassinette to rotate, keeping an even distribution of force over the baby's body. When properly fitted, the Baby Safety Capsule is still the safest method of transporting an infant in a vehicle.

Ultrasound scanner

In 1961, the ultrasound scanner was built by David Robinson and George Kossoff at the Commonwealth Ultrasonics Institute, Sydney.

Aeroguard insect repellent

In 1963, CSIRO scientist Doug Waterhouse received widespread publicity for his insect repellent formula due to its usage by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Australia. She used the concoction during a game of golf at Government House and the absence of flies was noted by her official party and entourage of journalists. Shortly afterwards, Mortein approached Mr. Waterhouse for his formula, which he passed on freely (as was CSIRO’s policy at the time) and soon afterwards Aeroguard became a household essential.

More information

19 April 2017