7 October 2015

Patent data reveals that the way we innovate has changed over the years. The number of patents filed has not decreased, but rather the types of patents have changed as a result of technology revolutions. Technology is always changing, so likewise the nature of patenting is constantly evolving.


Many inventions reflect the use of innovative thinking to solve a problem. For example, the first Australian patent to be granted was to Andrew Brown McKenzie for improvements to the Westinghouse railway brake system on 2 July 1906. This was a result of Brown witnessing serious accidents caused by trains that took too long to slow down and stop.

In 1909 David Unaipon's shearing handpiece, which is featured on the Australian $50 note, was developed to change to motion of the blades and improve the way sheep were sheared.

Inventions during World War I (WWI)

Our battlefront innovations during WWI saw Australians channel their energies towards creating innovative solutions to aid the war effort.

From the war brought Private Lance de Mole’s military tank, Thomas Frederick Caldwell’s improved quick-firing machine gun and Alexander Worsfold’s stretcher to transport wounded soldiers.

The Aussie outback

The First World War also coincided with a major expansion of Australian farming. This expansion was accompanied by a new era of invention by farmers, Australia’s amateur engineers.

Australia’s most famous nineteenth century inventions included the 1840s stripper, the 1870s stump jump plough, and the 1880s stripper-harvesters. These were all labour-saving agricultural implements.

AH Howard built his first rotary hoe in the workshop of his parents’ Gilgandra farm in 1912. In October 1920 patented a powered ‘Rotary Hoe Cultivator’. The principle of rotary cultivation was adopted on farms and gardens worldwide.

HS Taylor built his harvester in the blacksmith of his parents’ Henty farm. In 1913 he patented ‘An Improved Header Harvester’. Built as the ‘Sunshine Header Harvester’, its huge capacity changed Australian farming. It became the model for harvester design worldwide.

In 1908 JB Garde lodged a patent application for a stump-jump disc plough. Manufactured by HV McKay as the Sundercut Disc Plough, it was popular with Mallee Soldier Settler farmers.

A series of major early twentieth century inventions in Australia and New Zealand revolutionised milking machines. The inventions were mainly by Victorian dairy farmers, including A Gillies of Terang (the double-chambered teat cup, 1903), and successive inventions (1912-14) towards a split-chambered overhead releaser, by WJ Tease, Toolamba and E Cameron, Melbourne.

In the 1930s AusPat reflects inventions around mechanical improvements ‘improvements in power farming machinery’ 

Later in 1960 Frozen embryos first successfully transferred (in sheep) by Neil Moore of the University of Sydney.


The inventions we see today demonstrate a more process focused approach. Rather than creating completely new inventions, patents reflect that innovation has shifted to use more technological advances for devices and systems.

Three dimensional (3D) printing

3D image processing and analysis is the ability to develop 3D solid objects from a digital file and is achieved using additive processes. As it has evolved, 3D printing technology is transforming nearly every major industry including medical, aviation and automotive.

Smartphone applications

‘There’s an app for that’ isn’t uncommon for us to hear. The world has adopted smart phones and tablets 10 times faster than it embraced personal computers in the 1980’s and twice as fast as the Internet boom in the 1990’s. Smartphone apps are used to navigate through life including shopping, playing, reading, dating, learning and much more available at our fingertips.

It is one of the most quickly emerging business sectors, which has been seen in the use of patents to protect these software applications.

The Mining industry

Our recent report on the Australian mining industry analyses the technologies that are being patented in the mining sector and what trends are emerging. The report indicates that there is a steady increase in patent filings due to an increase in patent filings by Mining Equipment Technology Services (METS) firms.

The future

When we see some recent innovations, and filed patent applications, we can take a bit of a look at what the future of innovation might look like:

Four dimensional (4D) printing

Researchers can print out 3D structures capable of changing their shapes over time. 4D printed items could potentially be used from medical implants to home appliances.

Space elevator

A freestanding space tower 20km high acting as an elevator to refuel and launch space planes. It could also be used for wind-energy generation, communications and tourism.

Driverless car

Self-driving cars can operate without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human being and are feasible for the foreseeable future.

Wearable display devices

A lightweight yet strong wearable glasses frame with computer technology including Bluetooth, WI-FI, GPS, speakers, camera, microphone and touchpad. The bionic contact lens, another wearable device, allows the wearer to see the world by adding computerised pictures into their natural view.