Life saving device doesn’t rely only on patent

Published: 
19 March 2016

GroundProbe is a company that supplies radar-based early warning systems to global mining and civil infrastructure industries.

The key to GroundProbe's success is its invention of Slope Stability Radar, which allows mines to detect significant wall failures in advance of likely collapses.

According to its website, the groundbreaking system has been attributed to saving 20 lives, has detected 500 wall failures in mines around the world, servicing clients including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Vale.

The initial research into the application of radar technology for the mining industry started as a PhD project in 1993 at the University of Queensland. In 1997, the Australian Coal Association Research Program provided funding to the University of Queensland to focus the development and application of the university’s radar technology to measure the movement of walls in open pit mines, the website claims.

The Slope Stability Radar was commercialised in 2001 and the business has since expanded to become the global leader in the provision of slope stability radar solutions with over 200 radars deployed across 25 countries supported by in-country presence in 12 countries.

Crescent Capital Partners, an Australian private equity firm, acquired a majority stake in GroundProbe in 2010. The business has evolved materially since Crescent’s acquisition with the current management team driving significant growth as a result of the following strategies

Former Chief operating officer (now Vice President Global Operations) David Noon have been conscious from day one of protecting IP rights.

David Noon recalls that in the business's early days at the university there was 'a bit of a requirement' to promote research activities through publication. So as 'to not destroy the commercial value we were creating, we made a conscious decision to patent before we would publish'. They therefore started the patents application process three years before the product was really commercial.

Don't rely only on IP protection

David advises organisations to seek early and robust patent advice, but sees patents as just one part of an overall business strategy.

'We're not reliant on patents. Our strategy has been to get into the market quickly, to exceed our customers' expectations and to continue to develop the market.

Our goal isn't to go to court and recover costs or loss of profits', he says. 'Our goal is to protect the investment we've made in this field and give us the opportunity to commercialise it and provide it to industry'.

Target patent expenditure

The expense of patents and the scope of GroundProbe’s international operations have forced the company to be selective about the markets in which it applies for patents. ‘We focus on the major countries - right now we are operating in eight countries and are about to enter a ninth', David says.

‘We don’t have patents in all those countries, but in the major markets and areas where we and others may be looking to enter, we apply for patents in those jurisdictions'.