Laserlife Littlejohn is a small manufacturing company of about 30 staff that has produced rubber and anilox rollers for the printing and packaging industry for over 40 years. Anilox is a method of providing a measured volume of ink to a printing plate using a hard ceramic-coated cylinder with cells engraved in the surface to hold the ink.
In 2010, Laserlife Littlejohn collaborated with CSIRO to research and develop a new way to manufacture an anilox roller utilising new materials and new technologies. The project was undertaken as part of the Victorian Direct Manufacturing Centre consortium. Managing Director of Laserlife Littlejohn, Alex Engel, stated that while the company had ideas on how to improve the technology they were unsure how to realise them.
In return for a financial injection to the collaboration, Laserlife Littlejohn was provided with collaborative access to scientists, researchers, facilities and equipment. The parties worked together on research to produce a new and improved anilox roller. This technology allowed Laserlife Littlejohn to grow as a company by offering more services, both domestically and overseas, and increase its competitiveness in the market place. Additionally, a long-standing relationship between Laserlife Littlejohn and CSIRO was established leading to further collaborations and technological developments.
Obtaining a patent was chosen as the means to protect the IP developed by the collaboration. The parties considered that the technology could easily be reverse engineered and therefore keeping the collaboration output confidential would not prevent third parties replicating the product without authorisation. The patent was registered and was owned by CSIRO and Laserlife Littlejohn had an exclusive licence. Mr Engel stated that originally while the company did not own the IP from the project, the outcome was beneficial given the IP ownership responsibilities fell to CSIRO, with financial contributions provided by Laserlife Littlejohn. CSIRO’s reputation and the resources it had available to obtain and defend the patent meant it was in the better position to undertake these tasks. Importantly, due to this successful collaboration and business growth, Laserlife Littlejohn has been in a position to take over full control of the IP patent.
Mr Engel attributes much of the success of this collaborative project to planning. He stressed the importance of making sure the scope of the collaboration is clear at the outset. Forward planning, such as allocation of costs and strict budgeting documented by a written agreement, helped minimise potential disputes arising later in the project. He also emphasises the importance of understanding risks and that not all research results in a profitable or successful outcome. The involvement of Laserlife Littlejohn as not only a financial contributor, but also in a more hands on manner in the collaboration, proved beneficial in producing successful outcomes and maintaining the relationships with their collaborator.