To mark World Intellectual Property Day this year, Griffith Hack has put together a short list of some of our favourite Australian inventions and innovations.
Australians have a strong inventive streak with a history of delivering breakthroughs that have improved lives and answered problems around the world.
Today we’re highlighting some of those that have made a difference, as well as some that while they may not be particularly well known or win Nobel prizes, reflect Australian ingenuity.
The technology that enables our mobile phones, laptops and tablets to connect to the internet and each other wirelessly came out of Australia’s premier research organisation, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The innovation was based on the CSIRO’s work in radioastronomy. The team that developed the technology was led by Dr John O’Sullivan, who was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science and CSIRO Chairman’s Medal in 2009 and the 2012 European Inventor Award (Non-European Countries category) along with his team.
Invented by South Australian wine maker Tom Angove in 1965, the wine cask has a unique place in Australian culture. Angove’s idea to package wine inside a plastic bag packed into a cardboard box made wine cheap and accessible. The idea caught on and many Australian households will have a cask in the cupboard or fridge for that relaxing end-of-the-day wind down glass of wine. It’s been reported that a third of wine consumed in Australia comes out of a plastic bag.
It’s become an essential piece of equipment for builders and handypeople everywhere. From drilling holes in the wall for picture hooks to screwing items together, the electric drill has made construction easier and quicker. Designed by Arthur James Arnot and William Blanch Brain in Melbourne in 1889, their original invention was large and created to cut through coal and rock for mining. Others then refined the technology to create the hand held device of today.
Medical researcher Professor Ian Frazer and his team at the University of Queensland developed a vaccine that targets strains of the human papillomavirus that cause cervical cancer. Two HPV strains, 16 and 18, are known to cause 70-80% of cervical cancers. The vaccine, called Gardasil, targets these strains. The vaccine has made a significant difference to women’s health and the prevention of cervical cancer.
For women and men with fertility issues, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has given them the chance to have children. The world’s first “test tube” pregnancy was in 1973 when researchers from Melbourne and Monash universities fertilised a woman’s egg in a test tube and transplanted the embryo back into the woman. While the pregnancy lasted only nine days, the work inspired others around the world and in 1978, the first IVF baby was born in the UK.
LED stump bails
The T20 cricket format has injected new interest and attracted new audiences to the game. Played rapidly with each side batting for just 20 overs, the games are visually exciting for viewers at the ground and on television. One of the features of the format are stump bails that light up and flash when dislodged, providing greater spectacle when a wicket is taken. The bails were created by South Australian company Zing International and are now seen on television by cricket fans around the world who, depending on which team they support, will cheer or groan at their flashing.
The implanted hearing device has enabled thousands of people around the world to hear. It was first developed in the 1970s by Professor Graeme Clark at Melbourne University. Prof Clark was inspired to research the possibilities of an electronic implantable hearing device by his own father’s deafness.
Black Box flight recorder
The black box flight recorder has helped improve aircraft safety, and the safety of their passengers, since the idea for it was conceived in the 1950s. The idea behind it was to provide accident investigators information about what was happening inside the aircraft before it crashed. That way, lessons could be learned and further accidents prevented. It was invented by Dr David Warren at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory in Melbourne, whose own father died in a plane crash in 1934. While called the “black box” the device is now painted bright orange to make it easier to find.
The baby capsule aims to protect infants if they’re in a car that’s involved in an accident. Invented in the early 1980s, it followed laws that made seat belt wearing in cars compulsory in Australia. The capsule is made up of a basinet inside a base which is kept in place by a car seat belt and fits a standard car seat space. In a crash, the capsule has a release mechanism which activates and allows the basinet to rotate, distributing forces evenly across the baby’s body.
Now common in offices and homes around the world, the notepad was created in 1902 by J.A. Birchall, who owned a stationary business in Tasmania. At the time paper was supplied in loose sheets. Birchall suggested cutting the sheets into smaller sizes, backed with cardboard and glued along the top to create a more convenient product. His paper supplier at first rejected the idea but Birchall persisted until the supplier agreed to try it. Originally called “Silver City Writing Tablets”, the notepads were a success with customers and the rest is history.