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Ep 92: Decoding IP: Unravelling Intellectual Property with Lauren Stokoe

Lauren Stokoe

Director IP Australia

May 14, 2024
In this episode of Mumbition the podcast, we chat with Lauren Stokoe, Director of IP Australia, as she discusses the importance of intellectual property (IP) for small businesses and the role of AI in operations. She highlights the agency’s vision to build prosperity through innovation and the tools they offer, like TM Checker, to help businesses navigate the IP system. The conversation also touches on the myths around IP, the impact of risk on business, and the different types of IP, providing valuable insights for anyone in the professional services sector.

Lauren Stokoe | LinkedIn

IP Australia | Protect The Value Of Your Ideas
Trade mark and intellectual property education and awareness for small businesses (mumsandco.com.au)

Produced by -
Lucy Kippist
Edited by -
Morgan Brown
‍Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
‍Guest - Lauren Stokoe

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    • Decoding IP: Unravelling how YOU can protect your Intellectual Property

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Episode 92 Transcript

Lauren Stokoe (06:29.937)

Our vision is to have a world leading Australian IP system that builds prosperity through innovation. We aim to give our customers efficient access to products and services so that they can continue to innovate and do what they do best.

Lucy Kippist
There are some topics when it comes to the business world, where you really need to get stuck into the detail, and todays topic is the perfect example of that Carrie.  

Carrie Kwan
Yes, and to be honest making technical topics about small business more appealing is one of my favourite things. I really get my geek on. In all seriousness, Lauren Stokoe, the CEO of IP Australia and us had a great conversation starting with the definition of IP, that's Intellectual Property, and the real and important consequences it has on small business. Lauren reveals the most out there IP request that she’s ever had.  

Lauren, we love making business connections, connecting people with people. Please could you share with us your elevator pitch for our listeners today that may not have met you.

Lauren Stokoe (06:29.937)

Absolutely. As you know I’m at IP Australia, which is the Australian Government agency responsible for administering intellectual property rights. Our vision is to have a world leading Australian IP system that builds prosperity through innovation. We aim to give our customers efficient access to products and services so that they can continue to innovate and do what they do best.

So one of our products is TM Checker, and that's aimed at educating small to medium businesses who otherwise might not know about trademarks or the IP system to help them navigate the application process as quickly as easily as possible.

Carrie Kwan (07:15.392)

Amazing. And I know that,  I've just gone through a little bit of, I've got two businesses and I've got a number of trademarks. I've used the trademark tracker before. So it's a really handy tool to get a sense of what has been trademarked or if you're thinking of an idea or a concept, I remember back to when we trademarked Mumbition, which is the unapologetic blending of motherhood and ambition.

So it's a really useful tool just to kind of get a sense of, you know, has anyone done this before or what's involved? I'm listening intently to what you're saying at the moment. And I think sometimes as a business owner, it's fascinating to see what you, what, I don't know what's the term when you get your geek on, it's like, oh, that's actually really interesting once you get into it. So it's one of those things that can, I don't know, I love making uncool things cool. So, hopefully.

Lauren Stokoe (08:22.255)

I completely understand that.

Lucy Kippist (08:27.17)

With the greatest respect of course, Lauren.  

Lauren Stokoe (08:30.321)

No, no, it's intellectual property. It's one of the hard things that we face that we want to, we know how beneficial they can be to small business owners and their success in the market. But it's quite hard. There's a lot of things that small business owners need to think about and intellectual property often doesn't come to mind first. And so it is, I love being here and having this conversation with you. So thank you.

Carrie Kwan (09:00.253)

Amazing. Trust me. It'll be good. You just come with us. Trust the process. Now on our show, we often speak about disruptors boosting productivity. I'm really interested in the field of technology always have been. And in particular, it's really hot at the moment. Hot topic in terms of AI, artificial intelligence.

What type of role has AI played in your business or how do you feel about this new wave?

Lauren Stokoe (09:32.913)

I know I'm a little bit different to your usual wonderful businesses that you have on that in that I work for government. But in government, we've certainly begun to sort of lean in, I suppose, to the use of AI and understanding how it can improve effectiveness. There is a government agency, it's called the Digital Transformation Authority, but they're trying to develop some guidelines for use that government can use when we are using things like generative AI and tools that we then put out to the public. AI, I think a lot of people when it first sort of started coming more into the public sphere, it was thought of as a way of automating tasks. But it's what I've found in our use is it's actually a source of innovation and a source of insight that can help you improve your products and your services. So we use at IP Australia, we use AI on some of our internal products. So our patent examiners use it when they're examining patent applications. It makes the quality higher. So they don't use it for making the decisions or anything like that, but it helps them find more information about innovations and the like. And we also, TM Checker is an AI product. It's completely built using AI because we basically have added in image recognition and natural language processing, so that when you're entering your logo or a business name that you might want to trademark, we can then search for existing trademarks using sort of that natural language processing and also using some of the image recognition and some of the AI models, which really reduces the complexity of the search, it improves the accuracy, and hopefully, ultimately will help increase the amount of people they engage with the IP system. I think AI, I know in government, it's something that sometimes can be a bit feared or avoided, but it's something to be learned and leveraged for the benefit of your customers. It's something that you need to be educated about in my mind and in our work. I work in AI, but you need awareness is key. We carefully consider every model that we look at every change that we implement, every piece of data that goes into it to make sure it's secure and safe and protects users' data and privacy, but also that it is creating ultimately a better user experience. So that's basically where we come from. I think it's just the beginning that it's already improved the accuracy of our engine and of our tool. So it's just the beginning. But I do think that that awareness and knowledge is really important.

Lucy Kippist (12:23.07)

That's a really comforting thing for people to hear, particularly at the moment with the conversations around AI that, you know, a regulatory body such as yourselves is investing in it and getting great results from it. I think we just need to hear more from people in positions like yours, Lauren, that are using it with great results. So I think, yeah, thanks so much for sharing that.

Lauren Stokoe (12:51.857)

We are lucky that we do have careful sort of cyber teams and everything, because I think data and privacy is paramount. So looking at what models, I think that there's still a little bit of a way to go with some of the generative AI models, like chat GPT is a really well -known one. It's not something that we use in government yet, because we haven't really cracked that one around, how do we make sure that that data is secure? And making sure that you're not entering things like, It's called non -API, but basically data that's not already public. Don't tell it your secrets just yet.

Lucy Kippist (13:29.734)

Solid advice.

Carrie Kwan (13:34.457)

Now, we're quite fascinated by the way our community of small business owners perceive risk. And it's always a fascinating question when you actually go, what is your relationship to the risk? How does it actually impact the way you do business? So how would you describe your relationship to the area of risk?

Lauren Stokoe (14:01.649)

That's a great question. It's very interesting because I mean, we all engage and manage risks in our day to day lives, right? Whether personally or in your business, things that you sort of almost take for granted around, you know, I get in a car, I put on my seatbelt, I drive, I'm engaging in risk by doing that. So my approach to risk is quite similar to, I mean, I follow IP Australia's approach to risk management in the governments, which is not about stopping or preventing action. It's about empowering yourself and your team to engage with that risk in an informed way. So risk's inevitable. It's often necessary for innovation and growth, but it needs to be managed carefully and responsibly in a very open and transparent sort of manner. I try to sort of look at the benefits and the costs of taking a risk, the likelihood or the impact of different scenarios. And also what's my risk appetite for that particular, possible scenario? Knowing what my appetite for risk is, my business's appetite for risk is, and then also seeking feedback from sort of relevant people and stakeholders that you might have is important to know also, you know, how far can we stretch something? We do it with TM Checker, you know, we were just talking about AI and data privacy. There's risks with using AI. And we had to ensure that, for instance, the tool was as accurate as possible, that's reliable, it's secure, it's compliant with laws and legislation and data privacy. So we conducted a huge amount of testing and validation and evaluation, and we talked to a lot of users, so experts in sort of the security world, but also in trademarks, but also just small businesses to understand those sort of limitations. I guess in my view, to sum up risk management is similar to the use of AI in that go in with your eyes open, be conscious of your responsibility to your staff and your customers, and make sure that those risks are well considered.

Carrie Kwan (16:11.801)

Great advice.

Lucy Kippist (16:14.264)

Let's take the conversation now directly to IP and trademarks. So to start with, what's a really accessible definition of IP and what are the different types of IP?

Lauren Stokoe (16:27.205)

So IP is creations of the mind, basically is what its definition is. So there's several different types of IP. There's actually seven. Some you need to register. So you need to actively register that intellectual property with an office like IP Australia. So there's one in each country. Others are automatically protected when in material form. So for instance, when it's written down, published. So I explained it to someone else recently using the example of a coffee shop. So let's say you own a coffee shop, a small business, you have a farmer or you've met with a farmer that has developed a brand new variety of coffee bean, of coffee plant, that can be registered, that brand new variation of that plant can be registered with IP Australia as what's called a plant breeder's right. So they now own that right to that plant. You are then using that coffee bean and that coffee bean, for instance, is used in your coffee machine. And let's say your coffee machine works in a particular way. There was an invention that created that coffee machine that's protected by what's called a patent. So your coffee machine is protected. It's an invention. It's the way something works. It's protected by a patent. Then you pour your coffee into a cup, which you've designed yourself. It's a really unique shape for a cup. So that is protected by what's called a design right. So the shape of something, the look and appearance of something. You then have a logo on that coffee cup. That logo can be protected by a trademark. So your trademark protects your brand. And then you might have, let's say, a brochure or a menu that is saying, hey, these are all the different things that I sell in my coffee shop. That's been written down as an original expression of your idea. So it's protected by copyright. The good thing about copyright is it's automatically protected once it's basically put into that form. And then you have trade secrets. So for instance, your secret blend of coffee beans. So that would be a trade secret. That one is also automatically protected kind of. It's not something you can register, but you do need a non -disclosure agreement.

So we have templates on the IP Australia website to help you with non -disclosure agreements. But things like a trade secret, that is where it's really important to come in and make sure that you're just that, keeping it secret. Or if not, you've got a non -disclosure agreement in place.

Lucy Kippist (19:09.368)

Thank you so much. And what are some of the common myths around IP that you could bust for us? Like maybe there was two.  

Lauren Stokoe (19:24.813)

I think the number one that I come in with personally is I have registered as a business name, therefore I'm protected and no one else can use that, which isn't true. When you register your business name, it is a legal requirement under the Australian government. You need to do it for, but it's just that it's an administration that you have that business name.

It offers no legal protection if someone else wants to use the same name or if someone else wants to use a very similar name. The only way you get that protection is through trademarks. So that one's probably the first common myth.  

The second one is a little bit trickier. And it's a question I get when I go to expos and things like that. And I talk to startups about their trademarks. And a lot of the startups are software companies and apps and things like that. And they come in and they go, OK, I've created code like this awesome app and like cool am I protected by a patent? It's like no and not necessarily so when you have a patent it's an invention so it's something that's in it's called manufacture it's basically that it's something that is being used to change the world in some way you know it can be a very small way but things like software and code is often protected by copyright rather than by patents and things like that. So that one's a very common one. So if you have an app, it doesn't mean that you can't protect it, but it might be that you might want to go talk to an IP attorney or something like that.

Lucy Kippist (21:10.456)

Interesting. To Carrie's point earlier, drilling down into the things that you kind of, well, potentially write off as, you know, quite polite way of putting it. It's just more interesting than you think, than you at first think, I think.

Carrie Kwan (21:28.951)

Lucy is getting her geek on, her IP geek on.

Lauren Stokoe (21:29.105)

Yeah. I love it. Every time I talk to someone, they get a little bit more interested because it's like, it's very real. And, and when we created TM Checker, we went out and interviewed a whole bunch of business owners to understand, you know, why don't you have a trademark? And there, there's a few different reasons, but the number one resounding one was either they don't know what it is, or two, they think it's just for big business. They're like, oh, well, I'm not the size of Samsung or Google. So I don't need it.  

Lucy Kippist (21:58.474)

So, inviting everyone to ask their questions that they might be sitting on thinking, is that an obvious question? But they can shoot that through to you Lauren, you're very good at answering them.

Now speaking of our community, so we would probably describe the majority of our members here at Mums & Co are in the professional services sector. So I'm just wondering if you could share a couple of really poignant examples of how better understanding IP and trademarks could actually benefit a business in that sector. So for an example, to give you two examples, you know we have quite a few business coaches or like marketing professionals where they're doing social media and whatever for other businesses, so that kind of thing.

Lauren Stokoe (22:52.145)

So I think there's two ways to think about that. The first would be that, you know, we all, a lot of business owners understand the value of a brand. We know that it differentiates you from your competitors and it helps you with your identity. So the first thing is one way to protect that brand is by having a trademark. So it could be your jingle or your business name painted on the side of your truck. Or it could be, you know, the name of your business when we've got professional services, if you were operating with just your name, so if I was operating as Lauren Stokoe professional services, I might not be as tempted to trademark something like that or to protect it as a, I don't need to register it as business name, but if I was perhaps wanting to expand or have other people work for me, for instance, some of the big ones, I used to work for Deloitte, KPMG, those sorts of things, they're trademarks, they're registered brands because other people, they're recognisable, other people operate and go, oh, I recognise who that is. And it's a way of protecting that, protecting that namesake, protecting that reputation that you've built for yourself. So it could include a registered trademark, which helps safeguard that sort of unauthorised use. You know, you become well known and so someone else starts using your name. Also if someone else comes into the business, one of the examples that I use because everyone loves an underdog in Australia is there's Katy Perry. So Katy Perry, international superstar, we all know Katy Perry. There is actually a fashion designer in Australia whose maiden name was Katy Perry. And they were, and she was selling her wares quite successfully here in Australia. And then Katy Perry, international superstar, did actually put in a court case saying, well, actually you're using my brand of Katy Perry and ‘meow’ and all that sort of thing. And it did go to court. And because Katy Perry, the fashion designer had a registered trademark, the last court time that it went to court, she won.

So this Australian small business won against an international pop star. I was back in court because Katy Perry, the superstar has appealed. So I don't know where it's going to go, but it does show that, you know, having that protection of, you know, registered trademark and being well known and using it actually does offer something. And we know that the last piece of research that some of the economists here at IP Australia did was that businesses regardless of size, but businesses that had a registered trademark were 13 % more likely so there was a bit of causal relationship between that to have a higher revenue growth than their peers that didn't have a registered trademark. And then they paid their staff more. So that was an interesting sort of tip that I came across when I was talking to an economist here. The other thing to think about actually is professional services is you're also potentially, like if you're running someone's social media, for instance, you are potentially providing advice to them and information to them about maybe their branding. Or you might be using a specific hashtag, for instance, or you might be coming up with something awesome like mumpreneurs or mumbition for that business. It's important sometimes to check that that is available, that someone else isn't using it and that you're accidentally not having your client infringe on someone else's registered trademark or infringe on someone else's brand. So as a professional services, it can be important for you to be aware of it, not just for yourself, but also for your client.

Lucy Kippist (26:56.6)

Great advice.

Carrie Kwan (27:01.625)

Great food for thought for all those that have in this space. So let's just say I'm ready to protect my business. I'm ready to start looking into the different sort of IP that I need to protect. What are the steps that they should take? If we can just break it down to, you know, where to from here?

Lauren Stokoe (27:26.353)

Some key steps I would take. The first one is know what IP you have. So you need to identify those assets. So a good question to ask yourself is what sets my business apart from my competitors? Is it my brand? Is it this new product? Is it the design of the coffee cup that I make? What sets you apart? Then do your research. So for trademarks, you can use TM Checker. Otherwise, you can visit IP Australia's website, but you want to search for other people's IP to make sure that your idea is new and that you're not accidentally infringing on someone else's right. Beware of publicity. Publicity is obviously wonderful and incredibly important. And as we were speaking about earlier, it can, you know, you want to test out your ideas, you want to talk to potential customers. But if you are going to talk about it, maybe consider a non-disclosure agreement. As I mentioned, we have a template on our website, but it is important to keep things a secret, particularly inventions. You can apply for IP if you do have intellectual property and you go, yep, okay, I want a trademark, for example. You can apply yourself through TM Checker or through our website. Otherwise, if you need, you can apply. You can get professional help through an IP attorney. And then if your application is accepted, you get a certificate of registration. And then it's important to monitor the market for potential infringement. Google is a wonderful tool in that way and social media platforms, because it's amazing. If you search your brand or you search, you know, certain variations and things like that, look at your competitors, you can keep an eye on what's happening out there, hashtags, the like, other people's URLs and you can say, you're someone actually potentially infringing my brand that I need to do something about.  

Carrie Kwan (29:27.289)

Very clear and just on that it's called I think it's a Google alert. I've actually set it up for Mums and Co as well just because we want to know when you know we can't we can't keep across everything so and we currently don't have like a media monitoring service so it's really simple and you can just get alerts whenever it appears or that combination appears.

Lauren Stokoe (29:43.409)

Oh, I love that. Yeah, I love that. And when I first was speaking with yourselves with Mums and Curry, the first thing I do when I talk to any partners is I have a look to see what trademarks they have. So yeah, I was very excited that you have trademarks. So well done.

Carrie Kwan (30:07.001)

Well, just a little bit on that. I felt like we needed to create a new language that suited business owning women as well, because gosh, a lot of it's not being done for us. We're kind of, we operate in an environment which is perhaps not being as conducive and doesn't suit us. So even some of the words of how to describe mums in business didn't sit well with me.  

As a team, we kind of went, okay, well, if we're going to create a new language, what do we, what type of language we want to use? So, Mumbition was one of them. And I also feel like if you trade mark, interesting what you said about the revenue point, I feel like it's one of those things where you say, well, I've put my blood, sweat and tears into this. It's something that I'm very proud of. I want to protect it. And I want to actually look at the future.

You know, it may not be big now, but it could be really big later. It could have potential. So, yeah, I feel like it's almost one of those things because I'm proud of what I've done. I'm actually going to protect it. So even just getting that trademark gives you that sense of accomplishment and that sort of I'm building something that is worthy as important and then kind of, you know, let's hope that it can maybe an ongoing revenue stream for you at some point.

Lauren Stokoe (31:32.113)

Yeah, absolutely. Trademarks can be used or registered trademarks or all the intellectual property rights rather can be used to generate that sort of ongoing revenue. You mentioned about, okay, I might be small now, but that doesn't mean I'll always be small. You know, Boost Juice is a good example of that. That started out obviously as just one little juice bar and they thought to protect their brand and protect their recipes and now they're enormous. So you can license your trademark for royalties or some other compensation. You can franchise for your business. If you think about the American example of Dunkin Donuts as a franchise. So that is one way you can merchandise. So branded merchandise would be one way to make money from it. It can be quite a lucrative source of ongoing revenue if you've got a bit of a fan base for your particular business, you can co -brand and get the brand recognition from that. So, was it Adidas that created Yeezys, you know, those sneakers? So, they're something that was a bit of a co -branding exercise. So, they co -branded between two, a business and a celebrity to get that brand recognition. So, there is a few ways that you can have it as an asset. So, it's not just about protecting your business from someone infringing or making sure that you're not infringing on someone else's, but it also could potentially be a revenue source for you. And I do know a lot of investors can ask, do you have intellectual property before they will invest in your business?

Carrie Kwan (33:19.897)

I love it, and fascinating. Thank you, Lauren.

Lauren Stokoe (33:31.569)

Thank you so much for having me and yes, I know it's not your usual sort of conversation so I really appreciate that you've allowed me to come and speak with you and all your wonderful entrepreneurs.

Lucy Kippist (34:18.151)

And we get a question from one of our listeners, so, Lauren, the question is, what is the most interesting thing you've ever seen trademarked?

Lauren Stokoe (34:28.081)

I love that question. So there's definitely lots of interesting trademarks out there because it is someone's imagination made real. But the thing that I like the most that I came across was golf tees that golfers use when they hit their golf balls off the tees. Someone actually has trademarked the smell of eucalyptus oil on that golf tee which is a very unique scent and scents are very can be very difficult to trademark or register as trademarks so it was super interesting that someone has been able to number one get a trademark but also that particular scent if you can try and picture eucalyptus oil in the air on a golf tee.