Australia: Startup keeps its cool with IP protected

As a startup, deciding where and how you spend your limited dollars is one of many early crucial business decisions. Investing in marketing and branding was a given for Thomas deMasi, CEO of Coolsan®. But he admits that initially he wasn't so convinced about investing in the company's intellectual property.

The Coolsan® journey began in rural New South Wales in 2005. Dr Gary Erickson and his wife Merrill were running a restaurant and were constantly frustrated at the short shelf-life of their fresh herbs and vegetables. Spoilage of fresh foods is an annoying and expensive problem for the restaurant industry supply chain. Often fresh produce doesn't show any signs of spoilage until the end of the chain, which leaves producers, suppliers or end-users bearing the costs.

Simple food-safe solutions

Drawing on his experience as a chemist, Gary developed a prototype system to decrease spoilage by delivering low levels of hydrogen peroxide into refrigerated spaces. In 2010, Gary and Merrill took their prototype system to a food and wine show in Sydney, where they met Thomas – an experienced food retailing and marketing consultant. Thomas immediately saw the potential of Gary's prototype system.

Three years later, Gary and Thomas had founded their company Coolsan® and turned Gary's prototype system into a marketable product. ChillSafe® is an environmentally-activated sachet that releases a low dose of a vapour to reduce the levels of bacteria, mould and ethylene that cause food to spoil.

"When we first started up, we generated a lot of interest in our product ChillSafe®, maybe too much too soon. Without revealing its secrets, I was showing it to a lot of people and then I realised it was at risk because it wasn't protected," said Thomas.

Although Gary had taken out an initial patent on his original system, ChillSafe® was a new and improved version and not all of its features were protected by the initial patent.

"ChillSafe® was now a unique marketable product and I realised my initial patent wasn't enough to protect it," said Gary.

Turning up the heat on the competition

Gary and Thomas met with Mark O'Donnell, a Patent Attorney at Madderns in Adelaide. It was the beginning of a partnership that would help Gary and Thomas make sense of a complex process, and make informed spending decisions about their intellectual property (IP).

"Mark helped me understand the importance, need and value of a patent to protect our interests," said Thomas.

It did not take long for Thomas to work out they had made the right move.

"I had a major international food manufacturer with factories all over the world contact me. The head of their sanitation department told me he'd seen our product and asked his partners and global suppliers if they could copy it," said Thomas.

"Two weeks later the advice from their guys was no we can't copy it, it's protected."

The international food manufacturer is now trialling ChillSafe® at one of their sites.

"Now we have something of substance when we engage with global partners. When they ask if we're protected we can say yes," said Thomas.

Warming up to intellectual property

Mark has guided Coolsan® through every step of the patent application procedure, including advising on which countries to pursue patent applications to get the best value for money.

"As a startup, Coolsan's® IP is their asset. Our job is to find the most cost-effective way to protect this asset," said Mark.

Mark has worked in the IP field for more than 25 years. He has seen the patent process from all sides and believes that a well thought out IP strategy gives his clients a massive strategic advantage. The patent application process generally starts with filing a provisional patent application in Australia, which is effectively a stake in the ground that is recognised around the world. The next step is the filing of an international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application, which gives applicants the right to file in over 150 countries. The final step is the national phase where patent applications are filed in individual countries and some regions.

Coolsan® have now filed patent applications in 6 countries as well as Europe, and have signed a MoU with a major agribusiness supplier for use of ChillSafe® in the post-harvest industry in Australia and New Zealand. They are also in negotiations with a potential global partner with outlets in over 100 countries and have master distribution agreements with companies in Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

"We have a novel, unique and multi-award winning product that has attracted a global audience. That is worth protecting," said Thomas.

"If it wasn't for Madderns' support we wouldn't have been able to get through the patent process."

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