In 2015, the Australian Government established a set of Science and Research Priorities, and corresponding Practical Research Challenges, designed to increase investment in areas of immediate and critical importance to Australia. Amongst them was the priority of Advanced Manufacturing. The priorities were expected, over time, to result in an increased proportion of Australian Government research investment allocated on a strategic basis to areas of critical need and national importance.
Research Strategies Australia has undertaken an analysis of Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMT) research in Australia since 2015 to examine the trajectory of research activity, and its contribution to international technology development in the period since the priorities were introduced.
We have analysed data made available by The Lens, tracking the connections between scholarly publications and patent documents. We have applied a custom query which we have previously used with our consulting clients which examines both the direct and indirect connections across these large datasets. Uniquely, this traces connections from across the network of scholarly citations through to the global patenting data (i.e. we have expanded our analysis beyond the research which is directly cited as prior art), thereby allowing us to see the influence that Australian research is having on industrial technology development.
Our findings show that:
- There was an immediate upsurge in Australian AMT research following the introduction of the priorities in 2015. This peaked in 2018, however, and has been in decline ever since.
- The highest contributing institutions, by count of publications, were the University of Queensland (3,047 scholarly works), followed by RMIT University (2,097), the University of New South Wales (2,035) the University of Sydney (1,929), and the University of Melbourne (1,735).
- Australia's impact on international technology development has occurred primarily in the biotech field.
- RMIT has had impact in the area of additive manufacturing technologies and processes.
- For patenting directly connected to Australian research (i.e., citing Australian research as prior art) the largest applicants were Novartis AG and the University of Pennsylvania, with patents in cancer preparations, such as antineoplastics agents, as well as patents for peptides specific to immunoglobulins and fusion polypeptides. Patenting activity from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in spectrometry - specifically, optical elements and using optical fibres, and in the additive manufacturing technology and processes of additive manufacturing field - are also prominent
- Moving beyond direct patent citations, there is a large body of patents that are indirectly drawing from Australia's research - 19,251 patents indirectly draw from Australian AMT scholarly works.
- These include a large portfolio of technology from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and the French National Centre for Scientific Research in biotechnology - specifically medicinal preparations to treat cancer, such as antineoplastics agents, and to treat inflammation, such as antiphlogistic. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is again represented in this field with the top patent classes in microbiology fields including gene editing.
We have conducted a search of scholarly literature using The Lens. At the time of publishing this article, The Lens includes 256.3m scholarly works and 147.1m patents, with 4.7m scholarly works cited directly in patents as prior art. Our custom query examines both the direct and indirect connections across these large datasets, however. This includes looking across the network of 1.9b scholarly citations in addition.
Our search strategy has been as follows:
- Filter for all scholarly works between 2015-2022;
- Limit to publications that list an Australian institution in an author’s affiliation; and,
- Conduct searches using specific keywords related to AMT as below (including only fields title, abstract and keywords - we have based our search strategy on the work of Stornelli, Ozcan, & Simms, 2021):
(manufacture OR production) AND (digital OR advanced OR smart OR "Industry 4.0" OR "cyber physical systems" OR "rapid prototyping" OR additive OR "3D printing" OR "smart factory" OR "internet of things" OR robotics).
We have then analysed where Australian AMT research has informed patenting activity globally. To do this, we create a patent/paper citation network in two different ways:
- For each scholarly output identified in our search, identify all patents which cite them as prior art.
We call these "direct patent citations". In addition, we have created what we refer to as "indirect patent citations as follows:
- For each scholarly output identified in our search, identify all scholarly citations they have received (let's call this 'Set 2'); and,
- Identify all global patents that cite 'Set 2' as prior art.
We thereby map the influence of Australia’s AMT research on global patenting activity, tracing where Australian research has been cited by international research, which in turn has been cited as prior art in patents. This overcomes many of the limitations of using only direct patent citations, including they are often small in number, and are generally considered stochastic.
Our search returned 20,953 unique scholarly outputs between 2015-2022 including an Australian affiliation listed for one or more of its authors. There was a peak in the AMT literature in 2018 with 3,418 unique scholarly articles (Figure 1), followed by a decrease in subsequent years, down to 1,574 scholarly articles by 2022.
Figure 2 shows the distribution of the AMT scholarly publications by the top 20 institutions. The highest contributing institution was the University of Queensland with 3,047 articles, followed by RMIT University (2,097), the University of New South Wales (2,035), the University of Sydney (1,929), and the University of Melbourne (1,735).
When we mapped the influence of Australia’s AMT research on global patenting activity by building the patent-paper citation network we found that there were 2,920 unique patents that directly cite the scholarly works - what we refer to as "direct patent citations". In addition, there were 727,392 scholarly works which cited our set, of which a subset of 18,127 are cited by 19,251 unique patents - what we refer to as "indirect patent citations" (Figure 3).
An analysis of the top five Cooperative Patent Classification classes directly (Figure 4) and indirectly (Figure 5) citing the Australian AMT scholarly works shows that four out of the five top patents were in the biotech field of medical and immunological preparations (patents with the 'A61' class) such as antineoplastic agents. The fourth largest was in the processes of additive manufacturing (patents with the 'B33Y' class) such as 3D printing. There is additional activity in work around peptides ('C07K') and various technologies involving microorganisms and enzymes (under the 'C12' class)
The top 10 applicants by direct patent citations and indirect patent citations are shown in Figure 6 and Figure 7, respectively. For direct patent citations, the largest applicant by count of patents is the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical corporation Novartis, followed by the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The top patent classes for Novartis are in the biotech field, including medicinal preparations to treat cancer, such as antineoplastics agents, as well as for peptides such as immunoglobulins. The top patent classes at University of Pennsylvania are also in the peptide subclass of patents specific to immunoglobulins and fusion polypeptides. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the top two patent classes are in the spectrometry field, specifically, optical elements and using optical fibres, and in additive manufacturing technology and processes of additive manufacturing.
For indirect patent citations, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and the French National Centre for Scientific Research are the two most common applicants. The top patent classes for these applicants are in the biotech field, namely medicinal preparations to treat cancer, such as antineoplastics agents, and to treat inflammation, such as antiphlogistics.
We also connected the top five Australian institutions (from Figure 2) to the global patent network (Table 1). The highest contributing institution is the University of Queensland with 3,047 scholarly outputs. These attracted 475 direct patent citations, and 6,486 indirect patent citations . The top three patent classes linked back to the university are in the biotech field, namely medicinal preparations to treat cancer, such as antineoplastics agents, to treat inflammation, such as antiphlogistic, and therapies containing antigens or antibodies.
The largest applicant directly citing the university are the US based Seven Bridges Genomics INC (a biomedical data company), followed by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and the French National Centre for Scientific Research. The largest patent applicants with indirect patent citations to the university are the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and the French National Centre for Scientific Research and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
By contrast, the second highest contributing university, RMIT, with 2,097 scholarly outputs, draws it 283 direct patent citations and 2,524 indirect patent citations from across applications in additive manufacturing technology and processes of additive manufacturing such as 3D printing as well as process efficiency. The highest number of direct patent citations come from the US based metal additive manufacturing technology company, Velo3D INC, as well as NLight INC (a company providing laser technologies and products), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In terms of indirect patent citations, applicants include the Dutch manufacturing corporation, ASM Ip Holding BV, specialising in semiconductor devices, the French National Centre for Scientific Research and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Finally, for indirect patent citations, we have also connected these to the intermediary institutions that are effectively translating Australia's research across and into the patent literature - the institutions listed on the 18,127 scholarly publications from Figure 2. These are the institutions whose work both draws on Australian research (cites it in a bibliography) and also is directly cited by patents (as prior art). In figure 8 we can see that The Chinese Academy of Sciences is the largest group, with 674 scholarly works, followed by Harvard University with 532. Australia's Group of Eight universities make up a large proportion of the top 10, indicating a degree of overlap between the direct and indirect citation numbers we have identified.
The trajectory of Australia's AMT research since 2015 is startling. Given the high profile policy position advanced manufacturing has had across federal and state governments, and the funding that has gone into it, the decline in publishing activity since 2018 is not what we expected to find. We are happy to admit that our search strategy is only one possible strategy, and that others may paint a different picture. However, on face value, it would appear that the introduction of the policy focus on advanced manufacturing came on the back of a strong period of growth (as the research published in the 2015-2018 period would have been undertaken in the period prior to this, or at the beginning of the three years given publication lags). However, this effort was not consolidated by the introduction of advanced manufacturing policies and funding, and in fact there has been a substantial decline in publishing since. We can't offer up an explanation of this based on our current analysis, though others will no doubt conjecture about it.
In terms of the influence of Australia's AMT research, there is ample evidence to suggest that in two key areas Australia is contributing to the global industrial capability. In biotechnology and in additive manufacturing Australia's research is both directly and indirectly influencing patenting activity across the public and private sectors.
In our work with clients we interpret the connections we are able to identify in this analysis as collaboration opportunities - either potential or missed, depending on whether you believe the glass is half full or empty. The prevalence of other research organisations as applicants in the list of direct patent citations suggests that these organisations are are translating Australian insights into patent-able technologies (the likes of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The companies in this list are also looking at Australian research and seeing commercial opportunities that Australian companies aren't.
Meanwhile, the analysis of indirect patent citations - which is substantially larger than the direct citations - shows that there is a large proportion of our research which is not on the radar of patent applicants, even though there may be significant overlaps in their patent portfolios. Is it that global scholarly work that cites Australian research is better suited to inform technology developments (unlikely), or that it is simply more likely to be accessed by companies or patent assessors than the Australian research that informs it (there is ample evidence that geographical proximity is an important element in knowledge translation)? On this topic the important role of China as a translation point of Australia's research into technology patents is also important to note - what, if anything, is Australia doing to foster this interest in Australia's AMT research?
In our minds, this work reiterates the fact that a coordinated approach to international collaboration in research translation would yield significant impacts - a lesson we have spoken of time and again as we run analyses such as this for our clients. We believe that we can identify through this analysis:
- Companies with technologies in development that Australian researchers should be speaking to. In addition to who we have identified there are also their competitors, who are no doubt working on competing technologies; and,
- Research organisations that we should be fostering collaborative arrangements with. If we want to increase the adoption of our technology we should be working closely with the research organisations whose work we shape and whose work is adopted into technologies by industry.
- For policy-makers, there are questions around incentivising some of this R&D work to be done in Australia, and for the commercial benefits to flow to the Australian community. There is also the question of making the opportunity more than simply the sum of its parts by harnessing the national potential, not just thatof one institution.
Realising these opportunities requires a high degree of collaboration and planning inside universities, across universities, and across state and federal governments. There is ample evidence to support a substantial opportunity for Australia's AMT research to have an impact on industry, but on present evidence it would appear that this opportunity is passing us by.