Grasslanz Technology Limited has been named as category winner of the New Zealand International Business Awards 2010, announced the Awards Ceremony on 13 October in Auckland.
This award recognises success in developing and commercialising intellectual property (IP) in international markets; incorporating IP strategy, processes, and monitoring
By acting as the “conductor” between scientist, seed company and farmer, Grasslanz Technology has become a world leader in providing ground-breaking forage technologies.
The Palmerston North based company has become the world’s premier source of grass endophytes and white clover for farmers around the globe, and a world leader in the development of temperate forage cultivars. And it is now broadening its horizons by identifying technologies that can be developed in other plant species.
“Grasslanz fits in to that very difficult space between science, discovery, development and commercialisation,” says chief executive John Caradus.
“We don’t employ scientists or marketing people, but people with a good head for investment in the biological space, who can identify an innovation that we can protect through trade secret, patent, plant variety rights or trademark.
“We connect that technology with a commercial company, often very early in the process, which has been a major key to our success. We license these technologies and products to the commercial companies who then sell them.
“We are the conductor. We join all the dots, finding someone prepared to sell the innovative plant technology to someone who wants to buy it.”
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The successful business model behind Grasslanz, a wholly owned subsidiary of AgResearch, lies in retaining full or part ownership of the intellectual property it creates through its R&D investments. It spends a significant amount of time and effort protecting and managing its IP.
“If we don’t protect our IP, we don’t have the right to license the technology, and the technology can’t be controlled without that protection. It’s a huge part of our business, and why we employ a person solely to take care of that area, as well as outsourcing when appropriate,” Dr Caradus says.
New products are created by investing royalty revenue into development projects. Up to 40 percent of royalty revenues are generated from international sales, and key markets are in Australasia and the United States.
Grasslanz grew out of a business unit within DSIR (now AgResearch) which was started in the late 1980s, and was set up as a stand-alone company in 2003. Since then it has grown sizeably “not necessarily because it was corporatised, but because we hit a very good series of products,” says Dr Caradus, who was a plant breeder with AgResearch for 25 years.
A strong relationship continues with AgResearch, with Grasslanz meeting with scientific researchers frequently to discuss developments in plant technologies.
Business is generated in three ways: research push, market pull, and Grasslanz recognising opportunities in the agricultural marketplace.
“We have researchers coming to us with ideas asking if there’s a market for it. We get companies calling us and saying ‘we would like this’, and we supply. And we regularly survey the market ourselves – identifying a space where we could invest, starting a project to demonstrate its efficacy for that market space, and funding the the early research on our own. When we see signs of success with the direction the research is going, we approach commercial partners,” Dr Caradus says.
The company has a significant joint venture with PGG Wrightson Seeds called Grasslands Innovation, designed to develop cultivars exclusively for them. Grasslanz Technology also licenses technologies to all other proprietary forage seed companies in New Zealand and offshore.
Grasslanz is continuing to build on its core strength, providing innovative forage technologies, but for the future it plans to use its expertise to recognise other opportunities in and around the forage area. Research into grass endophytes has revealed they could be useful in other species, like cereals.
There are also plans to use AgResearch’s expertise in biotechnology to develop forages expressing condensed tannins to help improve animal performance and health, like preventing bloat. Grasslanz recently licensed a new bird deterrent technology, using grass endophytes – the seeds have been sown at airports in Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch in an effort to reduce the presence of birds from areas where they are not wanted.
The key to doing business successfully offshore has been identifying both the right R&D partner and right commercial partner very carefully, Dr Caradus says. “Our whole business model is built on partnerships, so we want to be sure we invest in an organisation that delivers. We make sure we’re dealing with companies that know how to market and sell added value forage technologies.”
Dr Caradus says participating in the New Zealand International Business Awards process has been an excellent team-building exercise for the staff involved and has “given all of us a greater appreciation of the business model we manage and the value we create.”
“Commercialising intellectual property is at the heart of everything Grasslanz does. It makes sure its scientists understand how to best protect the intellectual property they produce. Grasslanz is an excellent example of a company that understands, monetizes, protects, and defends its intellectual property.”
For more information contact:
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise