21 August 2018

Changes at IP Australia, as DG Patricia Kelly Retires From an Illustrious Career in Service of Science, Technology and Innovation

Patricia Kelly and Michael SchwagerAs recently announced by IP Australia, on 10 August 2018 its (now former) Director General, Patricia Kelly, retired from the Australian Public Service after a career spanning 38 years.  She will be replaced by Michael Schwager, another career public servant with a long association with Australian industry, innovation, and science portfolios, and whose current role is as acting Chief Operating Officer at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – which, as it happens, was Australia’s leading filer of new provisional patent applications in 2017.  He is expected to commence in the role next month.

An article on the public sector news and commentary site The Mandarin is effusive in its praise of Patricia’s achievements over the past five years at IP Australia.  And while I have no doubt that she would be among the first to disclaim complete responsibility for the authority’s recent IT successes (the eServices online portal was, for example, originally launched in April 2012, prior to her commencement), the fact is that she has overseen the bulk of what is almost certainly the most successful digital transformation program in Australian government history.  In the context of an embarrassing litany of failures by other official bodies, IP Australia recently received a global award – shared with high-profile private enterprises PayPal, Foxtel and Vodaphone UK, against over 1000 other entrants – for its efforts to become the country’s first fully-digital government agency.  Considering that less than five years ago the vast majority of Australian patent applications were still filed on paper (or, in a pinch, via facsimile), this is an astonishing achievement.

From my perspective, I would particularly commend Patricia on her fearless commitment to openness and engagement with the wider community.  Whereas, for example, the previous leadership appeared to prefer ‘preaching to the choir’, and was overtly antipathetic towards engaging via social media, IP Australia under Patricia Kelly has embraced social media and – based on my own experience – welcomed critical opinions with, if anything, greater enthusiasm than assenting ones.  Patricia and I have certainly not always seen eye-to-eye, but what we have in common is a desire for the Australian IP system, and the benefits that it provides to Australia, to be the best they can possibly be.  In working towards this goal, her administration has actively sought input from a diverse range of interested and informed stakeholders across the political, social, and commercial spectrum.  I hope that this aspect of Patricia’s legacy will be sustained under the new leadership.

Patricia Kelly came to IP Australia with impeccable credentials in science, research, innovation and industry.  From 2004 to 2013 she had served on the Committee for the Governments Co-operative Research Centres (CRC) program.  From 2006 to 2013 she chaired the Audit Committee of the department known variously through this period as the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (and now just the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, within which IP Australia is itself situated).  Additionally, from 2006 to 2008 Patricia was a member of the Council of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and in 2008 she was a member of the Review Panel of the National Innovation System.  She also led Australia's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radiotelescope and was a founding member of the Board of the International SKA Organisation.

In appointing Michael Schwager as Patricia’s replacement, the Government appears to have recognised the clear benefits of having the role occupied by someone with a background in industry, science, and innovation, and who has every reason to embrace continuing progress at IP Australia.  According to his LinkedIn profile, Michael has a long history with the Department of Industry, in its various incarnations, dating back to at least the mid-1990s.  From 2000-2005 he was General Manager, Technology, Manufacturing and Service Industries at Invest Australia – at the time, the Government’s inward investment agency.  He has since held various positions at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, where his responsibilities have included engagement with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, the small business sector, the US and Canadian education, science, research and innovation systems, and heading up Innovation Programmes at AusIndustry.  Prior to his current acting position at CSIRO, Michael was most recently the Department’s Chief Operating Officer.

I therefore think that there is every reason to expect a smooth transition at IP Australia, and a continuation of Patricia’s positive achievements. 

On a personal note, Patricia has been a regular reader and supporter of this blog, as well as an occasional commenter, throughout her time as Director General, for which I am grateful.  I wish her a long and fulfilling retirement.


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