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From the office writing pad to Wi-Fi technology – 10 Aussie inventions that changed the world
Chris Baxter
Chris Baxter

Since the first patent application filed within the Australian Colonies in 1848, the whole nation has embraced all kinds of innovative ideas ranging across a multitude of areas.

In this post, we pay a special tribute to 10 ubiquitous inventions from our own, very prolific Aussie inventors, who embraced innovation and contributed to making our day-to-day lives better.

1856 – Refrigerator (the fridge)

James Harrison, from Geelong VIC, was the inventor of the ice-making machine and the mechanical refrigeration process.

Mr Harrison’s interest in refrigeration started during his time as an editor of “The Age”, when he noticed, while cleaning a movable type machine with alcohol, that the evaporation of the fluid would make the metal surface colder to the touch.

Mr Harrison’s vapour-compression refrigeration system was widely adopted in 1856 by the brewing industry and meatpacking factories.

1889 – Electric drill

Although drills have been around for thousands of years for the extraction of metals such as copper, or for boring holes in the earth to obtain water or oil, the advent of the electric motor contributed to Arthur James Arnot’s own patent – the electric drill.

Mr Arnot, an electrical engineer born in Scotland, arrived in Melbourne in 1889. He was on a 2-year contract at the Union Electric Co. when he patented his idea in an attempt to help in the drilling of rocks and digging coal. Obviously, Mr Arnot’s original electric drill was quite voluminous in size, and a far cry in design and portability from the hand drill we know today.

1902 –Notepad

Tasmania’s own J.A. Birchall from Launceston, owner of a stationery shop, thought that selling writing paper in folded stacks was inefficient, and came up with his own idea: the notepad.

The first notepads had a stack of halved sheets of paper glued together and bound by a sheet of cardboard, which Mr Birchall called the ‘Silver City Writing Tablet’.

1926 – Electronic pacemaker

Dr Mark C. Lidwell and physicist Edgar H. Booth, from Sydney NSW, invented the world’s first electronic pacemaker, which consisted of a portable apparatus ‘plugged into a lighting point. One pole was applied to a skin pad soaked in a strong salt solution, while the other pole consisted of a needle insulated except at its point, and was plunged into the appropriate cardiac chamber’.

The apparatus was used to revive a potentially stillborn infant at Crown St Women’s Hospital, whose heart continued to ‘beat on its own accord’, ‘at the end of 10 minutes’ of stimulation.

1958 – Black box flight recorder

Another example of Australian ingenuity is the black box flight recorder, invented by Dr David Warren in Melbourne, VIC. In the mid-1950’s, Mr Warren was involved in the accident investigation related to the mysterious crash of the world’s first jet-powered commercial aircraft, the Comet. The concept for the black box came to Mr Warren when he had the idea of placing a recorder in all aircraft to capture transcript data as well as data from the different flight instruments in flight, and for the recorder to be recoverable after a crash.

Australia was the first country in the world to make the recording of cockpit-voice transmissions compulsory, and the black box has since then been universally adopted as a means to investigate accidents and to prevent their recurrence.

1961 – Ultrasound

While ultrasound imaging may not be Australia’s best known innovation, the technology is now part of everyday life around the world.

David Robinson and George Kossoff, working at the Ultrasonic Research Group of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, built Australia’s first ultrasound scanner. It was called the CAL echoscope, and had a superior ‘grey-scale’ ultrasound compared to other ultrasound scanners being used worldwide.

1972 – Power board

The odds are you’ve got one at home. The electrical power board was invented by Australian electrical engineer Peter Talbot, working at Australian company Kambrook. Mr Talbot became frustrated at the lack of electrical sockets for testing appliances and designed the power board to contain a series of sockets on a strip, which is plugged into one electrical socket.

The invention was a huge success locally and internationally, but due to a lack of patent protection the idea was copied and the market was flooded with other power boards from competitors.

1979 – Bionic ear

The bionic ear, or the cochlear implant, was first developed by Dr Graeme Clark from Camden NSW. Dr Clark’s father suffered from severe deafness and this was the catalyst for the young Clark to do something to assist people suffering from deafness.

Dr Clark’s ground-breaking research and development on the bionic ear has brought hearing and speech understanding to over 200,000 people with a severe-to-profound hearing loss, in more than 80 countries. Professor Clark is regarded as the father of Medical Bionics in Australia and has established the first university training in Audiology and the Bionic Ear Institute, a leader in bionics research.

1992 – Wi-Fi

The ubiquitous Wi-Fi is attributed to Australian electrical engineer John O’Sullivan, whilst the technology was patented by CSIRO. The wireless LAN technology (Wi-Fi), is now embedded in more than 5 billion devices worldwide and present in most households in the developed world, as a means for consumer devices to connect to the internet or to each other without wires.

The CSIRO has netted north of $250 million from the world’s biggest technology companies, including Dell, HP, Microsoft and Intel, who impinged on the IP related to the mathematical equations in its patents, which form the basis of Wi-Fi technology.

2012 – The Heg

Baxter IP’s own client, Scott Boocock from Adelaide SA, invented the “Heg”, which is a cloth peg with hooks. Mr Boocock’s unique innovation received numerous awards including the Telstra SA Business of the Year, Good Design Award and the Australian Design Award. Mr Boocock was recently seen on national TV on the Shark Tank series, nabbing his very own shark, Naomi Simson, as a business partner.

2015 – The next invention could be yours

We know that Australians are unique innovators and we would love to chat to you if you do have an idea that you’d like to explore further.

We have offices in the major cities in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) and our patent attorneys are always keen to chat – Give us a call today on 02 9264 6716 for a free consultation.

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About the author
Chris Baxter
Managing Director, Patent & Trade Mark Attorney
Chris Baxter is a Sydney patent and trade mark attorney specialising in software patents, computer patents, medical device patents and engineering patents.

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