Cooper IP chats with the Eastern Innovation Business Centre​

In this podcast with the Eastern Innovation Business Centre (EIBC), Michael Cooper shares what inspired him to leave the corporate world to better meet the changing intellectual property needs of Australian businesses.

Michael also speaks about the insights he’s amassed over his 10+ years of helping start-ups and companies protect their innovations using the intellectual property tools available.

As a founder himself, Michael understands the needs of young businesses poised to grow, and knows all too well the challenge of being time-poor and needing to utilise resources effectively. 

Michael advises us to “ask questions early – you don’t know what you don’t know…you have service providers and experts there, and they can give you great guidance”. This is underscored by the fact that intellectual property issues are often more difficult and costly to fix the longer you wait, so it can pay dividends to think about your intellectual property early.

[Intro music]

Danielle Storey:

Well, hello and welcome back. Our special guest on the Innovation Show podcast today is Michael Cooper from Cooper IP. And as the name of his business suggests, he is an expert in all things IP. We’ve had him in our world at Eastern Innovation for about 12 to 18 months now through his journey in the IP world, and we’ve been incredibly grateful to share him and his wisdom with our clients and our innovators and founders here at Eastern Innovation.

So let’s talk all things IP, and perhaps as a founder you might hear some very interesting insights into things that you might need to be focused on. As a business owner who works with innovators and founders or as a person that works with innovators and founders, you might hear some really great wisdom as well. Michael, thanks for being here. It’s great to have you here.

Michael Cooper:

Great. Thanks for having me Daniel.

Danielle Storey:

First of all, we love having you as part of Eastern Innovation. Thank you so much. I won’t ask you to do the plug for how amazing it is, what the culture is like and all of those things but it is an absolute pleasure to see you here.

And secondly, I want to thank you for the generous wisdom that you share with our on-site community all things around IP and trademarks. Tell us a bit about Cooper IP and why you chose to step out to the world of being an entrepreneurial specialist for startups.

Michael Cooper:

I think my story’s not that different to any other in that I saw a way to do things better. IP, similar to a lot of legal services, it was very transactional. It was very inhuman, it was, you know, sort of lawyers at 10 paces doing things and I much prefer the human contact getting involved in startups being there and just talking to people and seeing what they’re doing and touching, feeling and seeing how people do it in the real world. And coupling that sort of service – I spent 10 years at one of the biggest firms in the city learning how to do what I do, learning my craft, and combining the legal skills with the personal skills and getting out there and being approachable and so far it’s really working well.

Danielle Storey:

Tell me so for those of our listeners that don’t really understand IP, or maybe they haven’t got that far yet or maybe they’ve been advised just to work on a trade secret – can you demystify it for us?

Michael Cooper:

Yeah, look it’s such an interesting area that people just have so many preconceived ideas and misconceptions. IP is a great umbrella term for products of the mind or intellect – it’s your ideas and there’s various ways that people can protect it but it comes down to, well for me at least, it comes down to protecting your competitive advantage and any startup, any business has a way of doing things, whether it’s a product or a service the way they do things the way even the way they answer the phone, you know things that give their customers a great feel and keep people coming back.

And so that’s really what IP is and then where I step in is talking to people and working out how we can protect it and how we can stop other people from using the same thing so that in the marketplace they do have that advantage that they can keep. Whether it’s a product or a process or some branding – some great businesses are just built on branding and people that they do something differently or they do something smart and the customers come back to them every time just because of that brand.

Danielle Storey:

Yeah, okay great. So tell me of all of those things, what is the thing that lights your or what have you worked on in the last three, two years, that is something you can talk about. You might have to talk specific brands. Give us an example.

Michael Cooper:

Like so many great things, you know just today doing some work with a client down in Tasmania that make boots for horses and you know for hundreds of years, they’ve used steel horseshoes – nailed them on. These guys have a plastic boot that’s molded, it goes over the horse’s hoof, there’s some features in there to stop and help deal with injuries and pain. They’ve hit the market, they’re doing great. They’ve won Telstra Business Awards. If they’re not there already they’re on the way to being the number one global supplier in hoof boots now and it’s just a great story of some people that some lovely people that are making a great product and doing really well.

Danielle Storey:

That’s mind-expanding. Well, what’s it like being coming to work every day and having something just expand your brain?

Michael Cooper:

Oh, yeah, it’s great. It really is a perk of the job. My clients are very broad and diverse and I might be working on a medical device one day, a startup trying to get an app or a e-commerce type invention off the ground or it might be a machine or a wall panel or something like that’s – it’s pretty diverse, it’s great.

Danielle Storey:

Are there any words you would categorize successful founders or successful ventures – I guess I’m trying not to separate them out to two different things. Do you see – yep these people demonstrate this and therefore that venture’s going to be a success?

Michael Cooper:

Yeah, you do, you see lots of traits that are common and not all of it is about the idea. You know, there’s been plenty written about the idea being a small percentage and whatever that percentage is I’ll let someone else put a number on that, but you know some drive, some ambition, some intuition, people that are good marketers, people that don’t give up.

I’ve got one client that’s done very well out of a particular product and if he hadn’t have succeeded with this product, I’m sure the next product would have succeeded just out of sheer determination. He’ll go into a store and he’ll – just by his own will he’ll make it happen.

Danielle Storey:

That’s cool, so that yeah, that never giving up, the resilience, the grit and determination.

Michael Cooper:

I’m sure that you see many startups that are successful that they just seem to have the same…

Danielle Storey:

Yeah, absolutely, and there are there’s probably a dozen maybe 20 core things that we see in founders and one of those is the ability to learn and the ability to grow in the desire to use experts like you to move to the next level.

What are the signs – I’m thinking about, you know, I’m trying to think of the listeners who are here who are thinking “okay, well, yeah, I know I should IP protect what I’m doing or I know that we’ve kind of got to the stage now where it might hurt us if a competitor does picks up and runs away with what we’re doing anywhere in the world.” What are the steps just before that? What are the signs before that? I’m trying to get in their mind of thinking, “okay, if I’m seeing this right now, then I probably should have been thinking about IP protection a year ago,” what are those signs?

Michael Cooper:

Yeah, look, I think it’s really important for founders to ask questions early and one thing that we do, and a lot of other firms do, is we give a free initial consultation. People come in sit down and tell us what they’re doing. We’ll tell them what they should be thinking about and when.

It’s really quite common for someone to come in and I have a chat with them, and 12-18 months passes before you do any work together. So at the outset we say, okay, this is what you need to do. This is when you need to do it, let’s talk when you get to that point – if you get to that point, and that’s when we can take some action.

There’s often some things like, you know, some initial searching that can be done by a founder themselves of some free databases. So it might be might be a branding issue or a patent  issue and I’ll pass on some free databases and say have a quick look at this, get a bit of a lay of the land and then let’s chat and then let’s do something serious in 12 months’ time. And the other one for patents – Google has a collaboration with the USPTO – and there’s a Google Patents, there’s a Google everything else. That’s pretty useful for looking at patents as well.

Danielle Storey:

So yeah, see if someone’s already working to do what you’re doing quietly on the other side of the world. Sometimes there’s not a lot of point in pursuing if someone’s already doing it and doing it well.

Michael Cooper:

And it’s a good mind opener – a lot of people come in and think, “I’m doing this, and nobody’s ever done this,” and you know, it’s just not the case. There’s been someone that’s tried before and looking at what people have done and not succeeded with can be really valuable as well.

Danielle Storey:

Is it hard to find that information about why they failed at something?

Michael Cooper:

Why they failed can be quite hard to find out but finding out what they were doing at that time is there and we can find that out.

Danielle Storey:

Oh okay, and so if you’ve done a hundred percent of all of that and you think you’re going to do, you know, there’s a risk that it just might not work for something unforeseen. Hmm, very interesting, very interesting.

So tell me about how you, as the entrepreneur, how you see, you know you’ve stepped out now to develop your own brand you’re employing your own people, building a real business as I like to call them. How’s that been that journey from you going from corporate to entrepreneurship?

Michael Cooper:

Oh, yeah, it’s really been mind-expanding. When you’re in a corporate role, you see your role around you and, for me that was an IP attorney and not much else. There’s so much in addition to running a business and it’s like anyone in the startup community knows – business admin, setting things up, getting structures in place, tax requirements and accounting and bookkeeping and all that sort of stuff that you just have to learn.

Danielle Storey:

And I guess that would make you (you know I’m one of your biggest fans so you know I can say) that was one of the things that would make you a really good service provider because you’re not just talking about the one thing – you get it and that founders of got a lot of priorities pulling at their time and money.

Michael Cooper:

Yep, yeah, it really helps and you know I sat down with someone not that long ago and talking about startups and you know, they were a start-up and they were trying to say to me that looking at costs. I said, “look I get it, I’m a start-up myself. I’ve only been in business a short amount of time and I’ve got competing priorities as well. I understand it.”

Danielle Storey:

Can you see yourself disrupting the IP industry? Is it something that you look at and go “oh there is so much that could be done in this industry”. Please don’t give away your pre-embryonic ideas.

Michael Cooper:

Not drastically. I think these are step changes and I think it’s a pretty old-school profession that people kind of do things the way they do things and clients are starting to ask for more and more I think and the smart providers will adapt and follow that and I think that’s really what we’re doing. We’re following the market and what the markets asking for. We’re seeing some good results and people are coming to us which tells us that we are doing some good things and you know, we’ll just keep down that path. It’s not going to be a drastic step change I don’t think.

Danielle Storey:

So with that round out of your, you know, having your own pulled priorities and also delivering a service to founders, what advice would you give? Thinking back on the last, I don’t know, 12 months? We’ve got some listeners here with founders that are developing out, what advice could you give them?

Michael Cooper:

Ask questions early. You don’t know what you don’t know and what I didn’t know two years ago is amazing. I mean, I just there’s just so much stuff that you’re just not exposed to, you don’t know. You have service providers you have experts there you just need to lean on and they can give you great guidance.

Danielle Storey:

Do you have mentors? Do you have people that mentor you?

Michael Cooper:

Yeah for different aspects of business. Yeah, yeah. So for example, my father’s a retired CPA, he’s an accountant and when it comes to business structures and tax and things like that he’s great just to be able to ask him questions.

Danielle Storey:

Yeah, I’ve done this, what am I missed? Yeah, and of course, he won’t pull any punches either, I’m sure.

Michael Cooper:

No no, no, he’s not…

Danielle Storey:

Parents don’t.

Michael Cooper:

But there’s just so much stuff that you don’t, you never realize, you never think about. One of the things that’s come up a few times lately is dealing with startups and trademarks. They just don’t think a lot about it. And I’ve had a couple lately that have got, you know, a fair way down the track and are starting to raise funds and build a reputation and, you know, the website’s out there and they’re building their business and they never really thought about trademarks and then somebody’s tapped them on the shoulder and said “are you related to that company in America that’s doing a similar thing?” And they go “ah…no.”

Danielle Storey:

Right, yeah, yeah, that can be incredibly painful. A rebrand in the middle of all of that is not pretty.

Michael Cooper:

Yeah, particularly when you’ve got shareholders on board, you’ve got investors that you need to go back and tell them why you didn’t think about that in the first place.

Danielle Storey:

So Michael, thank you for sharing that conversation and really it was just a session to advise founders, and I love the core of it – ask better questions, ask good questions and find the right people around to ask those questions of, and be prepared – if think you might be looking at needing protection in the next couple of years, start the conversations now.

I want to ask you about innovation in general because you play in that space. What do you think about the word “innovation”? How do you describe it?

Michael Cooper:

It’s really about doing things differently and improving and developing. Some people just see something and I think I can do this better. And that’s really the heart of it, they just push on they start somewhere and think I can do this better and that morphs into something else and they improve on that and they improve on that and before they know it, they’ve just got something that’s great.

Danielle Storey:

Hmm. It’s that mind-expanding moment, isn’t it? I guess that’s personal to each of us in the sense of “oh, I never even thought you could do that.” And then it’s you know, wow.

Michael Cooper:

Yeah, yeah, the lightbulb going.

Danielle Storey:

The light bulb going. Yeah going on. Yeah switching on in the brain.

So what’s your favorite innovation of all time? Is there something that you look back over your life and think yeah, you know, it could be it could be a service, it could be a product, it could be something you’ve seen, it could be before your lifetime. What do you marvel at every time you look at it?

Michael Cooper:

Some of the really early patents are amazing.

And if I could just step back – the basic concept with a patent is that you invent something, you disclose it to the world for the purpose of advancing technology. So the public can see the great stuff that you’ve done and then they can build upon that and in return, you get a 20-year monopoly. So at the heart of the patent system it’s about advancing technology. And so many things are great advances and whether it’s an exciting product, and one of the great ones is Wi-Fi – it’s a great Australian story.

Danielle Storey:

Mm-hmm CSIRO yep.

Michael Cooper:

I mean that’s an amazing story. But you know, there are other things along the way, you know like Rubik’s Cubes, for example, I mean, it’s such a great toy that came out of nowhere and still with us today.

Danielle Storey:

That’s a cool toy.

Michael Cooper:

It is, and there’s so many great stories, you know, like Dyson. The Dyson vacuum cleaner is an amazing story as well and you know how many thousands of prototypes they went through and they come with this great product and it’s sort of just become a household product that we all kind of take for granted. But they all their place along the way of technology before them and they improved upon it and then people can improve on it again and again and again, it’s just this snowball that keeps rolling that’s really cool.

Danielle Storey:

Humans are incredible aren’t they? Very creative.

Well, that’s all we have time for today on the Innovation show. I’m very grateful to Michael Cooper from Cooper IP based out at Eastern Innovation in Mulgrave in the lovely city of Monash.

Michael, how do people get hold of you so that they can come and have a chat to you before they really need it or get themselves into strife?

Michael Cooper:

You can find us online at LinkedIn, Facebook, Google “Cooper IP

Danielle Storey:

Fantastic. I love the fact that you’ve got your own defined brand all on your own. Fabulous.

Outro music

Danielle Storey:

So our thanks go out to Michael Cooper from Cooper IP who’s just shared with us some of the advice that he has for founders and also for entrepreneurs of growing businesses who need to protect their brand, need to have a think about what they own or how they do something that creates their competitive advantage.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast as much as we have. A great big thanks goes out to the team at Alba Prime, to Glenn and his team who have made this possible for you. You can catch other of our podcasts on Spotify or on iTunes or wherever it is that you like to listen to your favorite podcasts. My name is Danielle Storey and once again, it’s been my pleasure to bring to you the Innovation Show Podcast.