Mobile phone doubles as hearing test cum sound improvement system IP trading helps home-grown technologies excel
Hong Kong is an important intellectual property (IP) centre in the Asia-Pacific region. By virtue of its sound legal system, robust IP protection regime, diversified financing services as well as its status as an international arbitration centre, it has always been serving the role of a global trading hub, thereby creating an environment favourable to the operation of local research institutions.
Ximplar, a local research firm, is a good example in point. A medical team led by Paul Lee, executive director of Ximplar and Professor Andrew Van Hasselt, an otorhinolaryngology authority with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, succeeded in developing ACEHearing™, a technology which can run on common electronic devices such as a smartphone to help improve hearing in people with hearing problems.
Mr. Lee said, “About 38% of the population of the world less-than-perfect hearing. Previously we would most probably go to a hospital to have a check and would probably have to wait for a period of nine months to two years before we can be prescribed a suitable hearing aid. With ACEHearing™, a user can self-administer a hearing test on any common electronic device which has been installed with the ACEHearing™ technology.” It has been shown in clinical trials that, after no more than five minutes of testing in a quiet environment, an ACEHearing™-enabled device will be able to determine the hearing status of the user to an accuracy which is on a par with a test carried out in a hospital.
Hearing test technology is nothing new, but the combining of a hearing test with an automatic sound improvement function and making the technology workable on smartphones and other electronic devices is a world’s first. After the hearing test, the automatic adjusting function of ACEHearing™ will customise external sounds as well as sounds, such as music, generated by the device into frequencies suitable to the user. In other words, a mobile phone can double easily as a hearing test cum sound improvement system.
No wonder ACEHearing™ has won the Bronze Award and the Audience Choice Award of the Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Awards this year. Ximplar has already licensed the patent rights of this “home grown” technology to an IP intermediary body, so ACEHearing™ will soon break out from Hong Kong and venture into the international arena.
Mr. Lee said that, in addition to improving the quality of life of its users, ACEHearing™ can indirectly help alleviate the pressure on family members responsible for taking care of people with hearing problems. “Elders with hearing handicaps generally have difficulties hearing high pitches, so their caretakers will have to raise their voices or shout repeatedly, causing much inconvenience in daily lives. Though ACEHearing™ is not replacing traditional hearing aids, the transferring of the technology to mobile phones provides convenience to users and is also money saving.”
Expanding into international markets through technology patents ACEHearing™ will soon be launched officially. In order to get in touch with more international telecommunications companies and mobile phone manufacturers, Ximplar has earlier licensed the patent to an IP intermediary body. The aim is to use the recognisability and global network of the latter to make further expansion into the international market. The company also plans to push the technology into other application areas such as tablet computers, MP3 players or even to network exchanges and servers.
“Even for people who know that they have hearing problems, they may not think it necessary or may not like to wear hearing aids,” says Mr. Lee, “For one thing, they don’t feel comfortable, not least because there are interferences or other noises when used for phone calls. For another, some people associate hearing aids with a stigma and do not want others to know they have hearing problems. Because an ACEHearing™ enabled smartphone has the exact same external build as an ordinary one and retains the same smack of trendiness, it will not create an image issue for the users.” He is now talking to mobile phone manufacturers in the hope that they can embed ACEHearing™ in their products for selling.
Local IP trading platform helps SMEs seek business opportunities Mr. Lee had engaged in R&D in the Silicon Valley for more than 10 years before courageously returning to Hong Kong to start his own business. He said it was all because of Hong Kong’s unrivalled advantages. “The R&D environment in Hong Kong is full of vigour and vitality and the government is providing research companies with very good supports. What are attractive about Hong Kong are its flexibility, speediness and the high calibre of its people—the basic conditions of developing into another Silicon Valley. Hong Kong as an externally oriented economy is conducive to attracting overseas investors. What is more important is that Hong Kong respects IP and this IP trading platform helps me release my dream of many years.”
He continued, “Though in recent years science parks in places like Singapore and Hangzhou are also offering a lot of incentives, it is but only one inducement which to me is not the main concern in deciding to start up a company. It is only under the environment of Hong Kong that one can develop ideal products.” Mr. Lee is convinced that only Hong Kong that can bring out the full potentials of superior products.
“To expand into the international market by SMEs like us, it is particularly important that Hong Kong as an IP trading platform allows more overseas buyers understand our products and market positioning. On the one hand, a well-thought out IP strategy can provide solid protection against infringements of the rights of inventions. On the other hand, it will help attract more investors. It is inevitable that large electronic companies will shift the focus of their investments to IP.”
With regards to development plans, Mr. Lee said that Ximplar will continue to optimise the various technologies related to ACEHearing™. In addition to hoping that the product will receive market recognition, he also hopes that his case will encourage and inspire more exploration by the industry. Recalling that he had also come across a lot of difficulties at the beginning of the research, he commented that an entrepreneur must have determination. “An innovation ‘concept’ is actually very cheap and may have previously been mulled by other people. The question is that not many people are putting concepts into actions, so an entrepreneur must not only be able to think out of the box, but also have the persistence and determination to bring ideas to fruition.”