Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, although not everyone thinks with enough concentration about protecting their big ideas. In 2001, plumber Brad McCarthy got stuck over a remote beach in Cape York in north Queensland and spent about 6 hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there has to be a much better way. Responding, he invented Maxtrax, a light-weight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.
After designing the super-tough nylon product, he attended a Queensland Government business seminar, where advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the first things we did was talk to a patent attorney to view how you could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets such as Australia, Europe and the US, as well as the business also has a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses for its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with a great idea cruel their chances of success from the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other Invention Idea Help before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or even friends. It could be a costly error. Bradley Postma, principal at patent and trademark attorney firm Cullens, says small and medium enterprises (SMEs), particularly, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will probably be expensive. “The majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be quite a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various other major markets, it does not have a grace period permitting public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of any subsequent patent application. That opens the way for an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and the usa that you can do something about it, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s far too late,” Postma says. “In that case, businesses have shot themselves within the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and everyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business people often think their idea is too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will likely be copied and you have to get advice.”
Unitary patents on way – Margot Fröhlinger is principal director of unitary patent, European and international legal affairs on the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications a year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian firms that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies have to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of your IP and, particularly, patent protection to get an excellent return on your investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe because of complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a brand new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in up to 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of the single request towards the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI inside the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has the potential to increase trade and foreign direct investment in high-tech sectors, delivering annual gains of €14.6 billion ($A22.8 billion) in trade and €1.8 billion (A$2.81 billion) in foreign direct investment.
Fröhlinger believes Australian businesses across all sectors have possibilities to expand to the European market, which boasts a lot more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s essential for Australian businesses to know that there exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than Inventhelp Invention News,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to get an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) folks-house they ought to make an effort to get strategic business advice.”
The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a portion of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates how a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the US (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.
The content? For the most part, Australian companies are not great at converting research into value and treat IP nearly as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, like medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the significance of intangible assets such as brand name and data use, and make their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it is not just a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly becoming more important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.
Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Inventhelp Commercials in September 2017, endorses such a sentiment. It reveals that 38 per cent in the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) is not included on their balance sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.