Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, however, not everyone thinks hard enough about protecting their big ideas. In 2001, plumber Brad McCarthy got stuck on 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 should be a better way. In reaction, he invented Maxtrax, a lightweight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.
After designing the How To Prototype An Invention, he attended a Queensland Government business seminar, in which the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the primary things we did was talk to a patent attorney to view how we could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is actually now purchased in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets including Australia, Europe and the US, and the business even offers a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses of 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 intellectual property protection 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), in particular, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will be too expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be quite a particular trap for exporters because, unlike some other major markets, it does not have a grace period allowing for public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which to have an idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and america that can be done something about it, provided you’re within a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s far too late,” Postma says. “In that case, businesses have shot themselves in the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and anybody can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that company owners often think their idea is simply too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, it will be copied and you have to get advice.”
Unitary patents on way – Margot Fröhlinger is principal director of How To Patent A Product, European and international legal affairs at the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications annually. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian firms that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You need the protection of your IP and, specifically, patent protection to get a good return on the investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe due to complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a new unitary patent system that promises to be a game changer. This will make it easy to get protection in as much as 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of a single request towards the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI in the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system provides the possibility 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 comprehend that there exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. Should they don’t have (IP) individuals-house they should attempt to get strategic business advice.”
The price of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a portion of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates the way a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the US (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 percent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
The content? Typically, Australian companies usually are not good at converting research into value and treat IP almost as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, such as medical device dppdwz Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the importance of intangible assets including logo and data use, and build their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has grown to be Inventhelp Products and governing it is no longer only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly more and more important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.
Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 % of the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not included on their own balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.