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 an improved way. In reaction, 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 the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the primary things we did was speak to Inventhelp Patent Invention to find out the way we could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is actually now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets like Australia, Europe and also the US, and also the business even offers 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 likelihood of success from day one.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, people or even friends. It can 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 be too costly. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can become a particular trap for exporters because, unlike some other major markets, it does not have a grace period making it possible for public disclosure of an invention without affecting the validity of any subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which for an idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and america you can do something about this, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s too late,” Postma says. “In that case, businesses have shot themselves inside the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is just too easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, it will likely be copied and you need to get advice.”
Unitary patents on way – Margot Fröhlinger is principal director of unitary patent, European and international legal affairs in 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 have to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of your own IP and, in particular, Inventhelp Locations in order to acquire a good return on your investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe due to complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can end 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 will make it easy to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of a single request to the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI in the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got 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 chances to expand into the European market, which boasts more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s essential for Australian businesses to know that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking only about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s essential to get an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. When they don’t have (IP) folks-house they should try to get strategic business advice.”
The price of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the international Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates how a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.
Your message? Being a general rule, Australian companies are not good 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 value of intangible assets like brand and data use, and make their briaac around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it has stopped being just a point of organising trademarks and Idea Help. Intangible assets are rapidly more and more important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.
An overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent from the companies’ value (regarding a$550 billion) is not included on their balance sheets; this suggests that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.