Intellectual property can be quite a crucial business tool, but not everyone thinks with enough concentration about protecting their big ideas. In 2001, plumber Brad McCarthy got stuck on the remote beach in Cape York in north Queensland and spent about six hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there has to be an improved way. Responding, he invented Maxtrax, a lightweight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.
After designing the super-tough nylon product, 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 speak to a patent attorney to find out how you could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets including Australia, Europe and the US, as well as 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 odds of success from the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other Invent Help Inventors before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or perhaps friends. It may 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 expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe could be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various other major markets, it lacks a grace period making it possible for public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens just how to have an idea or product to become 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 in the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and everyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business people often think their idea is simply too very easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, 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 on the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications per 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, specifically, patent protection to get a great return on your own investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result of 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 to be a game changer. This will make it possible to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states using the submission of the 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 opportunities to expand to 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 you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking just about Inventhelp Inventors,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s essential with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) people in-house they ought to make an effort to get strategic business advice.”
The price of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates how a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the united states (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 per cent) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
The message? Typically, Australian companies usually are not great at converting research into value and treat IP almost as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, like medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the importance of intangible assets such as brand name and data use, and build their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has turned into a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.
Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Inventhelp Inventor Stories in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 % of the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not included on the balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.