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 the remote beach in Cape York in north Queensland and spent about 6 hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there must be an improved way. In response, 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, in which the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “Among the first things we did was talk with a patent attorney to find out how you could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It really is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has Inventhelp New Store Products in key markets like Australia, Europe and the US, as well as the business also has a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it ways to use its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with a good idea cruel their odds of success from day one.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or 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 expensive. “The majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can be 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 your invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which for the idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and the United States you can take action about this, provided you’re within 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 too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, it will probably 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 at the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications a year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian businesses that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies have to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You have to have the protection of the IP and, in particular, patent protection in order to obtain a good return on your own investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe because of complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can end in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a whole new unitary patent system that promises to become a game changer. This will make it easy to get protection in as much as 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of a single request to the EPO.

A November 2017 EPO study, Inventhelp Invention News, Trade and FDI in the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has 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 in to the European market, which boasts a lot more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s extremely important for Australian businesses to comprehend that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking just about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s essential to have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. Should they don’t have (IP) people in-house they need to attempt to get strategic business advice.”

The price of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a amount of total trade. Essentially, 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 united states (5.1 %), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.

The message? As a general rule, Australian companies are certainly not proficient at converting research into value and treat IP almost as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, such as medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the value of intangible assets including brand name and data use, and make their businesses around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has turned into a crucial business tool and governing it is not just dependent on organising trademarks and How Do I Get A Patent. Intangible assets are rapidly becoming 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 % from the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not really included on the jjnywy sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights right into a significant proportion in the corporate asset base.

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