Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, but 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 must be a better way. In response, he invented Maxtrax, a lightweight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.

After designing the How Do You Patent An Idea, he attended a Queensland Government business seminar, where 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 we could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now purchased in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets such as Australia, Europe and the US, and the business also offers 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 the first day.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or perhaps 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 probably be expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few other major markets, it lacks a grace period allowing for public disclosure of your invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens the way for the idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and the usa that can be done something regarding it, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s too far gone,” 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 company owners often think their idea is just too very easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and straightforward, it will likely be copied and you have to get advice.”

Unitary patents on way – Margot Fröhlinger is principal director of Getting A Patent, European and international legal affairs at the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications per year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian businesses that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You need the protection of the IP and, specifically, patent protection in order to get an excellent return on the investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result of complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that will 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 approximately 26 participating European Union member states with 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 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 into the European market, which boasts 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 no more than patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to get an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. Should they don’t have (IP) people in-house they ought to attempt to get strategic business advice.”

The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a percentage of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates how a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well in terms of inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 per cent) and Finland (2.9 per cent) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.

The message? Typically, Australian companies are certainly not good at converting research into value and treat IP nearly as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, including medical device dppdwz Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the importance of intangible assets such as brand and data use, and build their businesses around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has become Patent A Product and governing it is not only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly 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 kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 per cent of the companies’ value (regarding a$550 billion) will not be included on their own balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.

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