Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, although not everyone thinks with enough concentration about protecting their big ideas. In 2001, plumber Brad McCarthy got stuck over a remote beach in Cape York in north Queensland and spent about six hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there must 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, 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 see how you could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets including Australia, Europe and also the US, and 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 good idea cruel their odds of success from the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or any other Invent Help before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public as well as friends. It could be a costly error. Bradley Postma, principal at patent and trademark attorney firm Cullens, says small, and medium enterprises (SMEs), specifically, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will likely be too expensive. “The majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe could be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike some other major markets, it lacks a grace period making it possible for public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of any subsequent patent application. That opens just how for the idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and america that you can do something regarding it, 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 anybody can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is too easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will be copied and you should 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 per year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian companies that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of the IP and, particularly, patent protection to acquire a great 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 can result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This makes it possible to get protection in as much as 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of the single request to the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI within the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got the potential 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 in to the European market, which boasts a lot more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s extremely important for Australian businesses to know that there exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than Patent A Product,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important to have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. When they don’t have (IP) folks-house they ought to try to get strategic business advice.”
The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a percentage of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates just 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 per cent) and Finland (2.9 per cent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
Your message? For the most part, Australian companies are not proficient 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 significance of intangible assets such as brand and data use, and build their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it has stopped being just a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly more and more important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.
Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Inventhelp Headquarters in September 2017, endorses such a sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent of the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) will not be included on the balance sheets; this suggests that investors are operating without insights right into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.