Intellectual property could 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 has to be a much better 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, where advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the primary things we did was talk with 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 such as Australia, Europe as well as 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 chances of success from the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other Inventhelp Pittsburgh before they spruik their idea to investors, people or even friends. It may 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 be too costly. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various 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 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 everyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business people often think their idea is 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 unitary patent, European and international legal affairs at the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications annually. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian companies that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies need to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You need the protection of your IP and, in particular, patent protection to get a great return on your 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 new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of any 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 provides 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 robust consumer demand. “It’s essential for Australian businesses to understand that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking only about How To Submit A Patent,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) individuals-house they ought to try to get strategic business advice.”
The value of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a portion of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates just how a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the US (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.
Your message? For the most part, Australian companies usually are 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 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 is not only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.
A review of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Inventhelp Caveman Commercials in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 per cent from the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) will not be included on the balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.