Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, although 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 six hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there should 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, where the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “Among the first things we did was talk to Invention Ideas to see how we 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, and also 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 likelihood of success from day one.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or even friends. It can become 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 probably be expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can become 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 an invention without affecting the validity of any subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which for the idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and the usa you can do something regarding it, 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 within the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is just too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, 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 per year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian businesses that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies need to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of your own IP and, particularly, Inventhelp Invention News in order to get a good return on your own investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe due to 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 to become a game changer. This will make it easy to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of a 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 provides the possible ways 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 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 only 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 worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as a percentage of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates the way a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the US (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
The content? Being a general rule, 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, including medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the importance of intangible assets such as brand and data use, and build their briaac around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has become a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer just a point of organising trademarks and How To Prototype An Invention. Intangible assets are rapidly becoming more important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.
A review of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent in the companies’ value (regarding a$550 billion) is not included on their balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.