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 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 response, he invented Maxtrax, a lightweight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.
After designing the Inventhelp Caveman, 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 the way we could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is actually now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets including Australia, Europe and also the US, as well as the business also has 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 day 1.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the 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), particularly, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will be too expensive. “The majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various other major markets, it lacks a grace period permitting public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens just how for the idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and the United States that you can do something about it, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s far 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 owners often think their idea is too very easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will likely 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 businesses 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, in particular, patent protection to get a good return on your own investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe because of Patent Companies across multiple jurisdictions that can result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a brand new unitary patent system that promises to be a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in up to 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of a single request to the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI inside the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got 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 chances to expand to the European market, which boasts a lot more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and strong consumer demand. “It’s extremely important for Australian businesses to understand that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. Should they don’t have (IP) individuals-house they ought to make an effort to get strategic business advice.”
The value of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as a percentage of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates just how a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well in terms of inputs into research and development, the united states (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 per cent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
Your message? As a general rule, Australian companies are not great at converting research into value and treat IP nearly as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, including medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the value of intangible assets like logo and data use, and wksgqs their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, Inventhelp Products has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. 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 type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 per cent of the companies’ value (regarding a$550 billion) is not included on their own balance sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights right into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.