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 on a remote beach in Cape York in north Queensland and spent about 6 hours getting his car by helping cover their 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 super-tough nylon product, he attended a Queensland Government business seminar, in which the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the first things we did was speak to a patent attorney to find out the way 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 also the US, and also the business also 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 great idea cruel their chances of success from day 1.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other Invent Help Technology before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public as well as friends. It may 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 likely be too 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 does not have a grace period making it possible for public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens just how to have an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and the United States that can be done something about this, 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 anybody can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, it will be copied and you need to get advice.”
Unitary patents on way – Margot Fröhlinger is principal director of unitary patent, European and international legal affairs on 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 have to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of the IP and, in particular, patent protection to get an excellent return on your 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 as a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in up to 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the single request for 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 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 chances to expand to the European market, which boasts more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to comprehend that you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than Famous Inventors,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) folks-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 as a amount of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates 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 %), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
Your message? Typically, Australian companies are certainly not good 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 like brand name and data use, and make their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has become a crucial business tool and governing it has stopped being only 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 Tech in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 % of the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) will not be included on their balance sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.