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 6 hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there has to 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, where the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the first things we did was speak to How To Patent An Idea to view how 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 as well as the US, and also the business also offers a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses of its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with recommended cruel their odds of success from day one.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, people or even friends. It can 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 expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can become a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various other major markets, it lacks a grace period allowing for public disclosure of an invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which to have an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and america you can take action about this, provided you’re inside 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 anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business people often think their idea is simply too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will probably 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 in 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 must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of your own IP and, in particular, Inventhelp Successful Inventions in order to acquire a good 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 result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a brand new unitary patent system that promises to become a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in approximately 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 within the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got 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 to the European market, which boasts greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and strong consumer demand. “It’s essential for Australian businesses to understand that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking just about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) folks-house they need to attempt to get strategic business advice.”

The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates how a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 %), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.

The message? As a general rule, Australian companies are certainly not proficient at converting research into value and treat IP almost as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, like medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the importance of intangible assets such as brand name and data use, and build their briaac around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer just a matter of organising trademarks and How Do You Get A Patent. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.

An overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent from the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not really included on their balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.

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