Intellectual property could be a crucial business tool, however, not everyone thinks with enough concentration about protecting their big ideas. In 2001, plumber Brad McCarthy got stuck on the 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 a much better way. Responding, 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 a patent attorney to see 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 like Australia, Europe as well as the US, and also 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 likelihood of success from day one.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other Cool Invention Ideas before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public as well as friends. It can 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 majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike some other major markets, it does not have a grace period permitting public disclosure of an invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens just how for an idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and the United States that you can do something about it, 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 everyone 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 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 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 firms that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You have to have the protection of your IP and, particularly, patent protection in order to get an excellent 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 will end in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a whole new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This will make it easy to get protection in up to 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the 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 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 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 How To Pitch An Invention To A Company,” 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) people in-house they should attempt to get strategic business advice.”
The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the international Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates the way a country has been doing 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 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.
The message? As a general rule, Australian companies are certainly 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 significance of intangible assets like brand and data use, and make their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has turned into a crucial business tool and governing it is not 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 Inventors Helpline in September 2017, endorses such a 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 right into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.