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 should be a much better way. In response, he invented New Invention Ideas, 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. “Among the first things we did was speak to a patent attorney to see how you could protect the thought,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It really is 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 the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the public or even friends. It could 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 expensive. “The majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be quite a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few other major markets, it lacks a grace period permitting public disclosure of an invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens just how to have an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and the United States you can do something about it, provided you’re inside a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s far too late,” Postma says. “In that case, businesses have shot themselves inside the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is too easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will be copied and you should 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 a 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 the investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe because of Inventhelp Inventions processes across multiple jurisdictions that may end in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a new unitary patent system that promises to be a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in as much as 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of any single request towards 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 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 possibilities to expand to the European market, which boasts greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and strong consumer demand. “It’s extremely important for Australian businesses to know that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking just about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to get 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 value of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a amount 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 US (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 per cent) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
The content? Typically, Australian companies usually are 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 significance of intangible assets like brand and data use, and make rtaotl businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, Inventhelp Company has become a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer just 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 such a sentiment. It reveals that 38 % from the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not really included on the balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.