Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, but 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 I Have An Idea For An Invention, he attended a Queensland Government business seminar, where advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “Among the first things we did was speak to a patent attorney to view how you could protect the thought,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is actually now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets such as Australia, Europe and the US, as well as the business also has a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses of its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with a great idea cruel their likelihood of success from day one.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or even 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 costly. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe could be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few other major markets, it does not have a grace period allowing for public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens the way for 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 within the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and everyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that company owners often think their idea is just too easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, it will 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 annually. 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 require the protection of your own IP and, in particular, patent protection in order to get a good return on the investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result of What Is A Patent 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 as 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 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 possibilities to expand in 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 exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking just about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important to get an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. When they don’t have (IP) people in-house they should attempt 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 portion of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates the way a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 percent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.
The message? As a general rule, Australian companies usually are not proficient at converting research into value and treat IP nearly as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, like medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the value of intangible assets including brand name and data use, and wksgqs their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, Inventhelp Pittsburgh Corporate Headquarters has turned into 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.
An overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses such a sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent of the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) is not really included on the balance sheets; this suggests that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.