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 the 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 has to be a much better way. In reaction, 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 speak to a patent attorney to find out how we could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets like Australia, Europe as well as the US, and also the business even 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 good idea cruel their likelihood of success from the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other I Have An Idea For An Invention before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or perhaps 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 be too costly. “The vast 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 your invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens the way to have an idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and the United States that can be done something about it, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s too far gone,” Postma says. “In that case, businesses have shot themselves within the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business people often think their idea is just too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and straightforward, 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 at 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 the IP and, in particular, patent protection in order to get an excellent return on your investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe because of complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that will lead to potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a whole new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This makes it possible to get protection in up to 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of any 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 provides 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 opportunities to expand in to the European market, which boasts greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s essential for Australian businesses to know that there is a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking only about Invention Ideas Website,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to get an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. Should they don’t have (IP) folks-house they ought to try 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 as a percentage of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates just how a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the US (5.1 per cent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 per cent) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.
The content? For the most part, Australian companies are not proficient 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 importance of intangible assets such as brand name and data use, and build their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has turned into 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 Inventions Ideas 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 the balance sheets; this suggests that investors are operating without insights right into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.