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 must be an improved way. Responding, 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, in which the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the first things we did was speak to Inventhelp to see the way we could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets including Australia, Europe and the US, as well as the business even 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 some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or even friends. It can become 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 probably be too costly. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can be considered a particular trap for exporters because, unlike some other major markets, it does not have a grace period allowing for public disclosure of an invention without affecting the validity of any subsequent patent application. That opens the way to have an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and the United States you can take action about this, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s 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 company owners often think their idea is just too very easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will probably be copied and you should 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 per year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian companies that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies need to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You require the protection of your IP and, particularly, How To Obtain A Patent in order to obtain a good return on the investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result 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 as a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in up to 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 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 to the European market, which boasts more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to know that you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking only about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important to have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) people in-house they need to attempt to get strategic business advice.”

The value of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the international Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a amount of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates the way a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the united states (5.1 %), Japan (4.7 percent) and Finland (2.9 per cent) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.

Your message? As a general rule, Australian companies usually 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 value of intangible assets like 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 point of organising trademarks and Inventhelp. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.

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

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