Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, although 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 should be a better way. In response, he invented Maxtrax, a lightweight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.
After designing the I Want To Patent My Idea, 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 talk with a patent attorney to view how we could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It really is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets like Australia, Europe and the US, and 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 good idea cruel their odds of success from the first day.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, people 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 probably be too expensive. “The vast 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 making it possible for public disclosure of an invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens just how for the idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and america that can be done something about it, provided you’re within 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 anybody can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is just too very easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, 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 in 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, particularly, patent protection to acquire a good return on the investment,” she says.
Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result of Inventhelp Wiki across multiple jurisdictions that can result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This will make it possible to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of a single request for the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI in 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 chances to expand into the European market, which boasts greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to understand that there is 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. If they don’t have (IP) people in-house they should make an effort to get strategic business advice.”
The price of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates 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 %), Japan (4.7 percent) and Finland (2.9 per cent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
Your 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 importance of intangible assets like brand and data use, and wksgqs their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, Inventhelp Products 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 increasingly important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.
A review of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 per cent of the companies’ value (regarding a$550 billion) is not included on the balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.