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 a much better way. In response, 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, in which the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the primary 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 is actually now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has How Do You Get A Patent With Inventhelp in key markets including 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 odds of success from day one.
Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or any 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), particularly, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will probably be too expensive. “The majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.
Europe can be considered a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few other major markets, it does not have a grace period making it possible for public disclosure of your invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which for the idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and the United States you can do something about this, provided you’re within a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s too late,” 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 owners 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 a year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian businesses that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies have to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You have to have the protection of the IP and, specifically, patent protection in order to get a good return on your own 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 new unitary patent system that promises to become a game changer. This makes it possible to get protection in as much as 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the single request to the EPO.
A November 2017 EPO study, Inventhelp Inventor, 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 into the European market, which boasts greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful 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 have an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. When they don’t have (IP) individuals-house they need to try 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 being a percentage of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates just how a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the US (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.
Your message? Being a general rule, Australian companies are not good at converting research into value and treat IP nearly as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, including medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the significance of intangible assets such as brand name and data use, and make their businesses around it.
In a knowledge-based economy, IP has turned into a crucial business tool and governing it has stopped being just a matter of organising trademarks and Inventhelp Product License. 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 this type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent of the companies’ value (regarding a$550 billion) is not really included on the jjnywy sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion in the corporate asset base.