New Inventions..

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 six hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there should be a better 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, where advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the first things we did was speak with How To Start An Invention to find out how we could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It really is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets such as Australia, Europe as well as 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 chances of success from day one.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or any other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the public or even friends. It can be considered 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 expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few other major markets, it does not have a grace period permitting public disclosure of your 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 you can do something regarding it, provided you’re inside 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 people often think their idea is simply 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 at the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications annually. 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 your own IP and, specifically, Inventhelp Inventions Store in order to acquire a good return on the investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe due to 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 will make it easy to get protection in as much as 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 in the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has 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 more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to know that there exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s essential with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) folks-house they need to make an effort to get strategic business advice.”

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

The message? Being a general rule, Australian companies usually are not good 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 such as brand name and data use, and build their briaac around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has become a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer just a matter of organising trademarks and Inventor Ideas. Intangible assets are rapidly more and 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 kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent in the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not included on their own balance sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.

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