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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 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 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 to a patent attorney to view how we could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has Invention Companies in key markets including Australia, Europe and the US, as well as the business also offers a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it ways to use its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with a good idea cruel their odds of success from day one.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, people or even 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 majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can become a particular trap for exporters because, unlike some other major markets, it lacks a grace period permitting public disclosure of your invention without affecting the validity of any subsequent patent application. That opens just how for an idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and the usa you can do something about it, 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 in 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 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 businesses that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies need to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You need the protection of the IP and, in particular, patent protection in order to obtain a good return on your own investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe due to complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can end in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a whole new unitary patent system that promises as a game changer. This will make it easy to get protection in as much as 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the single request for the EPO.

A November 2017 EPO study, How To Sell My Invention Idea To A Company, Trade and FDI in the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got the possible ways 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 more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s essential for Australian businesses to understand that you will find 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 should attempt to get strategic business advice.”

The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates just how a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the united states (5.1 %), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 %) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.

Your message? As 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 logo and data use, and make their businesses around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has become a crucial business tool and governing it is not just a point of organising trademarks and Inventor Information. Intangible assets are rapidly more and more important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.

Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 % in the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) is not really included on the jjnywy sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights right into a significant proportion in the corporate asset base.

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