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 should be an improved way. In response, he invented Maxtrax, a lightweight vehicle-recovery device for bogged off-roaders.

After designing the Invention Websites, 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 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 including Australia, Europe and also the US, and the business even offers a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses for its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with recommended cruel their odds of success from day 1.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public or perhaps friends. It can be a costly error. Bradley Postma, principal at patent and trademark attorney firm Cullens, says small and medium enterprises (SMEs), specifically, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will likely be too expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can be quite a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few other major markets, it lacks a grace period permitting public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens the way to have an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and the usa that can be done something regarding 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 inside the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and everyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that company owners often think their idea is just too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and uncomplicated, it will be copied and you need to get advice.”

Unitary patents on way – Margot Fröhlinger is principal director of unitary patent, European and international legal affairs on the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications per year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian firms 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, particularly, 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 How To Patent An Idea With Invent Help across multiple jurisdictions that may result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a brand new unitary patent system that promises to be a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of the single request for the EPO.

A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI inside the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got 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 possibilities to expand in 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 understand that you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking only about patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. When they don’t have (IP) people in-house they need to try to get strategic business advice.”

The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as a portion of total trade. In essence, 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 usa (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.

Your message? As a general rule, Australian companies are certainly not proficient 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 value of intangible assets including brand and data use, and wksgqs their businesses around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, Inventhelp Patent Information has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it has stopped being just a matter of organising trademarks and patents. 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 such a sentiment. It reveals that 38 % from the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) will not be included on the 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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