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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 6 hours getting his car out with a hand winch. He knew there must be a much 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 first things we did was speak with Inventhelp Headquarters to find out how you could protect the concept,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It really is now purchased in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents 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 uses of its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with recommended 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, 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), particularly, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will likely be too costly. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can become a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various other major markets, it lacks a grace period allowing for public disclosure of the invention without affecting the validity of a subsequent patent application. That opens the way in which to have an idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and america you can take action about this, 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 inside the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is too very easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, it will likely 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 in the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications annually. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian firms 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, in particular, Technology in order to get 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 lead to 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 as much as 26 participating European Union member states using the submission of any 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 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 chances to expand to 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 know that there exists 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. Should they don’t have (IP) people in-house they should attempt to get strategic business advice.”

The value of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses comes as the international Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts being a amount of total trade. In essence, the measure indicates the way 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 per cent), Japan (4.7 %) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.

Your message? As being a general rule, Australian companies usually are not great 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 like logo and data use, and build their briaac around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has developed into a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer just a point of organising trademarks and How To Invent A Product. 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 percent of the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not included on the balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.

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