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Intellectual property could 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 much 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 primary things we did was talk to a patent attorney to see how you could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets such as Australia, Europe and also the US, and also the business also has a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses for its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with a great idea cruel their odds of success from the first day.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or any other Inventhelp Inventor Stories 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), specifically, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will be expensive. “The vast majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe could be 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 the subsequent patent application. That opens the way to have an idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and the usa that you can do something about it, provided you’re in a one-year window – in Europe you can’t, it’s far 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 simply 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 on 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 have to have the protection of your own IP and, in particular, patent protection 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 may end 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 will make it possible to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with all the submission of any 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 the potential 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 strong consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to know that you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than Ideas Inventions,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. Should they don’t have (IP) people in-house they need to make an effort to get strategic business advice.”

The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as a amount of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates the way a country is performing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 %), Japan (4.7 percent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.

The content? Typically, Australian companies are certainly not great at converting research into value and treat IP almost 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 logo and data use, and build their businesses 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 patents. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.

A review of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Patent Help Companies in September 2017, endorses this kind of sentiment. It reveals that 38 % from the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) will not be included on the balance sheets; this suggests that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.