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Intellectual property can be quite a crucial business tool, however, not everyone thinks with enough concentration 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 has to be an improved way. In response, he invented Maxtrax, a light-weight 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 to a patent attorney to see the way we could protect the idea,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It is now sold in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets such as Australia, Europe as well as 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 good idea cruel their chances of success from the first day.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or any other Inventhelp Patent Information before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public as well as 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 majority of protectable IP goes unprotected,” he says.

Europe can be a particular trap for exporters because, unlike a few 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 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 far gone,” Postma says. “In that case, businesses have shot themselves in the foot; they’ve forfeited their rights and everyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners often think their idea is too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, 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 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 must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You have to have 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 because of complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can end in 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 approximately 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the single request to 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 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 into the European market, which boasts a lot more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to comprehend that there exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking only about Inventhelp Patent Information,” 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 need to try to get strategic business advice.”

The need for intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come 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 when it comes to inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 percent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 %) on IP royalties.

The content? Typically, Australian companies are not great 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 importance of intangible assets such as brand 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 only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly becoming more important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.

Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Inventhelp Caveman Commercial in September 2017, endorses this type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 percent of the companies’ value (about A$550 billion) is not included on the balance sheets; this indicates that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.

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