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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 an improved way. In reaction, 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 to What Is A Patent to see how you could protect the thought,” says McCarthy, who launched Maxtrax in 2005. It really is now available in about 30 countries worldwide. McCarthy has patents in key markets including Australia, Europe and also the US, as well as the business even 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 recommended cruel their odds of success from day one.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or some other intellectual property protection before they spruik their idea to investors, the general public 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), particularly, 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 become a particular trap for exporters because, unlike various other major markets, it lacks a grace period allowing for public disclosure of your invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens just how for the idea or product to be copied. “In Australia and the usa you can do something about it, 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 people often think their idea is too easy to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and straightforward, it will likely 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 must innovate – and protect their inventions. “You need the protection of the IP and, particularly, New Product Ideas in order to obtain a good return on your investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result of complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that can result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a brand new unitary patent system that promises to become a game changer. This makes it easy to get protection in up to 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the 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 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 to the European market, which boasts greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s very important for Australian businesses to understand that there exists a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important to get an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) folks-house they need to 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 as a amount of total trade. Basically, the measure indicates just how 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 percent) on IP royalties.

Your message? As being 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 importance of intangible assets including brand name and data use, and make their briaac around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, IP has turned into a crucial business tool and governing it is no longer just a matter of organising trademarks and Inventhelp Commercials. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.

An overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by Glasshouse Advisory in September 2017, endorses this type of sentiment. It reveals that 38 per cent of the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) is not included on their own balance sheets; this suggests that investors are operating without insights into a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.