Intellectual property can be a crucial business tool, although not everyone thinks with enough concentration about protecting their big ideas. In 2001, plumber Brad McCarthy got stuck on the 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 a 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 the advisers stressed getting patent protection before his idea was publicised. “One of the first things we did was talk with 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 as well as the US, and also the business also offers 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 odds of success from day 1.

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

Europe can be 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 the way in which for the idea or product to become copied. “In Australia and america you can do something regarding it, provided you’re inside 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 business people often think their idea is just too simple to warrant a patent. “However, if it’s successful and simple, 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 at the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), which oversees about 160,000 patent applications per year. She recently completed a road trip warning Australian companies that poor patent and IP safeguards could derail their European market opportunities. Companies have to innovate – and protect their inventions. “You need the protection of your 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 complex patent processes across multiple jurisdictions that may result in potentially high costs and marginal protection. However, the EPO is promoting a whole new unitary patent system that promises to be a game changer. This will make it easy 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 within the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system provides 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 opportunities to expand in to the European market, which boasts more than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and powerful consumer demand. “It’s extremely important for Australian businesses to comprehend that you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than Inventhelp Inventor Stories,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s very important to have 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 may come as the worldwide Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as a percentage of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates just how a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well when it comes to inputs into research and development, the united states (5.1 percent), Japan (4.7 per cent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 percent) on IP royalties.

Your message? Typically, Australian companies are certainly not good 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 significance of intangible assets like brand 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 only a matter of organising trademarks and patents. Intangible assets are rapidly increasingly important than kxwlfd assets and require appropriate consideration.

Overview of Australia’s top listed companies, released by How To Patent An Idea With Invent Help in September 2017, endorses such a sentiment. It reveals that 38 % of the companies’ value (in regards to a$550 billion) will not be included on their balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion of the corporate asset base.