Intellectual property can 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 an improved way. In response, he invented How Do I Get A Patent, a light-weight 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. “Among the first things we did was talk with a patent attorney to find out how you could protect the concept,” 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, as well as the business even offers a trademark on the distinctive original “safety orange” hue it uses for its moulded product. Unlike McCarthy, however, many inventors and businesses with recommended cruel their likelihood of success from day 1.

Their big mistake? Ignoring patents or 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), specifically, often neglect safeguarding their IP or think it will likely 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 allowing for public disclosure of your invention without affecting the validity of the subsequent patent application. That opens just how to have an idea or product to get copied. “In Australia and america you can do something about this, 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 anyone can copy [their idea].” Postma observes that business owners 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 should 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 firms 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 own IP and, specifically, patent protection to acquire a good return on your investment,” she says.

Many international businesses have baulked at exporting to Europe as a result of How To Start An Invention processes across multiple jurisdictions that may lead to 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 possible to get protection in approximately 26 participating European Union member states with the submission of the single request towards the EPO.

A November 2017 EPO study, Patents, Trade and FDI within the European Union, suggests better harmonisation of Europe’s patent system has got 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 greater than 500 million people, high gross domestic product and robust consumer demand. “It’s extremely important for Australian businesses to know that you will find a big change ahead in Europe. I’m not talking no more than patents,” Fröhlinger says. “It’s extremely important with an integrated IP portfolio considering patents and trademarks and (covering) design. If they don’t have (IP) folks-house they ought to make an effort to get strategic business advice.”

The price of intangible assets – This call to action for Australian businesses may come as the Global Innovation Index 2017 reports on countries’ IP receipts as being a portion of total trade. Essentially, the measure indicates the way a country has been doing on the IP front. While Australia scores well with regards to inputs into research and development, the usa (5.1 %), Japan (4.7 per cent) and Finland (2.9 percent) easily outperform Australia (.3 per cent) on IP royalties.

The content? For the most part, Australian companies are not great at converting research into value and treat IP almost as an administrative function. The exceptions are health tech leaders, such as medical device company Cochlear and sleep-disorder business ResMed, which understand the importance of intangible assets such as logo and data use, and build rtaotl businesses around it.

In a knowledge-based economy, Inventhelp Reviews has developed into 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 tangible assets and require appropriate consideration.

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 (about A$550 billion) is not included on the balance sheets; this means that that investors are operating without insights in to a significant proportion from the corporate asset base.