Protecting your intellectual property when exporting

Registering your IP rights in Australia does not give you automatic protection in overseas markets.

You need to seek IP protection in each country; although there are international agreements in place which make it easier to obtain rights in other countries.

This is a costly process, particularly when it involves the translation of applications into other languages.

Business people on steps

Things you need to know

Keep your idea secret

  • Do not prematurely disclose your idea that may be worth formally protecting.
  • If you tell someone about your ideas before seeking appropriate protection, or sell unpatented products, your competitors can use them.
  • Your products will no longer be considered new so you will be unable to obtain a patent. Nor will you be able to protect your products from being copied.

Research your potential market

  • Do a patent and literature search before you start. 
  • Someone else may own the rights to your idea already. 
  • It is crucial to know your potential market. 
  • Will your idea or product satisfy the local need? 
  • Are there adequate solutions to this need already available in that market?

Clearly define IP ownership with your partners

If you are developing a joint venture with your partner or modifying the design, package or trade mark of a product to suit the market, ensure that it is clear (preferably in the form of a written contract) who will be the owner of any IP generated.

Licensing in a foreign market 

  • To license IP in a foreign market, the IP needs to be protected in that market. 
  • If you are seeking to license the manufacturing of your product in a number of markets, you should ensure that your IP is protected and is not in the public domain in those markets - that is, protection has been obtained and has not expired.

Ensure your product name is not lost in translation  

  • Check if your trademark has undesired connotations or is likely to be rejected in that country. 
  • Fiat, a sporty Italian auto manufacturer, found that it had to rename its "uno" when selling it in Finland, as "uno" means "garbage" in Finnish.

Know deadlines for IP protection abroad

There are deadlines for applying IP protection abroad. Once you have applied for patent or design protection in Australia, you have a limited period of time to apply for protection abroad: 

  • patents for 12 months
  • designs for six months
  • trademarks for six months (though you may still apply afterwards)