Innovation review

I’m still wading my way through the Innovation Review.

Meanwhile Duncan Bucknell is highly critical, particularly of recommendation 7.2:

Recommendation 7.2: Patent law should be reviewed to ensure that the inventive steps required to qualify for patents are considerable, and that the resulting patents are well defined, so as to minimise litigation and maximise the scope for subsequent innovators.

As Duncan points out, what does this actually mean?  Well, Ben Roxborough at IPRoo thinks we should pay much more attention to this recommendation as it appears to be, or be very close to, what IP Australia thinks should happen.  Follow Ben’s link from here.

If that is right, then there must be a very good chance that, whatever it means, it is going to happen.

One certainly can’t quibble with the idea that patents should be certain and clear in scope.  Indeed, Besson & Meurer contend that one of the main reason why the patent system in the USA is not working properly is precisely because patents there are not clear and certain in scope. (Blog summaries here and here.)

Given Australia’s role as an IP importer, and bearing in mind we have the innovation patent too, one can’t really quibble with the idea that we shouldn’t be granting standard or “real” patents for things that wouldn’t get patented overseas – well, I suppose one can quibble, but I’m not at all sure what would be the justification for allowing patents in Australia which are not patentable elsewhere.  

(As an aside, I wonder how requiring more inventiveness, if it can be defined, fits in with having innovation patents – which are certainly real – but for rather more limited, limited terms.)

In the Alphapharm case (see esp. [80 -81], however, the majority of the High Court pointed out that there didn’t seem to be a “standard” international approach.  On the other hand, there is some evidence emerging that it may be easier to get patents in Australia than Europe and Japan but, possibly, not the USA.

If that is what the evidence does suggest, one might then have to go on to ask (amongst other things) how much of the difference is due to, say, EU-centric rules like no patents on computer programs as such?

Now, I have previously mentioned that Prof. Mark Lemley provides one of the clearest explanations I have come across on whay that is not a good idea (listen to podcast #62).  And that was in the context of considering patentable subject matter.

And guess what, that is the subject of another Australian governmental review.  So, it looks like change is coming.  Perhaps, you should get involved?

On recommendation 7.3:

Recommendation 7.3:  Professional practitioners and beneficiaries of the IP system should be closely involved in IP policy making.  However IP policy is economic policy. It should make the same transition as competition policy did in the 1980s and 90s to being managed as such.

I can’t do better than quote the new DG:

In this regard, it is useful to remember that intellectual property is not an end in itself. It is an instrumentality for achieving certain public policies, most notably, through patents, designs and copyright, the stimulation and diffusion of innovation and creativity on which we have become so dependent, and, through trademarks, geographical indications and unfair competition law, the establishment of order in the market and the countering of those enemies of markets and consumers: uncertainty, confusion and fraud. In the end, our debates and discussions are about how intellectual property can best serve those underlying policies: whether modifying the international framework will enhance or constrain innovation and creativity and contribute to their diffusion, and whether it will add confusion, rather than clarity, to the functioning of the market.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t tells us in any particular case whether more protection or better exceptions are required.  It does, however, remind us what the rules are trying to balance.

The Secret – more forum wars

Late in July, Sundberg J found that Australia was clearly an inappropriate forum to litigate the dispute over ownership and infringement of copyright in the film and the book, The Secret.  Now there is an appeal on foot.

To recap: interests associated with Ms Rhonda Byrne commenced proceedings in Australia claiming to be the owner of copyright in the film of The Secret.  Drew Heriot was the director of the film – there is a dispute between the parties over whether he was employed by one of the Byrne interests or the respondent in this proceeding.  In any event, the Heriot interests brought parallel proceedings in the USA.

Sundberg J considered Australia was clearly an inappropriate forum.  Broadly, this was on the basis that it was necessary to have regard to the whole dispute between the parties, not just the component of the litigation relating to Australia.  On that basis, by far the greater amount of damages at stake were those for infringement in the USA (the book has featured on Oprah, amongst others) and only the US court would have power to amend or correct the US Register of Copyrights.  The judge in the US has apparently reached a similar conclusion.

Now, the question in Australia is who should hear the application for leave to appeal: a single judge or the Full Court.  Heerey J has directed that the matter go before a Full Court and, subject to any directions by the Full Court, be heard concurrently with, or immediately before, the appeal.

His Honour considered that the Byrne interests would suffer substantial prejudice if it turned out that Sundberg J’s decision was wrong:

9 However the US proceeding will deal not only with copyright ownership, but with questions of infringement and damages, issues which do not arise in the Australian proceeding. There will be a significant burden, both financial and otherwise, on the applicant in having to contest that proceeding. Moreover, as Mr Batt for the applicant points out, his client’s Australian proceeding was commenced first, seeking a remedy under Australian legislation arising out of events which allegedly took place in Australia. The opportunity for the applicant to contest, and possibly win, the Australian proceeding, without having to defend the more extensive US proceeding, is something of real value, the loss of which arguably amounts to real injustice, supposing Sundberg J’s decision to be wrong. Apart from anything else, victory in the Australian proceeding may create some issue estoppel in favour of the applicant, or give it leverage in commercial negotiations.

Heerey J did avoid the question of whether the decision was in fact wrong.  It was not the subject of detailed submissions by either party.  In any event, experience taught that the two questions could not often be treated in a vacuum.  Moreover, there was a chance the matter could be dealt with in the November sittings if not before.

TS Production LLC v Drew Pictures Pty Ltd [2008] FCA 1329