The Raising the Bar Bill

Senator Carr introduced the Intellectual Property Laws (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011 into Parliament today.

Press release

Download the text of the Bill and EM from here (choose your own format).

You will remember that (according to the Press Release) the main objects of the Bill include:

  • raising patent standards to ensure Australian innovators are well placed to take their inventions to the world;
  • increasing penalties for trade mark counterfeiters;
  • improvements to border security measures for goods that infringe copyright and trade marks;
  • providing free access to patented inventions for researchers; and
  • cutting red tape and delays when seeking an IP right.

While there have no doubt been modifications to the text of the Exposure Draft (and Patentology flags a big change to the transitional provisions for the new patentability standards), you can get a very good feel for what the various parts of the Bill are trying to achieve:

in relation to patents from Dr Summerfield’s 8 part series over at Patentology:

  1. Part 1: inventive standard
  2. Part 2: usefulness
  3. Part 3: provisional specifications
  4. Part 4: enablement
  5. Part 5: claims supported by description
  6. Part 6: experimental use
  7. Part 7: miscellanea including standard of proof
  8. Part 8: transitional

Kim Weatherall also commented on a number of aspects, exploring in particular the (proposed) trade mark criminal offences.

You do need to bear in mind that these commentaries were on the text of the Exposure Draft and it was intended that anomalies identified through the Exposure Draft would be corrected in the Bill so, as I have already noted, there will be changes. Nonetheless, these comments should give you a good fell for what was being intended and issues that might be thrown up.

As you will see from the commentaries on the exposure draft, there are a host of issues to be considered. Time doesn’t permit anything but a cursory attempt on a couple of points here:

Item 113 of Sch 6 will replace the current s 41 of the Trade Marks Act (requiring a trade mark to be capable of distinguishing) with a new provision intended to reverse Blount and ensure that there is a presumption that a trade mark is registrable. It does this by requiring the Registrar to be satisfied that the trade mark is not capable of distinguishing before the Registrar can reject the application on this ground.

So clause 41(2) says “A trade mark is taken not to be capable of distinguishing … only if ….”

(Now I look at it, I wonder how long before it will be before someone tries to argue that “taken not to be capable of distinguishing” means something different to (and less than) “is not capable of distinguishing”. Oh well. Surely that one would be dispatched over the fence for six?)

While the Bill does seek to change the standard of proof against patent applications and patent oppositions from the existing “practically certain to fail” or “clear” type standard to the usual “balance of probabilities (see e.g. items 14 and 15 of Sch 1), no such amendment is proposed for trade mark oppositions. Therefore, the current state of uncertainty on this issue will continue (contrast e.g. Hills v Bitek at [43] – [55] to Sports Warehouse v Fry at [26] – [40]) , even though the school of thought favouring the “practically certain” or “clear” standard was imported from the Patents Act.

The bill will also introduce a whole new regime of oppositions to the registration of trade marks.

Item 18 of Sch. 3 will replace s 52 so that there is an obligation to file a Notice of Opposition which the Registrar, not the opponent, will serve on the applicant. Item 19 will introduce a new s 52A. This will require an applicant to file a notice of intention to defend or the application will lapse.

According to the EM, the regulations (when they are promulgated) will include power for the Notice of Opposition to specify the particulars of the grounds of opposition. The EM explains:

Opponents are currently required to state the grounds on which they intend opposing an application when they file their notice of opposition. However, they are not required to set out the particulars of those grounds. Frequently, this means that the opponent sets out all possible grounds, whether or not they have any intention of relying on them. As a result, the trade mark applicant may be faced with a number of grounds to deal with and no indication of which are key to the opposition until late in the opposition proceedings and sometimes not until the hearing

makes it difficult for the applicant to prepare their case. It also increases costs as the applicant is obliged to prepare a case in response to all grounds raised in the statement of grounds, including those on which the opponent may no longer rely.

The amendment addresses this problem by allowing for regulations to be made to require the opponent to file a statement of particulars of the grounds on which they intend to oppose. This will help focus oppositions earlier, reducing costs and unnecessary effort for the applicant.

The EM talks of the regulations conferring a power to require particulars. Whether this will be a discretionary power to be exercised on a case by case basis or an obligation on all opponents will need to await the terms of the regulations themselves. For example, the EM on items 24 and 25 states that opponents will be required to file both statements of grounds and particulars and  the last paragraph of the EM on item 17 states that the particulars will be required to be filed within 1 month of the filing of the Notice of Opposition.

The regulations will also apparently include a power to amend the statement(s) of grounds and particulars. However, the EM on items 24 and 25 states:

The regulations will only permit the opponent to amend the statement of grounds and particulars under tightly controlled circumstances.

The Federal Magistrates Court will get original jurisdiction in matters under the Designs Act and the Trade Marks Act alongside its existing original jurisdiction in copyright and (what used to be called) trade practices matters.

 

 

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