Summer must be over …

IP Australia has released a consultation paper (pdf) (with exposure draft bill (pdf) and draft EM (pdf)) on the proposed Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014.

According to the overview, the proposed bill will:

  • implement the Protocol amending the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS Protocol – links via here), enabling Australian medicine producers to manufacture and export patented pharmaceuticals to countries experiencing health crises, under a compulsory licence from the Federal Court
  • extend the jurisdiction of the former Federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Circuit Court, to include plant breeder’s rights matters
  • allow for a single trans-Tasman patent attorney regime and single patent application and examination processes for Australia and New Zealand, as part of the broader Single Economic Market (SEM) agenda
  • make minor administrative changes to the Patents, Trade Marks and Designs Acts to repeal unnecessary document retention provisions that are already adequately governed by the Archives Act 1983
  • make minor technical amendments to the Patents Act to correct oversights in the drafting of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 which was passed by Parliament in March 2012.

The proposed bill succeeds the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013, which proved rather more controversial than the former government, or its advisors, expected (see, for example, here (pdf)) and lapsed with the calling of the election.

According to the consultation paper, the proposed bill largely replicates the lapsed bill, but there have been changes in 5 key areas.

The provisions relating to Crown Use in the lapsed bill have been withdrawn and will be the subject of a separate bill in the future.

The provisions to implement the TRIPS Protocol drew much of the controversy. According to the consultation paper, these have been amended in a number of important respects. First, it is proposed that separate applications will be required for each patent that a person seeking a licence to manufacture under the TRIPS Protocol requires. It is hoped that this will address concerns about an imbalance of negotiating power if the patentee of one patent also required access to someone else’s patent(s) to take advantage of the proposed compulsory licence.

Secondly, the proposed compulsory licence will be to exploit the patent for the relevant purpose rather than the more limited “work” the patent.

To preclude the need to change the regulations when (perhaps that should be “if”) there is a change in a country a country qualifies as a permissible import destination, and the notification requirements according to whether the country is a member of the WTO or an LDC, the regulations will refer simply to the relevant lists maintained by the WTO and/or the UN.

Whether these changes will meet the substantive objections raised against the lapsed bill remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, the draft bill fails to address one important oversight from the Raising the Bar Act. The Raising the Bar Act replaced the standard applicable during examination and opposition to the grant of a patent from one of practically certain to be invalid to one of balance of probabilities: see Sch. 1 Part 2 items 39 to 54.

It has not been determined finally what standard applies in trade mark proceedings, although the preponderance of authority in the Federal Court appears to support the “practically certain to be invalid” standard to the examination and opposition of trade marks. See for example NV Sumatra v BAT at [16] – [38]. This position was adopted by analogy to, and for conformity with, the position then prevailing for patents. The reasons why this was changed for patents are equally applicable for trade mark applications. One would think it was high time to address this.

Comments and submissions are required by 7 February 2014.

Links to IP Australia’s documents via here.

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