Archive for the ‘Enforcement’ Category

On the problems of descriptive names

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

The Full Federal Court has dismissed Kosciuszko Thredbo’s appeal from the dismissal of its claims against ThredboNet.

Kosciuszko Thredbo (KT) runs the Thredbo ski resort. Amongst other things, one of its subsidiaries promotes the range of activities available at Thredbo from a website having the domain name: thredbo.com.au. ThredboNet leases some of the accommodation at Thredbo from KT and hires it out to prospective skiers, partygoers and the like. Indeed, the terms of its lease from KT obliged it to hire out, or at least offer for hire, the leased premises. ThredboNet had the, er, gall to promote its accommodation, amongst other things, from websites having “thredbo” in their domain names including “thredbo.com”.

KT contended that this conduct was passing off its reputation in “Thredbo” and misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law.

The Full Court agreed with KT that the trial Judge had erred in requiring KT to demonstrate it had acquired sufficient secondary meaning in Thredbo, the name of the place, that KT had the exclusive right to use the name. This did not help KT in the end:

31. In the end, the word “Thredbo” is a geographical name of a location in New South Wales. The appellants’ resort and businesses are located there and they hold (and their predecessors in title held) the head lease over the land on which the village and resort complex are located. But others also operate businesses, as sublessees, in the physical location known as Thredbo. The real issue was not whether the appellants had established a monopoly over the right to use the word “Thredbo” but whether they had established that the respondents’ conduct in using that word was likely to lead ordinary or reasonable consumers seeking accommodation or services in Thredbo into believing that the respondents’ business or the accommodation or other services that the respondents were offering was or were that or those of the appellants: Campomar 202 CLR at 87 [105]; Office Cleaning 63 RPC at 42. The more significant issue, then, is whether the primary judge erred in his conclusions on the question whether the respondents’ conduct was misleading or deceptive (or likely to be so).

The trial judge didn’t.

There were a number of strands to the Full Court’s reasoning. The Full Court recognised that some degree of confusion must be accepted where 2 traders use descriptive words otherwise one would be given an unfair monopoly.

In this case, the evidence from Google search results showed that there were a number of businesses that advertised with “Thredbo” in their name and/or domain names. ThredboNet’s website looked sufficiently different to KT’s websites and was limited only to the limited range of accommodation it provided. After the proceeding commenced, ThredboNet had included a disclaimer on its website. There was an initial form and a second, more explicit form. Either was sufficient:

We are not satisfied that a consumer who went to any of the respondents’ websites would reasonably have associated the operator of the website with the appellants. The respondents’ domain name www.thredbo.com was very similar to that of KT, namely www.thredbo.com.au. A consumer might easily be led to the former website thinking it was that of the appellants when doing an internet search. But in today’s society the ordinary or reasonable consumer seeking accommodation, or other goods or services, on the internet will frequently click on a result in a web search thinking it is a link to a particular site, only to find when his or her browser is directed to the selected site that it is not the site of the supplier or business that the consumer wanted. The ordinary, reasonable consumer who came upon the home page of www.thredbo.com would have seen, depending on when he or she accessed it, the first or second disclaimer in the middle of the page. Each disclaimer appeared under a recognisable, distinctive heading “About Thredbo.com”. It did not have the appearance, as asserted by the appellants, of being “buried in the text”.

This is not an endorsement of the initial interest confusion theory.

In the course of reaching their conclusion, the Full Court at [43] endorsed the proposition that:

…. Ordinarily, most people searching for a term or information will look at the first page of search results and then select the most apparently appropriate link or links from that page before they would move to a second or subsequent page of search results. Indeed, they would be unlikely to see any need to go to a second or subsequent page of search results unless they had not found some satisfactory site or sites on the first page.

There was a third issue: clause 4.3 of ThredboNet’s lease from KT appeared to forbid the use of “Thredbo”:

4.3 NO USE OF ‘THREDBO’

The Sublessee must not use or permit the use of the word ‘Thredbo’ in connection with any business carried on by the Sublessee, without the prior written consent of [KT].”

(Emphasis added by Full Court)

Because ThredboNet was required by the lease to hire out the accommodation for at least 26 weeks of the year, cl 4.3 could not mean ThredboNet could not use “Thredbo” in connection with that business. At a minimum, it must have been contemplated by both parties that ThredboNet would be able to tell its customers and potential customers the address of the properties. Further, the Full Court pointed out that the restraint was not a restraint in respect of the land on which the leased properties had been built. The restraint operated quite independently and separately from the land. Finally, KT did not provide evidence, or sufficient evidence, that a restraint of this kind was commonly accepted in such contracts as a normal incident of the arrangement. Accordingly, cl. 4.3 was invalid at common law as an unreasonable restraint of trade and operated so far outside any permissible scope that it was not capable of being read down under s 4 of the NSW Restraints of Trade Act.

Question: would it have made any difference if KT had a registered trade mark?

Kosciuszko Thredbo Pty Limited v ThredboNet Marketing Pty Limited [2014] FCAFC 87 (Siopis, Rares and Katzmann JJ)

 

Lid dip: Sue Gatford

More contempts

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Bob Jane and his trading companies were found to be infringing the BOB JANE and JANE FLEET trade marks and had, amongst other things, injunctions ordered against them to stop, to change the various company names and transfer two domain names.

They didn’t.

This time, Besanko J has imposed fines of $25,000 and $15,000 on Mr Jane for his contempts, $25,000 and $15,000 on Bob Jane Global Tyre Corporation (Hong Kong) Limited, $20,000 on Bob Jane Southern Motors Pty Ltd and $2,000 fines on corporate respondents for other contempts. The respondents were also ordered to pay 80% of the applicants costs on an indemnity basis.

Bob Jane Corporation Pty Ltd v ACN 149 801 141 Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 637

2 years gaol for contempt

Monday, May 26th, 2014

The Full Federal Court has reduced Mr Vaysman’s punishment for contempt from 3 years to 2 years imprisonment for repeatedly breaching injunctions not to infringe trade mark and copyright.

In 2003, Deckers Outdoor Corporation (the owner of the UGG Australia trade mark) sued Mr Vaysman, members of his extended family and various companies they operated through for infringing its trade mark and copyright. Those proceedings were settled by consent. Injunctions against trade mark infringement and copyright infringement had been ordered.

In 2004, Deckers Outdoor Corporation again sued Mr Vaysman, members of his family and the companies through which they operated for breach of the terms of settlement reached in 2003. Those proceedings were also settled by consent.

In 2007, Deckers Outdoor Corporation sued Mr Vaysman, members of his family, their companies and a number of others for the third time: for infringement of its trade marks and copyright and breaches of the prior terms of settlement.

Essentially, notwithstanding the two sets of earlier proceedings, the undertakings not to infringe and the injunctions against infringement, Mr Vaysman et al. had continued with their infringing activity making counterfeit UGG boots unabated at all. The proceedings involved two main aspects: the civil claims for infringement of trade mark and copyright and contempt charges for breaches of court orders made in both the earlier proceedings and also the 2007 proceedings (e.g. continuing the infringing activity in defiance of an interlocutory injunction).

Before the contempt charges were heard and the punishments handed down, there had been judgment against the Vaysman parties on the civil claims for infringement including an order for the corporate vehicle and Mr Vaysman jointly and severally to pay $3 million in compensatory damages and for the corporate vehicle to pay $3.5 million in additional damages pursuant to s 115(4) of the Copyright Act. (The corporate vehicle was by this stage being wound up.)

In relation to the most serious contempt, charge 18, the trial judge had found:

Charge 18 – Between December 2005 and (at least) November 2007 Mr Vaysman caused and encouraged the use of a factory in Roper Street Moorabbin for manufacturing and selling counterfeit footwear.  He did so contrary to consent orders to which he was a party which were made by the Court on 12 March 2004.  During this period, as I found in Deckers Outdoor Corporation Inc. Farley (No 5) [2009] FCA 1298 (“Deckers (No 5)”) at [84]-[92], over 30,000 pairs of counterfeit boots were sold with the profit on those sales amounting to over $3 million.

As Mr Vaysman was found to be in overall control of the whole operation, the trial judge sentenced him to 3 years’ imprisonment for this contempt. (Other charges of contempt were also established, but received much lighter punishments to be served concurrently with the punishment on charge 18.

By the time the contempt charges came to be heard in 2010, Mr Vaysman was no longer in Australia.

After the punishments for contempt were imposed, Mr Vaysman’s father, a 74 year old in ill-health and found by the Court to be of previously unblemished character, successfully appealed a sentence of a term of 18 months’ imprisonment. Gray and Bromberg JJ, considering imprisonment very much a last resort, imposed a fine of  $50,000, but ordered that the roughly 2 months or so he had already served in prison stand in lieu of the fine. Besanko J agreed that the sentence needed to be reduced, but would have reduced the sentence to a term of 12 months.

Mr Vaysman returned to Australia in June 2013. He was imprisoned pursuant to the contempt order. He sought leave to appeal (a long time out of time).

Besanko J, with whom Siopis J agreed, granted leave and considering the 3 year sentence manifestly excessive having regard to other sentences for contempt, ordered the sentence be reduced to two years. Besanko J did not consider that Federal Court sentencing practices needed to be adjusted for consistency with State court sentences. Nor did his Honour think any discount should be made having regard to the award of additional damages.

Dowsett J took a different approach.

His Honour considered that, to the extent that Federal Court sentences for contempt, were more lenient than comparable State courts, the Federal Court standard should be lifted. Focusing on the punitive nature of awards of additional damages, however, his Honour considered there an element of double counting or double jeopardy in not taking into account the additional damages award when fixing the contempt penalty. Dowsett J would have reduced the prison sentence from 3 years to 2 years and 3 months.

Vaysman v Deckers Outdoor Corporation Inc [2014] FCAFC 60

Winnebago 2: the disclaimer

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Back in June, the Full Court, upheld the trial Judge’s conclusion that Knott was engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct, and passing off, by using the Winnebago “logos” to promote RVs of its (Knott’s) manufacture that had nothing to do with Winnebago USA. Because the breach was in the nature of “passing off” rather than trade mark infringement and because Winnebago USA had sat on its hands for 25 years allowing Knott to build up some goodwill of its own, however, the Full Court was prepared to grant an injunction only to restrain use of WINNEBAGO and the Winnebago logos by Knott which did not adequately disclaim association with the USA.
The Full Court has now handed down its decision about the form of that disclaimer:

without:

(f) where the name, mark or logo is used on one or more vehicles or in a document (including any print advertisement or webpage), stating in any relevant document (including any print advertisement or web page) or on any vehicle, clearly and prominently, and reasonably proximate to any name, mark or logo:

(i) (where the name, or mark or logo is used on or in relation to a single vehicle) “This vehicle was not manufactured by, or by anyone having any association with, Winnebago of the United States”; or …

In addition, radio and television commercials must have a prominent voiceover of no less than 10 seconds’ duration stating:

These vehicles were not manufactured by, or by anyone having any association with, Winnebago of the United States.

Also, Knott will be required to obtain a signed acknowledgement from each purchaser, hirer etc. that he or she has been informed the vehicles was “not manufactured by, or by anyone having any association with, Winnebago of the United States.”

Given the 25 year delay, the Full Court was not prepared to countenance allowing Winnebago USA to take an account of Knott’s profits.

The Full Court did, however, remit the matter back to the trial judge on the question of damages (limited to the six years before the proceeding was brought), but with an important rider.

Winnebago USA wants to argue that its damages should be a reasonable royalty on the use of its rights. The Full Court noted that other Full Court authority [1] appeared to stand in the way of that approach, but there might be scope for that to be revisited in light of the New South Wales Court of Appeal’s consideration of remedies for the unauthorised use of property in the context of conversion.[2]

The rider: before Winnebago USA gets to try this argument, it has to satisfy the trial Judge that there is “some prospect of a substantial (that is, real) award.”

Knott Investments Pty Ltd v Winnebago Industries, Inc (No 2) [2013] FCAFC 117


  1. Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd v DAP Services (Kempsey) Pty Ltd (in liq) [2007] FCAFC 40; 157 FCR 564 at 569 [27]-[28].  ?
  2. Bunnings Group Ltd v CHEP Australia Ltd [2011] NSWCA 342; 82 NSWLR 420 at 464–470 [166]-[186].  ?

Dosing up children, overturning interlocutory injunctions and the balance of convenience

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

An IPwars first: my colleague, Susan Gatford, provies an update in which a Full Court overturned an interlocutory injunction against an alleged patent infringement. Do you agree with Sue that a trend seems to be developing?

Remember way back at the start of the Apple v Samsung litigation the Full Court dissolved the interlocutory injunction granted to Apple? Well, they did it again earlier this month in GlaxoSmithKline Australia Pty Ltd v Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Limited.

The proceeding concerns an invention for accurately serving up doses of liquid medicines for children. Apparently children don’t like taking medicine from syringes with nozzles because they remind them of bad things (injections). But syringes are the most accurate way to measure doses of medicine accurately. Solution: design a syringe that doesn’t quite look like one. The syringe in the patent looked like this

Patented embodiment

Patented embodiment

It was designed by Reckitt and called a flat nosed syringe (i.e. one without a nozzle). It fits into a plastic attachment inserted into the neck of a medicine bottle. The syringe fits tightly into the neck attachment and allows accurate dosages to be measured and then administered. Reckitt has patented its bottle-syringe-bottle neck arrangement. It uses it to sell nurofen for children. This has apparently given their nurofen product a substantial competitive advantage over Glaxo’s panadol (the medicines are largely interchangeable and parents chose the one that is easiest to use in terms of dose measurement and child acceptance).

Interestingly, despite being aware of and seeking to emulate the Reckitt product, Glaxo didn’t do any patent searches. It seems that this was because it was told by the third party manufacturers of the syringe and of the bottle and neck attachment that they as manufacturers held all of the relevant patents.[1] (They were wrong.)

Two injunctions were granted. On 28 May 2013 a Glaxo product that substantially replicated the Reckitt product was injuncted.[2] According to the Court’s reasons Reckitt’s only complaint was the similarity of the bottle neck liner.[3] This wasn’t, however, only what the patent claimed as its invention (remember, the aim was to design a syringe that didn’t look like one).

Version 1

Version 1

Glaxo then re-designed the shape of the syringe and advised Reckitt that it intended to sell their panadol with the offending bottle neck liner but with a different syringe. The re-designed syringe looked like this

Version 2

Version 2

Reckitt went back to Court to argue that this fell within claim 1 of the patent, which relevantly read:

A liquid dispensing apparatus comprising a bottle, a bottle neck liner and a flat-nosed syringe having a plunger and a barrel, the barrel terminating at its distal end in a generally flat face having a diameter corresponding to the diameter of the syringe and being perpendicular to the longitudinal access of the barrel….

The trial judge held that there was a sufficiently strong argument that the words

“having a diameter corresponding to the diameter of the syringe barrel and being perpendicular to the longitudinal access of the barrel”

would be understood by an addressee skilled in the art at the time of the patent to apply to the distal end of the barrel.[4] Accordingly, his Honour held that Reckitt had a sufficiently strong prima facie case that warranted the grant of an injunction. His Honour rejected Glaxo’s application to lead further evidence as to the balance of convenience and made orders restraining the sale of the re-designed product. Glaxo appealed.

It argued that the trial judge’s interpretation required the additional words “at its distal end” to be added to the above extract, and that this was impermissible. The Full Court agreed. Put simply, its view of the strength of Reckitt’s infringement case on the design-around syringe was substantially lower than that of the trial judge. It also said that the trial judge erred procedurally by forcing Glaxo to rely only on its balance of convenience evidence from the May hearing, and by rejecting the further balance of convenience evidence on which it sought to rely in July. At the May hearing the trial judge had rejected Glaxo’s evidence as to balance of convenience in strong terms and made findings in accordance with of evidence filed by Reckitt in reply to it. The Full Court said

It was, of course, a matter for the primary judge to make findings of fact based on the evidence before him. But having made strong findings of fact, which were directly contrary to Ms Tomkins’ first affidavit, in the context of assessing the balance of convenience at the first hearing, it is difficult to understand why GSK should be prevented at the second hearing from relying upon additional evidence from Ms Tomkins in the form of her second affidavit which expanded upon the reasons why the primary judge’s suggested option was impracticable and posed public health and safety risks (see further below). All the more so in circumstances where the second hearing took place more than six weeks after the first hearing and related to an allegation of patent infringement in respect of a different apparatus. These considerations are not displaced or diminished by s 37M of the FCA Act.

The case is a timely reminder that:-
1. leave to appeal against interlocutory orders in patent and like cases is a serious option;
2. applications relating to “design around” products need to be considered both substantively and procedurally as the separate applications that they are in fact; and
3. it is worth paying very careful attention to balance of convenience evidence, which is often a moving feast, and doing your best to make sure that the Court does too. Referring the Court to this case might just help in that endeavour.

GlaxoSmithKline Australia Pty Ltd v Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Limited [2013] FCAFC 102

Susan Gatford is barrister on Gordon & Jackson’s list at the Victorian Bar. She practices out of Owen Dixon Chambers in Melbourne and is also a registered trade mark attorney.


  1. Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd v GlaxoSmithKline Australia Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 583 (Reckitt (No.1)) at [36].  ?
  2. Reckitt (No.1).  ?
  3. Reckitt (No.1) at [37].  ?
  4. Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd v GlaxoSmithKline Australia Pty Ltd (No 2) [2013] FCA 736 at [20].  ?

Apple and that ITC ban

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Well written piece in The New Yorker outlining the role of the US International Trade Commission in patent disputes and President Obama’s veto of the ITC’s order to block imports of “older” Apple products.

Mind you, make sure you are not eating your cornflakes over breakfast or sipping your decaf skinny latte when you get to the paragraph:

Samsung’s lawyers may take their talents to Seoul, Tokyo, London, or other venues in which home-court advantage is increasingly important ….

Prof. Wegner apparently saw it differently.

Lid dip: Miguel Belmar

A couple of other points from Insight on appeal

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Following on from the earlier post, the Full Court did, however, dismiss ACER’s appeals against Besanko J’s rulings that:

  1. Dr Hart owned the copyright in the SOQH, even though it was created while he was employed by the Department of Education; and
  2. The assignment of the right to sue for past infringements was valid.[1]

The ruling on the right to sue for past infringements is particularly important as it is the first substantial appellate consideration of the question. It is all the stronger because it was executed some 2 years after the assignment of copyright but Besanko J and the Full Court found there was sufficient nexus with the copyright assignment to support its validity.

Insight SRC IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd [2013] FCAFC 62


  1. Bit more on the ownership, assignment and additional damages questions here. ?

Property in the proceeds of infringement

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

In a decision which no doubt has some further distance to run, Newey J (sitting in the Chancery Division of the High Court in England) has ruled that the owner of copyright does not have a proprietary interest in the proceeds (read profits) made by an infringer of the copyright.

Harris et al. are alleged to be the person (or persons) behind the Newzbin file sharing sites which, amongst other things, have been found to infringe the movie studios’ copyrights in a range of films (here and here, where Arnold J ordered the ISPs to block access).

In December last year, the Newzbin sites appear to have closed down, claiming they had run out of money.

Having obtained freezing orders (formerly called Mareva injunctions) against the assets of the defendants (such as the house in which Mr Harris lives and the Maclaren car he parks in its driveway), the movie studios sought “proprietary injunctions” over the assets as well. This seems to involve a court determination that the assets in question were the property of the movie studios rather than the defendants. For example, Newey J explained the difference between the (already in place) freezing order and the injunctions now sought by reference to Millett LJ’s description:

“The courts have always recognised a clear distinction between the ordinary Mareva jurisdiction and proprietary claims. The ordinary Mareva injunction restricts a defendant from dealing with his own assets. An injunction of the present kind, at least in part, restrains the defendants from dealing with assets to which the plaintiff asserts title. It is not designed merely to preserve the defendant’s assets so as to be available to meet a judgment; it is designed to protect the plaintiff from having its property expended for the defendant’s purposes”.

The movie studios based their argument on observations in the Spycatcher cases that Peter Wright may have held the rights in Spycatcher on constructive trust for the Crown in view of his breaches of duties of confidence and fidelity.

Newey J seems to have rejected this claim partly on the basis that there were cases binding on him (albeit apparently disapproved by the Privy Council) ruling that there was no such proprietary interest and partly on the basis that s 18 of the Copyright Act 1956 had expressly deemed the copyright owner to be the owner of infringing copies and provided remedies in conversion and detention. That remedy, however, had been repealed by the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 as unjust and unfair.

There are some interesting issues for Australians.

First, the conversion/detention remedy on the basis of deemed ownership has not been repealed (but is now discretionary) – see s 116 (but the Full Court may not be too keen on the remedy – see [94] of French and Kiefel JJ (as their Honours then were).

Secondly, in Lenah Game Meats, Gummow and Hayne JJ did say at [102]:

A cinematograph film may have been made, as in Lincoln Hunt, in circumstances involving the invasion of the legal or equitable rights of the plaintiff or a breach of the obligations of the maker to the plaintiff. It may then be inequitable and against good conscience for the maker to assert ownership of the copyright against the plaintiff and to broadcast the film. The maker may be regarded as a constructive trustee of an item of personal (albeit intangible) property, namely the copyright conferred by s 98 of the Copyright Act[96]. In such circumstances, the plaintiff may obtain a declaration as to the subsistence of the trust and a mandatory order requiring an assignment by the defendant of the legal (ie statutory) title to the intellectual property rights in question[97]. Section 196(3) of the Copyright Act provides that an assignment of copyright does not have effect unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor.

Gaudron and Callinan JJ also agreed.

Newey J considered, however, that:

i) The point under consideration (viz. whether copyright in a film made unlawfully was subject to a trust) was rather different to that with which I am concerned (viz. whether a copyright owner has a proprietary claim to the fruits of infringement); and

ii) The Australian approach to constructive trusts is by no means the same as that in this jurisdiction. In particular, as the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia noted in Grimaldi v Chameleon Mining NL (No. 2) [2012] FCAFC 6 (in paragraph 574)

His Lordship’s second point may be thought to be a second factor why an Australian court might take a different approach to his Lordship’s conclusion.

As to the first point, one might well think, if such a constructive trust arose, that the trustee would have to account for the fruits of the use of the trust property and possibly even handover such fruits as were still in his possession.

Finally, the Privy Council’s rejection of the authority binding on Newey J (and the determination of the movie studios) may well indicate that Newey J’s decision is just the first step in the war.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation v Harris [2013] EWHC 159

Lid dip: Fiona Phillips

Raising the Bar regulations

Friday, September 21st, 2012

IP Australia has published the first tranche of draft regulations to implement the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 (most of which comes into force on 15 April next year).

This tranche includes the draft regulations for:

  •  Schedule 1 – Raising the quality of granted patents,
  • Schedule 4 – Assisting the operations of the IP profession, and
  • Schedule 5 – Improving mechanisms for trade mark and copyright enforcement.

Comments should be submitted by 21 November 2012.

Download all the gory details, including draft EMs, here.

Lots have people have had a go at trying to explain some, or all, of the ramifications of the Act. If you don’t want to Google, or bing, or duck duck go, the EM can be found on Parliament’s site here and the Bills Digest prepared by the Parliamentary secretariat is here.

Compulsory licensing of patents

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

The Assistant Treasurer has referred the operation of the compulsory licence regime within the Patents Act 1990 to the Productivity Commission for review.

At present, sections 133 to 140 of the Patents Act provide for applications to be made to the Federal Court for a compulsory licence to work a patent where

(i) the applicant has tried for a reasonable period, but without success, to obtain from the patentee an authorisation to work the invention on reasonable terms and conditions;

>(ii) the reasonable requirements of the public with respect to the patented invention have not been satisfied;

(iii) the patentee has given no satisfactory reason for failing to exploit the patent; or

the patentee has contravened the anti-competitive provisions in Part IV of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

The Terms of Reference require the Productivity Commission to:

  1. Assess whether the current Australian provisions can be invoked efficiently and effectively to deal with circumstances where reasonable requirements of the public are not being met or where the patentee engages in anti-competitive conduct. This includes, but is not limited to, consideration of concerns that gene patents may hinder access to affordable healthcare, including access to medical advice that relies on the identification and use of gene sequences related to human health and disease.
  2. Advise on the frequency, and impact, of the issue of compulsory licences in comparable markets and the common features in such compulsory licenses.
  3. Recommend any measures that may be required to efficiently and effectively exercise these safeguard provisions and invoke their use in a manner consistent with Australia’s international obligations, without limiting access to overseas technologies, technology transfer, research and development investments or substantially reducing the patent incentive for innovation.
  4. Recommend any alternative mechanisms deemed necessary to ensure that the balance between incentives to innovate and access to technology best reflect objectives of ensuring reasonable access to health care solutions, maximising economic growth and growing the Australian manufacturing industry.
  5. Recommend measures to raise awareness of these provisions and their purpose, including the specific challenges of raising awareness among small businesses and the healthcare sector.

The genesis of the reference seems to lie in the uproar resulting from the attempt to charge licence fees for diagnostic kits based on the BRCA 1 patent and, more recently, the smartphone wars.[1]

A number of submissions to the Senate’s Community Affairs committee claimed that there were a range of deficiencies with the present scheme. In addition, IP Australia told the Senate’s Community Affairs committee when it was investigating these (and other matters) that, in the 100+ years our law has had such provision, there had been only 3 applications for the grant of a compulsory licence. The ALRC had also recommended that the scope of ‘reasonable requirements of the public’ be clarified (the recommendation to make the competition test a basis for licensing having been sort of implemented when s 133(2)(b) was inserted in 2006.

The Terms of Reference also note that Australia is a net importer of technology with, for example, only 1,178 (or 8%) of the 14,557 patents granted in 2010 being granted to Australian residents.

The TRIPS Agreement allows us to do something in this sphere. See art. 40 and art. 27.2 even goes so far as to allow us to exclude from patentability things necessary to protect ordre public “including to protect human … life or health”.

Of course, the multi-million dollar question in all of this is what that elastic word “reasonable” might mean?

Do also note paragraph 4 of art. 40, which gives a country that is concerned its nationals are being prejudiced by the exercise of such rights an “opportunity for consultations”. Of course, such a country might just move straight to the dispute resolution processes. I wonder how a more liberal use of compulsory licensing, or the threat of it, would play with those of our trading partners who consider compulsory licences of patents to be anathema?

According to the Productivity Commission’s website:

1 an issues paper will be released in August;
2 initial submissions will be due by 28 September;
3 there will be a draft report released in early December;
4 public hearings will be held in February 2013; and
5 the final report will be delivered to the government on 29 March 2013.


  1. According to the Press Release amongst other things: “Of concern to government is a perception that patents over genetic technologies, or a perceived lack of licences to use these patents in Australia, unreasonably restricts or delays patient access to medical advice based on the latest diagnostic tests. Other areas of sensitivity include climate change mitigation, food security and alternative energy technologies, and technical standards essential patents (for example, in telecommunication technologies).”  ?