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Mainly intellectual property (IP) issues Down Under

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2017 – exposure draft

IP Australia has published an exposure draft of an Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2017 and the proposed accompanying regulations, explanatory memorandum and statement. So that everyone at IP Australia has something to do when they come back from their summer hols, you have to get your comments in by 22 January 2017.

A large part of the changes seem to be about aligning the administrative processes under the different statutory regimes According to the EM:

The patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights (PBR) systems have a number of different administrative processes and rules specific to each IP right. A number of these differences are unnecessary or too onerous. Some processes take too long to resolve. This needlessly increases complexity, uncertainty and cost for users of the IP system.

This Bill will align and streamline the processes for obtaining, maintaining and challenging IP rights. Using similar processes for the different IP rights will make the IP system simpler and assist businesses dealing with more than one right. A simpler IP system will decrease administration costs for the Australian Government and reduce the regulatory burden for businesses that use it. The Bill will also enable greater use of electronic systems to manage and monitor IP rights.

A laudable objective! But, there are some 23 Parts and 596 items in the exposure draft bill alone. However, lots of them are plainly necessary changes such as replacing “reject” with “refuse” in the PBR Act, but there are others which will have more impact.

Overall, the broad topics addressed are:

  • Part 1 relating to renewals and terminology
  • Part 2 relating to re-examination and re-consideration
  • Part 3 relating to extensions of time
  • Part 4 relating to written requirements
  • Part 5 relating to the filing requirements
  • Part 6 relating to Official Journals
  • Part 7 relating to amendments of applications or other documents
  • Part 8 relating to signature requirements
  • Part 9 relating to computerised decision-making
  • Part 10 relating to addresses and service of documents
  • Part 11 relating to examination of patent requests and specifications
  • Part 12 relating to requirements for patent documents
  • Part 13 relating to acceptance of trade mark applications
  • Part 14 relating to registration of designs
  • Part 15 relating to unjustified threats of infringement
  • Part 16 relating to ownership of Plant Breeder’s Rights and entries in the Register
  • Part 17 relating to trade mark oppositions
  • Part 18 relating to seizure notices
  • Part 19 relating to publishing personal information of registered patent or trade marks attorneys
  • Part 20 relating to (criminal) prosecutions
  • Part 21 relating to the Secretary’s role in the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act
  • Part 22 relating to updating references to Designs Act
  • Part 23 abolishing the Plant Breeder’s Rights Advisory Committee.

I have no hope of trying to cover all that. Some of the things that caught my eye:

Part 15 introduces substantive changes to “unjustified threats”. The provisions in the Trade Marks Act will be amended to remove the defence of bringing infringement proceedings with due diligence. This will bring the trade marks regime in line with that for patents, designs and copyright. A corresponding regime is to be introduced for PBR.

Part 15 will also introduce a right for a victim of an unjustified threat to seek additional damages. What will be a flagrantly unjustified threat should be fun to explore.[1] Curiously, this remedy is not proposed for copyright.[2]

Part 13 proposes to reduce the period for acceptance of a trade mark, but expand the grounds for deferment. Items 421, 423 and 425 of the exposure draft regulations propose to reduce the period under reg. 4.12 from 15 months to 9 months after an adverse first report. However, item 427 inserts a new ground for deferring acceptance on the basis that:

(1A) The Registrar may, at the request of the applicant in writing, defer acceptance of an application for registration of a trade mark if:

(a) the request is made within the period applicable under regulation 4.12 or that period as extended under section 224, 224B or 224C of the Act; and

(b) the Registrar reasonably believes that there are grounds for refusing the application under section 41 or 177 of the Act; and

(c) the applicant is seeking to gather documents or evidence as to why the applicant considers there are no grounds for so refusing the application.

For renewal and re-examination (Part 2), apparently, it is possible to request examination of a registered design even after it has already been examined and certified. A formal re-examination process will be introduced. A re-examination regime is also proposed for PBR. The regimes for re-examination of patents and trade marks will also be clarified.

For re-examination (Part 3)

The EM says there are three broad issues with the current regimes:

> There are three broad issues with the extension of time system. The first issue is the differences in the number and types of extensions available between the IP rights. This increases complexity and confusion as to which extension is applicable and what evidence is required for supporting the request in a given situation. The second issue is the administrative burden placed on customers and IP Australia. Short extensions rarely have a significant impact on third parties, yet require the same declarations from applicants and assessment by IP Australia as long extensions. The third issue is that the protection for third parties that used an invention or trade mark while the IP application or right was lapsed or ceased can be inadequate or burdensome to obtain.  

The EM then says the main changes are:

  • repeal the ‘despite due care’ extension for patents;
  • remove the Commissioner’s and Registrar’s discretion for all general extensions, for all rights. This will
  • simplify the process and ensure compliance with the Patent Law Treaty and Patent Cooperation Treaty;
  • require all requests for extensions to be filed within two months of the removal of the cause of the failure to comply, to ensure there are no unreasonable delays;
  • improve the compensation for third parties that use inventions when a patent lapsed or ceased to reduce the burden on third parties;
  • expand the protection against infringement for third parties that use a trade mark while it was ceased to include while a trade mark application was lapsed;
  • introduce a streamlined process for short extensions, but ensure IP Australia can review and remake a decision on an extension of time;
  • prevent applicants from obtaining consecutive ‘short’ extensions for the same action;
  • provide general extensions and corresponding third party protection for PBRs.

Part 6 plans repeal of the requirements to publish information in the Official Journals, replacing them instead with an obligation to publish some information on the website or other electronic means.

Part 7 plans changes to the processes for amendments of information entered on the Registers and in documents. Perhaps alarmingly, these include plans to allow rights owners to make some changes to the Registers themselves!

Part 9 proposes introducing the potential for computerised decision making. An example of what is intended is the situation where an application has been accepted and the opposition period has expired without an opposition being filed. In such a situation “the computer” will “decide” to grant the right (presumably after,checking the fee has been paid). This seems intriguing, but you will have to go to a proposed legislative instrument to find out what decisions can be (have been) automated.

No doubt there will be something else to meet your curiosity lurking in the details!

You can find links to the exposure draft documents here. Remember though, get your submissions by 22 January 2017.


  1. Of course, in line with the existing provisions for additional damages for infringements, it may be possible to “score” even if the threat itself is not flagrant.  ?
  2. It can’t be because copyright falls under a different department because the exposure draft amends the Copyright Act to allow for electronic notifications (“notice” is also deprecated in this new simplified regime) relating to customs seizures – see Part 18.  ?

Selected links,from last week

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this week:

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Remedies

Not categorised

I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Selected links from last (couple of) weeks

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this past week (or two):

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Not categorised

I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Commonwealth can still sue on the undertaking as to damages

The High Court has refused Sanofi and Wyeth special leave to appeal the Commonwealth’s claims on the clopidogrel undertaking as to damages.

You may recall that, when Sanofi and Wyeth got interlocutory injunctions to stop Apotex entering the market with a clopidogrel product, Sanofi had to give the “usual undertaking as to damages“. The patents, however, were held invalid.

Sanofi and Apotex settled the latter’s claim for damages. However, the Commonwealth also brought a claim against Sanofi and Wyeth under the undertakings as to damages, in broad terms claiming as damages the difference between the (higher) price it paid under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme while the injunctions were in force and the lower price that would have applied if the interlocutory injunctions had not kept Apotex out of the market.

Last year, the Full Federal Court rejected Sanofi’s and Wyeth’s arguments that the Commonwealth could not bring a claim under the undertakings. Lauren John, an associate at Allens, reports that the High Court refused Sanofi’s application for special leave last week.

Links to the High Court dispositions here (Sanofi) and here (Wyeth). Ms John provides more detail here.

If you have a question or wish to make a comment, feel free to post it in the comments box or send me an email.

Productivity Commission reports on IP (in draft)

The Productivity Commission has released its draft report into Intellectual Property Arrangements.

You will be startled to learn that the Productivity Commission has discovered Australia is a net importer of intellectual property. We buy more IP from the rest of the world than we sell to it. Fig. 2 in the Report indicates Australian IP earned AUD1 villion from overseas, but we paid out about AUS4.5 billion for the use of their IP. The Productivity Commission then notes that we provide surprisingly strong IP protection for a country in our position.[1] This finding guides the Productivity Commission’s recommendations which might broadly be characterised as: take the least restrictive option in terms of IP protection (where our international obligations permit).

The Productivity Commission explained its position this way:

Intellectual property (IP) arrangements need to balance the interests of rights holders with users. IP arrangements should:[2]

• encourage investment in IP that would not otherwise occur;

• provide the minimum incentives necessary to encourage that investment;

• resist impeding follow-on innovation, competition and access to goods and services. (emphasis supplied)

So, for example, after much gnashing of economists’ teeth about the (let’s face it, indefensible) term of copyright protection, the Productivity Commission considers that the appropriate term of protection is somewhere between 15 and 25 years.[3] However, what it actually recommends is rather more limited:

4.1: remove the current unlimited term of protection for published works.[4]

5.1: implement Parliament’s At What Cost? IT pricing and the Australia Tax recommendation to make it clear that it is not an infringement of copyright to circumvent geoblocking.

5.2 repeal the remaining parallel import restrictions for books.

5.3 amend the Copyright Act 1968 to replace the current fair dealing exceptions with a broad exception for fair use.

The latter two, so far, have elicited the loudest complaints here and here.[13] Meanwhile, the US’ Register of Copyrights is celebrating the first anniversary of her Fair Use Index.

18.1 expand the safe harbours to online service providers.[5]

Patents

The Productivity Commission reports that there are 120,000 active patents registered in Australia. 93% of these have been granted to non-residents. There are also 25,000 – 30,000 applications each year; of which about 60% ultimately proceed to grant.

According to the Productivity Commission, however, there are too many granted patents which do not contribute social value and are not “additional” – in the sense that they would not have been made if there was no patent protection.[6]

This needs to be remedied. However, the Productivity Commission acknowledges that international agreements put constraints on our freedom of action. There are 10 recommendations for patents.

The key recommendation for standard patents is yet another go at raising the threshold of inventive step.

an invention is taken to involve an inventive step if, having regard to the prior art base, it is not obvious to a person skilled in the relevant art.

This looks very similar to what we already have. As the Productivity Commission envisages matters, however, there are important differences. First, it reverses the onus currently expressed in s 7(2). According to the Productivity Commission, the current position is the opposite of where the onus lies in the USA, Japan, the EU and the UK (amongst others). Rather than a challenger having to prove the invention is obvious, therefore, the patentee will have to prove it is not.

Secondly, the Productivity Commission sees the current requirement that there be only a scintilla of invention being raised. The Productivity Commission sees this low threshold being reflected in the limitation on “obvious to try” being something which the skilled addressee would be directly led as a matter of course. Instead, the Productivity Commission considers that the test should be at least:

whether a course of action required to arrive at the invention or solution to the problem would have been obvious for a person skilled in the art to try with a reasonable expectation of success (as applied by the Boards of Appeal of the EPO).[7]

This change would be buttressed with appropriate comments in the Explanatory Memorandum and, additionally, the insertion of an objects clause into the Act. The latter would be intended to ensure that the Courts focused on the social objectives of the Patents Act including, in particular, the public interest.[8]

On the more colourful fronts, the Productivity Commission also recommended repeal of the abomination innovation patent and amendment of s 18 explicitly to exclude from patentable subject matter business methods and software.[9]

Pointing to analysis which estimates the net present value to R & D of the extension of term for a pharmaceutical patentat at year 10 at $370 million – of which only $7.5 million would accrue to Australia because our industry is so small – while the cost to the Australian government and consumers of the same extension of term is estimated at $1.4 billion, the Productivity Commission also wants a significant tightening up of the regime for extending the term of pharmaceutical patents. The Productivity Commission also opposes any extension of the period of data protection for therapeutic goods, including biologics.[10]

The Productivity Commission also recommends exploring raising the renewal fees payable, particularly in later year’s of a patent’s life.

Registered designs

The Productivity Commission considers the registered design system deficient but, as we have committed to it internationally and there is no better alternative, we are stuck with it.

However, continuing the net importer theme, Australia should not go into the Hague system “until an evidence-based case is made, informed by a cost–benefit analysis.”

Trade marks

I’m just going to cut and paste here: the Government should:

  • restore the power for the trade mark registrar to apply mandatory disclaimers to trade mark applications, consistent with the recommendation of the Advisory Council on Intellectual Property in 2004 (the only people that won’t support this are in the place that counts – IP Australia)
  • repeal part 17 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) (Trade Marks Act)
  • amend s. 43 of the Trade Marks Act so that the presumption of registrability does not apply to the registration of marks that could be misleading or confusing
  • amend the schedule of fees for trade mark registrations so that higher fees apply for marks that register in multiple classes and/or entire classes of goods and services.
  • require the Trade Marks Office to return to its previous practice of routinely challenging trade mark applications that contain contemporary geographical references (under s. 43 of the Trade Marks Act). Challenges would not extend where endorsements require goods and services to be produced in the area nominated
  • in conjunction with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, link the Australian Trade Mark On-line Search System database with the business registration portal, including to ensure a warning if a registration may infringe an existing trade mark, and to allow for searches of disclaimers and endorsements.

Also, s 123 should be fixed up so that parallel importing does not infringe.

Like the rest of us, the Productivity Commission is bemused by the Circuits Layout Act and recommends implementing “without delay” ACIP’s 2010 recommendation to enable “essentially derived variety declarations to be made in respect of any [plant] variety.”

On competition policy, s 51(3) should be repealed and the ACCC should develop guidelines on the application of our antitrust rules to IP.

Innovatively, the Productivity Commission also recommends free access to all publications funded directly by Government (Commonwealth, State or Terriroty) or through university funding.

There are also at least 17 requests for further information.

If you are inspired to make a further submission, you should get it in before 3 June 2016.[11]


  1. Not much discussion here whether the best way to get more technological development is through a strong IP regime or to,scrap the IP system and fully commit to free riding.  ?
  2. Despite the tentative nature of this declaration, it is the first “Main key points”.  ?
  3. Draft finding 4.2.  ?
  4. The Government is trying to do this – see schedule 3 of the exposure draft of the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill (pdf).  ?
  5. See schedule 2 of the Disability Access and Other Measures bill.  ?
  6. You will have to read Appendix D to find out how the Productivity Commission works out which patents are socially valuable and “additional”.  ?
  7. The EPO cases the Productivity Commission referred to are T 149/93 (Retinoids/Kligman) (1995) at 5.2 and T 1877/08 (Refrigerants/EI du Pont) (2010) at 3.8.3.  ?
  8. Here, the Productivity Commission notes that the Full Federal Court rejected reference to the public interest in Grant.  ?
  9. Dr Summerfield tells you why he thinks that’s a bad idea over here and of course, the Europeans (including the UK in that) do not have all sorts of complications carrying out their nice, clean exclusion.  ?
  10. In an interesting departure from its overarching premise that patents do not really contribute much to innovation because there are other protections such as lead time and trade secrets, the Productivity Commission warns that reliance on data secrecy is sub-optimal compared to patent protection.  ?
  11. Bearing in mind they have to submit their Final Report to Government by 18 August 2016.  ?
  12. In between buying your books from Amazon and Bookdepository, some references to the larger economic issues affecting booksellers here.  ?

What do you get when you are granted an exclusive territory

This case is a franchising case, but it explores the legal consequences of granting an exclusive territory and so should be of interest to IP practitioners too.

Some facts

Spanline carries on a business of providing home additions and extensions such as awnings and patios. It operates nationally through a network of franchisees and sub-franchisees.

In 2001, Spanline appointed RPR as its exclusive franchisee for the South Coast of NSW. RPR was based in Nowra, but its territory also included the Illawarra region and the Southern Highlands. The Southern Highlands were about an hour’s drive from Nowra, but much closer to the Illawarra region.

In 2004, RPR granted Marmax a sub-franchise for the Illawarra region. That was in anticipation of events which finally took place in 2005. In 2005, RPR sold its business in the Illawarra region to Marmax and Spanline granted a new, exclusive franchise over the Illawarra region to Marmax.

In 2007, Marmax began selling to customers in the Southern Highlands. The first time RPR complained to Spanline, Spanline did nothing. It said it could find nothing amiss although, if it had conducted even a cursory search of its database, it would have found that Marmax was indeed selling in RPR’s territory.

Spanline met with Marmax in July 2009 and orally approved Marmax continuing to service customers from the Southern Highlands. Spanline considered this was in its commercial interests as RPR refused to open an office in the Southern Highlands and Spanline was concerned business from potential customers in the Southern Highlands would be lost because they would not travel to Nowra.

After yet further complaints from RPR, Spanline sent Marmax a letter in September 2009 telling it not to sell in RPR’s territory. But Marmax’ subsequent telephone call left Marmax with the understanding that it could continue in line with the July 2009 oral permission.

An attempt to negotiate a co-existence arrangement over the Southern Highlands failed as RPR would not agree to the proposed reduction in its exclusivity and Spanline authorised Marmax to continue.

The result

The trial judge had awarded RPR damages from both Spanline and Marmax: Spanline for breach of the exclusivity arrangements in the franchise agreement; Marmax for breach of the terms of the sale of business agreement.

The Full Court allowed Marmax’s appeal. The Full Court also partially allowed Spanline’s appeal, finding it liable to pay damages only for sales by Marmax in RPR’s territory after Spanline gave Marmax oral permission to continue selling in the Southern Highlands.

What kind of exclusivity was the exclusive territory

Spanline first argued that the grant of the exclusive right “to conduct the Franchised Business in the [Franchised] Territory” was just a promise to be the only franchisee located in the territory and not directed to the location of customers. The Full Court agreed with the trial judge that the exclusivity extended to the customers. The definition of Franchised Business extended to installation of the products. Also, the nature of the business was supplying and installing products in retail customers’ homes.

What did the promise of exclusivity mean

The trial judge had found Spanline in breach of its obligations to RPR implied by the grant of exclusivity both by failing to undertake even the most rudimentary investigation of RPR’s initial complaints as well as by failing to stop Marmax from selling into RPR’s territory, both before and after Spanline gave Marmax oral permission to sell to customers in the Southern Highlands and authorising Marmax to sell in RPR’s exclusive territory.

The promise of exclusivity imported with it implied terms of good faith and fair dealing and an implied term to co-operate: to do all things necessary to ensue each party got the benefit of its bargain. In doing so, the trial judge had relied on Far Horizons Pty Ltd v McDonald’s Australia Ltd [2000] VSC 310 and similar cases.

The Full Court did not disagree that those terms should be implied. Instead, it disagreed about their content. In essence, the Full Court held that the grant of an exclusive territory required Spanline only to refrain from taking positive steps to derogate from the grant of exclusivity or to authorise someone else to invade the territory. The Full Court said:

[139] …. In our view, the content of the obligation to do all things necessary to give the other party the benefit of the contract required Spanline to refrain from taking positive steps that would infringe upon or cause a third party to infringe upon the exclusive franchise granted to RPR. To require Spanline to do more, such as to take positive steps to investigate possible incursions by Marmax upon the rights of RPR, would exceed the requirement of necessity. It could not be said that the absence of a requirement to investigate such conduct would render the RPR Franchise agreement nugatory, worthless or seriously undermined.

[140] For the same reasons, we also do not accept RPR’s contention that Spanline was under an obligation to take steps to enforce its contractual rights against Marmax for the benefit of RPR.

At [150], the Full Court held that the implied duty to act in good faith did not require anything more than the implied duty to co-operate.

What did this mean? First, Spanline had no obligation to do anything to protect RPR or to try to stop Marmax invading RPR’s territory. (Any of us who might have thought that setting up a network of exclusive territories might have implied such an obligation would apparently be wrong.)

As already noted, therefore, Spanline was only liable to RPR for damages on sales[1] made by Marmax in RPR’s territory after Spanline gave Marmax permission to carry on. Spanline was not liable for sales while it was just “sitting on its hands”.

If you were acting for a franchisee, or an exclusive licensee, of a territory which did not extend to the whole of Australia, you would want to consider bargaining for a term requiring the franchisor (or licensor) to do “something”.

In this connection, the Full Court expressed an additional concern about implying a term that Spanline take reasonable steps to ensure RPR’s territory remained exclusive. It was likely to be uncertain in scope:

[141] …. The mere fact that the term operates by reference to a criterion of reasonableness is not the problem: it is that the contract does not supply any means for determining what is reasonable in the circumstances. It was argued that Spanline’s obligation to RPR could extend to termination of the contractual relationship between Spanline and Marmax. How the interests of Spanline and Marmax would be taken into account in determining whether such a step would be “reasonable” was not explored.

Something rather explicit would seem to be required

Why didn’t Marmax have to pay damages

RPR argued that Marmax was also in breach of both the original sub-franchise agreement and the sale of business agreement.

The Full Court held that the initial sub-franchise agreement between RPR and Marmax had been terminated once RPR and Marmax entered into the sale of business agreement and Spanline granted exclusivity over the Illawarra region to Marmax (with RPR’s knowledge and consent).

The Full Court accepted that a restraint on Marmax selling in RPR’s (retained) territory would not have been an unreasonable restraint of trade. However, the restraints imposed in the sale of business agreement did not extend to Marmax’ activities.

The sale of business agreement did include a restraint clause which seems fairly typical:

Except as permitted by clause 3.10, Marmax must not, and must ensure that each of its affiliates does not, during each restraint period in the South Coast Franchise Area:

(a) promote, participate in, finance, operate or engage in (whether on its own account or in partnership or by joint-venture); or

(b) be concerned or interested (directly or indirectly, or through any interposed body corporate, trust, principal, agent, shareholder, beneficiary, or as an independent contract, consultant or in any other capacity) in,

any of the Restrained Businesses.

For this purpose, “Restrained Business” was defined to mean:

a business, or operation:

(i) similar to the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business; or

(ii) competitive with the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business; or

(iii) supplying similar products and services to the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business.

As best I can make out, this clause did not provide any protection to RPR because Marmax was conducting a Spanline franchise business, not a competing or similar business. There was also a “non-interference” clause:

On and from the Completion Date, [RPR] must not, and must ensure that each of its affiliates does not, during each restraint period:

a) Solicit, canvas or secure the custom of a person who is at the Completion Date, or was within 1 year before the Adjustment Date, a customer of the Business or [RPR] in connection with the Business;

b) Represent itself as being in any way connected with, interested in or associated with the Business (except as its proprietor before the Completion Date) or any business conduct by Marmax; or

c) Solicit, employ or engage the services of any transferring employee or any other person who becomes an employee of Marmax in connection with the Business.

The remarkable feature about the non-interference clause is that it was one way. There was no reciprocal obligation on Marmax not to interfere with RPR’s continuing business.

As a result, Marmax was not in breach of any contractual obligations it owed to RPR and the award of damages for making sales in RPR’s territories could not be sustained.

Marmax Investments Pty Ltd v RPR Maintenance Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 127 (Middleton, Foster and Gleeson JJ)


  1. Strictly speaking, damages for the loss of the opportunity to make those sales.  ?

Harper Review: Government Response

Yesterday (November 24), the Government published its response to the Competition (Harper) Review.

According to the response, “Harper” made 5556 recommendations; the Government has accepted 39 of them in full, 5 in part and the remainder are still under advisement.

In the intellectual property field, the item receiving most press (here and here) is the Government’s acceptance of the recommendation to remove all remaining restrictions on parallel importing books. At the moment,[1] the importation of a genuine book published first in Australia or within 30 days of first publication overseas may be blocked provided the copyright owner complies with the convoluted regime to supply copies in response to an order. This guarantees availability, but still leaves the copyright owner free to set the price it charges the person placing the order.

Harper recommended:

Restrictions on parallel imports should be removed unless it can be shown that:

• the benefits of the restrictions to the community as a whole outweigh the costs; and

• the objectives of the restrictions can only be achieved by restricting competition.

Consistent with the recommendations of recent Productivity Commission reviews, parallel import restrictions on books and second?hand cars should be removed, subject to transitional arrangements as recommended by the Productivity Commission.

Remaining provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 that restrict parallel imports, and the parallel importation defence under the Trade Marks Act 1995, should be reviewed by an independent body, such as the Productivity Commission.

What the Government plans:

The Government supports the removal of parallel import restrictions on books. The Government will progress this recommendation following the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property arrangements (see Recommendations 6 above) and consultations with the sector on transitional arrangements.

The terms of reference for the inquiry provide that the Productivity Commission is to have regard to the findings and recommendations of the Harper Review in the context of the Government’s response, including recommendations related to parallel import restrictions in the Copyright Act 1968 and the parallel importation defence under the Trade Marks Act 1995.[2]

Harper’s recommendation 6 was a reference to the Productivity Commission to undertake a 12 month long “overarching review of intellectual property” focusing on

competition policy issues in intellectual property arising from new developments in technology and markets; and the principles underpinning the inclusion of intellectual property provisions in international trade agreements.

The Government response notes that in August it had already made this reference to the Productivity Commission.[3] The response on this point is curiously even-handed. The Productivty Commission:

is to have regard to Australia’s international arrangements, including obligations accepted under bilateral, multilateral and regional trade agreements to which Australia is a party. The global economy and technology are changing and there have been increases in the scope and duration of intellectual property protection. Excessive intellectual property protection can result in higher costs for Australian businesses and consumers and inhibit innovation. However, weak intellectual property protection can lead to under?investment in research and development (R&D) which also stifles innovation. A comprehensive evaluation of Australia’s intellectual property framework is needed to ensure that the appropriate balance exists between incentives for innovation and investment and the interests of both individuals and businesses, including small businesses, in accessing ideas and products. (emphasis supplied)

However, an independent inquiry into the processes for negotiating intellectual property provisions in treaties is not necessary: there are already robust processes in place and publishing an independent cost benefit analysis before the negotiations have concluded might tip our hand in the negotiations.

Section 51(3) gained a slight reprieve. Harper’s recommendation 7 was that it be repealed (and a new power for the ACCC to create block exemptions be introduced). Despite Prof. Harper’s injunctions that this is old news and we should just, er, do it, the Government thinks it should wait and see what the Productivity Commission says. Anyone betting the Productivity Commission won’t recommend …?

The Government also supports conferring a power to grant block exemptions on the ACCC:

A block exemption removes the need to make individual applications for exemption. The exemption is granted if the competition regulator considers that certain conditions are satisfied: either that the category of conduct is unlikely to damage competition; or that the conduct is likely to generate a net public benefit.

A block exemption power that supplements the existing authorisation and notification frameworks will be helpful in establishing ‘safe harbours’ for business. Block exemptions will reduce compliance costs and provide further certainty about the application of the CCA. They are an efficient way to deal with certain types of business conduct that are unlikely to raise competition concerns, either because of the parties engaged in the conduct or the nature of the conduct itself.

So, in the interests of promoting competition, we are going to introduce a European-style power for the regulator to design the marketplace.


  1. Copyright Act s 44A.  ?
  2. The Government also said it would not proceed with the recommendation about second hand cars, in the interests of consumer protection and community safety.  ?
  3. Indeed, you should already be putting the finishing touches on your submissions in response to the Issue Paper since they are due on Monday!  ?

TPP Workshop

The University of Melbourne’ Global Economic Law Network is holding a Workshop on the TPP (DFAT page, Wikipedia):

TPP Revealed

Friday 13 November.

Apparently, it is expected that the TPP itself will be published a few days before.

For details and registration (including registration fee) click here.

Productivity Commission reviews IP

The Productivity Commission has released an issues paper for its inquiry into Intellectual Property Arrangements.

What it was asked to do

In his reference the then Treasurer directed the Productivity Commission to investigate:

The Australian Government wishes to ensure that the intellectual property system provides appropriate incentives for innovation, investment and the production of creative works while ensuring it does not unreasonably impede further innovation, competition, investment and access to goods and services. In undertaking the inquiry the Commission should:
1. examine the effect of the scope and duration of protection afforded by Australia’s intellectual property system on:
(a) research and innovation, including freedom to build on existing innovation;
(b) access to and cost of goods and services; and
(c) competition, trade and investment.
2. recommend changes to the current system that would improve the overall wellbeing of Australian society, which take account of Australia’s international trade obligations, including changes that would:
(a) encourage creativity, investment and new innovation by individuals, businesses and through collaboration while not unduly restricting access to technologies and creative works;
(b) allow access to an increased range of quality and value goods and services;
(c) provide greater certainty to individuals and businesses as to whether they are likely to infringe the intellectual property rights of others; and
(d) reduce the compliance and administrative costs associated with intellectual property rules.

Big job!

As a consequence, there are a “gazillion” questions set out in the Issues Paper. Here’s just a few:

Do IP rights encourage genuinely innovative and creative output that would not have otherwise occurred? If not, how could they be designed to do so? Do IP rights avoid rewarding innovation that would have occurred anyway? What evidence and criteria should be used to determine this? Are IP arrangements in other jurisdictions more effective in generating additional creative output?

To what extent does the IP system actively disseminate innovation and creative output? Does it do so sufficiently and what evidence is there of this? How could the diffusion ofknowledge-based assets be improved, without adversely impacting the incentive to create?

What, if any, evidence is there that parties are acting strategically to limit dissemination?

Do IP rights provide rewards that are proportional to the effort to generate IP? What evidence is there to show this? How should effort be measured? Is proportionality a desirable feature of an IP system? Are there particular elements of the current IP system that give rise to any disproportionality?

What are the relative costs and return to society for public, private and not-for-profit creators of IP? Does the public provision of IP act as a complement or substitute to other IP being generated? Are there any government programs or policies that prevent, raise or lower the costs of generating IP?

What are the merits and drawbacks of using other methods to secure a return on innovation (such as trade secrets/confidentiality agreements) relative to government afforded IP rights? What considerations do businesses/creators of IP make in order to select between options? How does Australia’s use of methods besides IP rights to protect IP compare to other jurisdictions? Why might such differences arise?

The Commission seeks submissions about how the parameters of the IP system came to be set, and on the basis of what evidence and analysis.

How were decisions to extend IP rights in the past (e.g. copyright) assessed? Is an evidence-based approach systematically used to assess changes to the IP system? How transparent have decisions to change the IP system been, including when it comes to legislation and international agreements? Is a stronger evidence base and greater transparency in the public interest, and if so, how should this be accomplished?

Don’t worry. Things get more specific from here. Some of the questions about patents will give you the flavour:

What evidence is there that patents have facilitated innovations that would not have otherwise occurred, or have imposed costs on the community, including by impeding follow-on innovation?

Are there aspects of Australia’s patent system that act as a barrier to innovation and growth? If so, how could these barriers be addressed?

Do patents provide rewards that are proportional to the effort to generate IP? What evidence is there to show this? How should effort be measured? How does the balance of costs and benefits from patent protection compare across sectors and innovations?

What scope is there to better leverage the economic benefits of patents, by taking steps to improve the diffusion of patent information?

Is the patent system sufficiently flexible to accommodate changes in technology and business practices?

Do the criteria for patentability in the Patents Act 1990 (Cwlth) help the patent system to meet its objectives? Would introducing economic criteria for patentability and/or gradually reducing the duration of patent protection substantially improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the patent system?
….

There are numerouse questions in similar vein for the other IP rights and “data”.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all facinating questions. You, or professors and teams of doctoral candidates, could spend lifetimes trying to answer them.[1]

But here’s a thing. Are we really going to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation (with its obligations under the TRIPS Agreement)? Are we really going to pull out of the Australia – USA Free Trade Agreement? Or, given what the Prime Minister is reported to have said, does anyone seriously think we are not going to implement the TPP?

Hmmm. Maybe, at least as far as patents go, we could tell them that [28] of the majority’s ruling in Myriad has solved all the problems.[2] On the other hand, may be you are thinking this might be a good place to try and “fix” Myriad. In that case, you might like to read “Box 3 Beyond the theory” right up the front of the Issues Paper:

While discussions about IP rights are often theoretical, policy decisions about the balance between creators and consumers matter in real ways. Striking the wrong balance can impact the price and availability of books, music, cars, phones or even clothes.

The balance is particularly contentious in pharmaceuticals. Cases exist where patents have allowed pharmaceutical companies to charge what some consider to be unconscionably high prices for life-saving medicines. New compounds and biologic drugs, and their safety and efficacy, are no doubt expensive to develop and test and consumers are often willing to pay almost anything to access them (or the community as a whole through pharmaceutical subsidy schemes). Practices such as patent ‘evergreening’, seeking extended test data exclusivity for biologics, or paying competing firms not to produce generic medicines makes the balance of IP rights all the more contentious. (my emphasis)

Yes, once it has been “discovered”, the price of a new drug or treatment will be higher than if there was no patent. That is the point of the patent (or any other IP right): to allow the holder the opportunity to charge higher than marginal cost. How do you work out whether the price for that expensive drug is “unconscionably high”?


  1. As it happens, you have until 30 November 2015 to get your thoughts in.  ?
  2. Apart of course from those “innovation” patents.  ?

Global Innovation Index

WIPO has published its annual global innovation index.

The top 5 countries in order are Switzerland, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands and the USA.

Australia came in at 17, maintaining its position from last year. Interestingly, Australia was ranked No. 10 in the innovation inputs sub-index, but only 24 in the innovation outputs sub-index.

Also, according to the infographic “In a perfect world for innovation, who would do what?”, the printing and publishing industry is the perfect size .

The report also includes chapters on innovation policy and perspectives.