Productivity Commission Response No 2 – No 2

The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Productivity Commission Response Part 2 and Other Measures) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 26 February 2020.

The Act as actually passed (with amendments) is available here (to get the text from Austlii when I went there, I had to download the RTF or plain text format). There is also now a Revised Explanatory Memorandum.

As assented to, section 2 now prescribes that the abolition of the innovation patent regime will occur 18 months after Royal Assent — 26 August 2021.

(Remember, this is achieved by specifying an additional ground for “the formalities check” in new s 52(3) – an application for an innovation patent may pass “the formalities check” only if the date of the patent would be before [26 August 2021]. There is presumably a good reason why it doesn’t just say The Commissioner must reject the application for an innovation patent if the date of the patent would be on or after [26 August 2021].)

The Revised Explanatory Memorandum explains that 18 months has been chosen to ensure that persons who have filed a provisional application or a basic application under the PCT are not prejudiced. Such a person has up to 12 months from the filing date to file a complete application in Australia and an additional 6 months has been allowed to allow them enough time to make a decision.

As you will recall both ACIP and the Productivity Commission recommended abolition of the innovation patent. The Revised Explanatory Memorandum explains that the Government has accepted those recommendations because (footnotes omitted):

The policy intention of the IPS was to encourage SMEs to innovate and benefit from their scientific progress. In practice however, the innovation patent system has been found to have limited use by SMEs as 74 per cent of SMEs and private inventors filed once and never again; 83 per cent never received an enforceable right; and 78 per cent let their innovation patent expire early rather than pay the minor cost of the renewal fee. The Productivity Commission found that the majority of SMEs who use the innovation patent system do not obtain value from it, and that the system imposes significant costs on third parties and the broader Australian community. Given this, the innovation patent system has shown to be unlikely to provide net benefits to the Australian community or to the SMEs who are the intended beneficiaries of the system.

Section 4 in the Act as passed also requires the Minister to establish a review of the accessibility of patents for small and medium enterprises within 3 months (i.e. by 26 May 2020). Matters the review should consider include:

(a) the cost of applications for patents; and

(b) processing times of patents; and

(c) advice provided by the Australian Government with respect to the patent application process; and

(d) awareness of the patent application process.

The written report from the review must be submitted to the Minister within 12 months of commencement and the Minister must table it in both Houses of Parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving the report.

In addition to these matters, the Act also:

  • introduces an objects clause into the Patents Act 1990 – Sch 1 Part 1;

The object of this Act is to provide a patent system in Australia that promotes economic wellbeing through technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology. In doing so, the patent system balances over time the interests of producers, owners and users of technology and the public.

  • revises the Crown use provisions in both the Patents Act and the Designs Act – Sch 2 & 3;
  • amends the compulsory licence provisions for patents to be based on a “public interest” test rather than a failure to meet the reasonable requirements of the public in Australia – Sch 4;
  • provides for electronic seals in the Patents and Trade Marks Offices – Sch 5;
  • permits objection to ‘omnibus claims’ to be raised at opposition, re-examination and revocation stages as well as examination – Sch 6;
  • permits the Commissioner of Patents to redact information (i.e. parts of documents) as well as documents where confidentiality requires it – Sch 7; and
  • amends the circumstances a translation of a patent application originally in a foreign language will require a certificate of verification – Sch 8.

All the amendments commenced on 27 February 2020 except for the abolition of innovation patents and Sch 8. The timing of the abolition of innovation patents has been discussed above. Sch. 9 commences on 26 August 2020.

Productivity Commission Response No 2

Parliament has now passed the wonderfully named Intellectual Property Law Amendment (Productivity Commission Response Part 2 and Other Measures) Bill 2019. Text here[1] and EM here.

When enacted, the “Act” will amongst other things:

(a) insert an objects clause, new section 2A, into the Patents Act:

The object of this Act is to provide a patent system in Australia that promotes economic wellbeing through technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology. In doing so, the patent system balances over time the interests of producers, owners and users of technology and the public.

That clears things up nicely doesn’t it?

(b) suppress the granting of more “innovation” patents;

(c) harmonise the regimes for Crown use of patents and registered designs;

(d) introduces a revised regime for compulsory licensing of patents.

The suffocation of innovation patents will be achieved by introducing new sub-section 52(3) into the Patents Act.

Sub-section 52(3) will make it a requirement of the formalities check that the date of the patent (if granted) must be a date before the date the amendment came into force.

According to the form of the “Act” on Parliament’s website sub-section 52(3) will come into force 12 months after the “Act” receives Royal Assent.[2]

Once the sub-section comes into force, therefore, it will be possible to seek further innovation patents only where they are based on filings with a date before the commencement date so, for example, a divisional application.


  1. The bill does not become an Act until it receives the Royal Assent.  ?
  2. There had been reports that the phase out period would be extended to 18 months, but that does not appear to be reflected in the document on Parliament’s website. These reports also indicated that there was to be a review of the impact of “abolition” on Australian small and medium enterprises.  ?

Special leave!

The High Court has granted Calidad special leave to challenge the rules for parallel importing patented products.

Seiko’s Epson inkjet printers require print cartridges fitted with a chip which stores information about the model and the number of prints made. The chip on the cartridge interacts with the printer so that, amongst other things, each time a print is made, the chip memory is updated. When the number of prints stored on the chip reaches a number indicating that the ink has been used up, the printer is unable to print until a new print cartridge is inserted.

Seiko’s patent relates to the configuration of the cartridge in a particular way to achieve this proces.[1]

Calidad imported into Australia Epson printer cartridges. It had obtained the cartridges from Ninestar in Malaysia. Ninestar acquired genuine used Epson printer cartridges and “refilled” them. There was no dispute that the imported cartridges were genuine Epson products. The issue came down to whether what Ninestar did to “refill” the cartridges constituted “repair” or “making”.

At first instance, Burley J found that Calidad’s importation and sale of products imported before April 2016 infringed, but those imported after April 2016 did not.

The Full Court, however, upheld Seiko’s cross-appeal and found all imported products infringed.

In some respects, this is a rather “odd” case to be given special leave.

First, the rule about parallel imports and implied licence has been in place for almost 150 years.[2] Recently, however, the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that American patent law applies a doctrine of exhaustion rather than implied licence for imported as well as domestic products. The case also involved refilled printer cartridges – laser toner rather than inkjet. The US Supreme Court explained the difference between exhaustion and implied licence:

The problem with the Federal Circuit’s logic is that the exhaustion doctrine is not a presumption about the authority that comes along with a sale; it is a limit on the scope of the patentee’s rights. The Patent Act gives patentees a limited exclusionary power, and exhaustion extinguishes that power. A purchaser has the right to use, sell, or import an item because those are the rights that come along with ownership, not because it purchased authority to engage in those practices from the patentee.

The High Court’s questioning on the special leave application focused on the fact that the Privy Council decision in Menck in 1911 (before the Australia Act 1986) overturned the High Court’s adoption of the US domestic exhaustion doctrine. And the use of IP rights to enforce territorial restrictions has been the subject of regulatory comment.[3]

Secondly, the doctrine of exhaustion is predicated on marketing of the patented products by or with the consent of the patentee. As we have seen with attempts to adopt exhaustion for both copyright and trade marks, however, it has been necessary for legislation to enact extended definitions of “consent” to enable prospective parallel imports to act confidently.

For example, to override the decisions in Sporte Leisure and Lonsdale, Parliament introduced section 122A into the Trade Marks Act which embraces within “consent” trade marks applied by or with the consent of not just the trade mark owner in Australia but also related bodies corporate, associated persons and anyone having “significant influence” over the use of the trade mark in Australia, regardless of where those persons are located or act.

Moreover, it appears from section 122A(2) and (3) that it should not matter whether a licensee or distributor was actually acting within the scope of its licence.[4]

Furthermore, Parliament felt it necessary to shift the risks from the parallel importer to the trade mark owner as it does not appear the goods actually have to be genuine. Section 122A(1)(c) requires only that a reasonable person would conclude from the reasonable inquiries that have been made that the trade mark was applied by or with the consent of a relevant person.

I don’t know whether territorial division is as prevalent for patents as it appeared to be for trade marks or copyright. For starters, there don’t seem to have been the same number of cases. And it used to be the case that American patentees in particular were nervous about potential anti-trust liability. But, the potential role of limited consents is certainly a live issue: as long ago as 1883, the English Court of Appeal allowed a patentee to block imports put on the market by its French licensee on the basis that the French licensee’s licence did not extend to selling in England.[5]

Thirdly, the Calidad decision might not be thought to raise the question of exhaustion or implied licence. The “real” question seems to be whether what Ninestar did was just “repair” or involved “making” (in effect) a new product.

The products Burley J found did not infringe involved “only” drilling holes in the cartridges to clean and refill them, sealing the holes up and reprogramming the chip already installed on the cartridge. Burley J considered at [240] – [243] that reprogramming the chip, in particular, did not interfere with the patent as the claim was directed to the chip only, not the content stored on it. Similarly, “the minor physical” changes to the cartridges were not the subject of features of a claim.[6] The products which his Honour found did infringe at [271] – [277] involved similar acts but, in addition, involved Ninestar removing and replacing the computer chip so that the ink cartridges would communicate their “new” status to the printer.

In contrast, the Full Court (in three separate judgments) considered that what Ninestar did was so substantial as to be making a new product. Accepting that whether what was done involved “repair” or “making” was a question of fact and degree in any particular case, Jagot J explained at [166]:

It cannot be doubted that on the facts as found by the primary judge, none of the Calidad products are the product as sold by Seiko. The products which Seiko sold all embodied the claimed invention including that part of the first integer consisting of a “printing material container”. Step 2 of the process for all categories of container involved creating a new hole in the container to enable the container to be filled with fresh ink and then sealing both the new hole and the original hole with plastic by applying heat and pressure: [240]. While the primary judge described this at [240] as a “minor physical alteration” with no relationship to the claimed invention, as Seiko submitted, at the moment the new hole was created, there was no longer an essential integer of the claimed invention, a “printing material container”, as unless and until the new seals were applied, the purported container could not contain printing ink. Nor do I see how it could be concluded that the implied licence which arose on sale enabling the purchaser to use and repair the original Epson printer cartridge could be thought to extend to re-purposing the cartridge once it was empty of ink by creating a new injection hole for ink to enable the cartridge to be re-filled and sealing the original and new holes so that the cartridge, which had ceased to be a printing material container, was made into a new printing material container. That is not a use of the patented article as sold at all; it is the making of a new article within the scope of the patent. As sold, the patented article could not be re-used at all for two reasons. One, the container was empty of ink. Two, the memory recorded that the container was empty of ink so it would no longer function. As re-purposed, the product was still an embodiment of the invention but was capable of re-use. Of itself, these facts indicate to us that the modifications involved the making of a new embodiment of the invention, outside of any implied licence arising on sale and outside any notion of repair of the original cartridge.

and at [172] in relation to reprogramming the memory:

…. I am unable to agree with the primary judge that the claim involves the mere physical existence of the memory chip. Integer [2] claims a memory “driven by” a memory driving voltage. The only thing which is driven by the memory driving voltage is the memory in the sense of the information stored on the chip. The fact that the chip has information on it which is able to be changed (driven by) the memory driving voltage is an essential part of the claimed invention. It may be accepted that the actual status of the memory (that is, whether it shows the cartridge as full, empty or anywhere in between) is not part of the claim, but the fact that the claim involves a memory driven by a memory driving voltage is not irrelevant. Considered in the context of the product as sold, which is essential to the scope of the implied licence to use the product without infringement of the patents, the fact that the re-purposing of the cartridges, as a minimum, involves re-programming the chip to change the memory supports the conclusion that the imported Calidad cartridges are outside the scope of any possible implied licence or any concept of repair.

At [180], Jagot J summarised her Honour’s conclusions:

In the present case, every purchaser purchased an embodiment of the invention which, in the form it was purchased, permitted a single use only. To render the cartridge capable of re-use, the acts described above were required. In the context of the invention as embodied in the product sold, I am unable to accept that what was done was other than an infringement of the patents. It was outside the scope of any implied licence which could have arisen on sale and outside any reasonable concept of repair. (emphasis supplied)

See also Yates J at [276] “On no reasonable view can it be said that the modifications carried out by Ninestar to the original Epson cartridges constitute “repair”.” and Greenwood J at [85].

Before Jagot J embarked on the detailed reasoning summarised above in terms of the scope of the implied licence and the right to repair, her Honour noted that the European doctrines of exhaustion did not extend to “making” a new product. At [164], Jagot J explained:

… none of the English cases suggest that the Privy Council’s decision in Menck altered the fact that a purchaser has no right to make a new embodiment of the invention. The implied licence arising on unrestricted sale could never extend so far. Nor could the doctrine of exhaustion of patent rights result in the loss of the right to prevent the making of new embodiments of the invention, whether or not the new embodiment involved starting from scratch or re-using and modifying parts of the patented product as sold. I accept that in the latter case questions of fact and degree will be involved, with the necessary focus being the nature of the patented product as sold and the nature of the acts done to that product, but I do not consider any aspect of the present case lies at the “borderline” between repair and making. (emphasis supplied)

In the Lexmark case, however, the US Supreme Court upheld Impression Products’ right to import the toner cartridges even though it seems Impression Products installed “unauthorised” replacement chips on at least some of the imported cartridges to circumvent the re-use restriction.[7]

The parties’ written submissions are due to be completed by the end of February 2020. Brave New Year indeed!

Calidad Pty Ltd & Ors v Seiko Epson Corporation & Anor [2019] HCATrans 225


  1. Claim 1 of AU 2009233643 for example has 11 integers and reads: “[1] A printing material container adapted to be attached to a printing apparatus by being inserted in an insertion direction, the printing apparatus having a print head and a plurality of apparatus-side terminals, the printing material container including: [2] a memory driven by a memory driving voltage; [3] an electronic device driven by a higher voltage than the memory driving voltage; [4] a plurality of terminals including a plurality of memory terminals electrically connected to the memory, and a first electronic device terminal and a second electronic device terminal electrically connected to the electronic device, wherein: [5] the plurality of terminals each include a contact portion for contacting a corresponding terminal of the plurality of apparatus-side terminals, [6] the contact portions are arranged in a first row of contact portions and in a second row of contact portions, the first row of contact portions and the second row of contact portions extending in a row direction which is generally orthogonal to the insertion direction, [7] the first row of contact portions is disposed at a location that is further in the insertion direction than the second row of contact portions, [8] the first row of contact portions is longer than the second row of contact portions, and, [9] the first row of contact portions has a first end position and a second end position at opposite ends thereof, [10] a contact portion of the first electronic device terminal is disposed at the first end position in the first row of contact portions and [11] a contact portion of the second electronic device terminal is disposed at the second end position in the first row of contact portions.”  ?
  2. Betts v Willmott [1871] 6 Ch App 239. The continued validity of the rule was acknowledged by the High Court a mere 40 years ago in the Time-Life case – admittedly, a copyright case.  ?
  3. In addition to the introduction of Trade Marks Act 1995 s 122A, see e.g. At What Cost? IT pricing and the Australia Tax.  ?
  4. See also Explanatory Memorandum para. 26. For copyright, see the definitions of “non-infringing copy” of sound recordings, computer programs, electronic literary or music items and [accesories][access].  ?
  5. Société Anonyme des Manufactures de Glaces v Tilghman’s Patent Sand Blast Co. (1883) 25 Ch. D. 1  ?
  6. In all his Honour was required to consider 9 different categories of imported products and there were a range of variations to Ninestar’s interventions depending on the category.  ?
  7. The US Supreme Court does not directly refer to this, but see Lexmark International Inc. v Impression Products Inc 816 F 3d. 721 (Fed. Cir. 2016) at 727. Lexmark had previously attempted to argue [unsuccessfullystatic the replacement microchips violated copyright and the DMCA.  ?

Encompass is still too abstract to be patentable subject matter

A Full Bench[1] of the Federal Court’s appeal jusrisdiction has dismissed Encompass’ appeal against Perram J’s ruling that its computer-implemented method was not a patentable invention because it was not a manner of manufacture.

Encompass had two innovation patents covering its concept. It sued Infotrack for infringing them. Infotrack admitted its conduct would infringe, but contended the patents were invalid on the grounds that they did not claim a manner of manufacture and did not involve “an innovative step”.[2]

At first instance, amongst other things, Perram J found the claims did involve an innovative step, but were not patentable because they were not for a manner of manufacture.

Infotrack was joined in resisting the appeal by the Commissioner of Patents (appearing as of right pursuant to r 34.23. The Institute of Patent Attorneys also sought and obtained (on a limited basis) leave to intervene.[3]

The claimed invention

Encompass’ (innovation) patent claimed a computerised method and apparatus for displaying business intelligence about “entitites”. The idea seems to have been to facilitate searching of multiple third party electronic databases[4] to ascertain and present aggregated data about the “entity” of interest. Claim 1 provided:

A method of displaying information relating to one or more entities, the method including, in an electronic processing device:

a) generating a network representation by querying remote data sources, the representation including:

i) a number of nodes, each node being indicative of a corresponding entity; and,

ii) a number of connections between nodes, the connections being indicative of relationships between the entities; and,

b) causing the network representation to be displayed to a user;

c) in response to user input commands, determining at least one user selected node corresponding to a user selected entity;

d) determining at least one search to be performed in respective of the corresponding entity associated with the at least one user selected node by:

i) determining an entity type of the at least one user selected entity;

ii) displaying a list of available searches in accordance with the entity type; and,

iii) determining selection of at least one of the available searches in accordance with user input commands;

e) performing the at least one search to thereby determine additional information regarding the entity from at least one of a number of remote data sources by generating a search query, the search query being applied to one of the number of remote databases to thereby determine additional information regarding the entity; and,

f) causing any additional information to be presented to the user.

Crucially for the outcome of the appeal, the Court noted at [30] that neither claim 1 nor any of the other claims “characterised” the electronic process device which performed the method – “any suitable process system” may be used.

Encompass’ challenge

Basing itself on NRDC and CCOM, Encompass argued that the concept of manner of manufacture required the claim to give rise to an artificially created state of affairs which had economic significance. These requirements were satisfied, Encompass argued, because the claimed invention involved:

(a) the interrogation of remote data sources;

(b) the generation and display of the network representation;

(c) the interaction with the network node to initiate a further search;

(d) the determination that the results thereby produced relate to the same entity as the one produced from the first search (the contention that this is a step of the claimed method is an issue in this appeal); and

(e) the display of the results of that search.

Encompass argued that Perram J had erred by considering whether the claimed invention “improved the functionality of the machine”. This was said to be an erroneous incorporation of the “machine or transformation” test from US law.

The appeal

Despite what it described as the “oblique attacks” made by Encompass and IPTA on Research Affiliates and RPL Centrol, the Court considered at [77] the appeal did not raise any significant question of principle. Their Honours considered that, having regard to the submissions made by Encompass and IPTA, the correctness of the two earlier decisions was not seriously in doubt. Rather, the issue was whether Perram J had applied the principles from those cases correctly.

The Court started by noting that the High Court in Myriad had agreed with NRDC that the issue is whether the claimed invention is a proper subject for the grant of a patent.

At [80], therefore, the Court noted that to determine whether a claimed invention involves a manner of manufacture requires a characterisation of the claim.

At [81], the Court reiterated that this characterisation is to be undertaken as a matter of substance rather than merely as a matter of form.

At [83], the Court noted the Myriad majority had held the NRDC court had not been attempting an exhaustive definition of “manner of manufacture” when it referred to ‘an “artificially created state of affairs of economic significance”’. Further, the satisfaction of that formulation did not necessarily lead to a finding of “inherent patentability”.

Encompass’ reliance on the reasoning in CCOM was misplaced. The Full Court in CCOM had explained why the computer program in that case was a manner of manufacture in the following terms:

The NRDC case at 275–277 requires a mode or manner of achieving an end result which is an artificially created state of affairs of utility in the field of economic endeavour. In the present case, a relevant field of economic endeavour is the use of word processing to assemble text in Chinese language characters. The end result achieved is the retrieval of graphic representations of desired characters, for assembly of text. The mode or manner of obtaining this, which provides particular utility in achieving the end result, is the storage of data as to Chinese characters analysed by stroke-type categories, for search including “flagging” (and “unflagging”) and selection by reference thereto.

First, however and as the High Court in Myriad had confirmed, this reaoning was a guide only and not a rigid formula.

Secondly, the Court rejected Encompass’ argument that the proposition in Grant that a manner of manufacture required a “physical effect in the sense of a concrete effect or phenomenon or manifestation or transformation” was inconsistent with CCOM and Catuity. Rather, both CCOM and Catuity involved methods where a component was physically affected or a change in state or information in a machine.

The Court then confirmed that the presence of a physical effect in the broad sense envisaged in Grant was also not conclusive. (There being such a transformation in the electronic processing device’s state by performing Encompass’ method.) The question was whether the claimed invention as a matter of substance transcended an abstract idea or mere information.

Encompass’ claimed invention did not provide sufficient specificity to transcend the abstract idea. At [99], the Court explained:

99 the method claims in suit are, in truth, no more than an instruction to apply an abstract idea (the steps of the method) using generic computer technology. The appellants endeavoured to explain why the claimed method falls within the notion of an artificially created state of affairs by attributing computer functionality to the method: the computer (or, in the language of the claims, the electronic processing device) searches remote data sources; the computer generates a network representation; and the computer responds to a user’s selection to conduct a further search. The appellants also attributed computer functionality to the method by the computer determining additional information relating to the same entity. As we have previously noted, this involves the contentious question of “entity matching”—a step which the primary judge found was not a step in the claimed method. We discuss this below when dealing with the grounds relating to innovative step. But even if for present purposes “entity matching” is taken to be a step in the claimed method, neither it nor the other steps, individually or collectively, amount to anything more than a method in which an uncharacterised electronic processing device (for example, a computer) is employed as an intermediary to carry out the method steps—where the method itself is claimed in terms which amount to no more than an abstract idea or scheme. (emphasis supplied)

The Court accepted that Encompass’ method could not be implemented using “generic software”. This did not save the claims as they did not specify as an essential feature of the invention any particular software or programming. It was left to a user of the method to devise and implement their own suitable computer program. According to the Court, this was merely an idea for a computer program. As in Research Affiliates and RPL Central, at [101] the Court characterised Encompass’ claims as merely a “method … in an electronic processing device”, which itself is not characterised.”

Finally, the Court at [105] – [110] rejected Encompass’ criticism that Perram J had improperly required the claimed method to result in “an improvement in the computer” by reference to the Research Affiliates court’s discussion at [104] – [105] to Alice Corporation in the USA. The Court considered that Perram J’s reference to these matters, properly understood, was just “an inquiry into and search for possibly patentable subject matter by reference to a touchstone of such subject matter.”

So, there you have it; all cleared up!

Next up, the Commissioner’s appeal (NSD66 of 2019) against the finding that Rokt did claim a manner of manufacture.

IPTA’s intervention

The Court summarised IPTA’s intervention as seeking to contest the Commissioner’s approach to computer related inventions. The Court outlined how it understood IPTA’s proposed intervention:

72 IPTA’s submissions took issue with the Commissioner’s statement that, in considering the patentability of computer-implemented methods, a key consideration is determining where the alleged ingenuity lies. IPTA submitted that this statement is “misconceived” because it intrudes questions of novelty and inventive step into the question whether the invention is a manner of manufacture; it suggests that the way in which the method is implemented in the computer is decisive and directs attention away from the method as claimed; and it suggests that a method characterised as a business method or a scheme is unpatentable, whereas it is only methods or schemes that are no more than a method of doing business or an abstract idea (with no practical application or effect) that are not patentable.

73 IPTA submitted that the Commissioner’s “misconceptions” had become established practice when examining patent applications. IPTA said that this was of “central concern to IPTA and its members’ clients seeking patent protection for their inventions”. IPTA said, further, that these “misconceptions” are reflected in the Australian Patent Office Manual of Practice and Procedure (the Manual) on which the Commissioner’s delegates rely for authoritative guidance in the examination of patent applications. IPTA argued that this has “led … to a confused state of affairs in the examination of computer-implemented inventions, and will cause examination of many such applications to miscarry”.

The Court, however, refused to buy into this fight on the grounds that the correctness or otherwise of the Commissioner’s earlier decisions was not a controversy before the court. The Court also refused to engage with what it described as “IPTA’s editorial comments” on the Manual of Practice and Procedure.

Encompass Corporation Pty Ltd v InfoTrack Pty Ltd [2019] FCAFC 161 (Allsop CJ, Kenny, Besanko, Nicholas and Yates JJ)


  1. A sitting of the Full Court constituted by 5 judges, rather than the more usual 3 judges. A bench of 5 judges appears to be appointed where there appear to be inconsistent rulings of differently constutited (3 Judge) full courts or there may be some compelling reason to doubt the correctness of an earlier decision.  ?
  2. Patents Act 1990 s 18(1A).  ?
  3. IPTA’s intervention sought to challenge the Commissioner’s approach to computer related inventions  ?
  4. For example, land registries, ASIC company records, police records “or the like”.  ?

Repeal of s 51(3)

The bill repealing (amongst other things) s 51(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act did get passed and has received royal assent.

The repeal takes effect on 13 September 2019.

So, if you thought you were relying on s 51(3)’s protection, you have a bit less than 6 months to get your house in order.

Your licences and assignments of IP rights probably will not get you into trouble for the most part unless you have market power. But that is not exactly a hard and fast rule so you should discuss your arrangements with your lawyers ASAP.

As discussed in this post, one area of potentially significant concern is where the IP holder has its own retail outlets and also licenses other retail outlets – e.g. not uncommon for franchisors who have their own outlets and franchisees. There is a concern that may give rise to criminal cartel conduct.

If you want to know about the prohibitions on cartel conduct, Ian Wylie has published a paper “Cartel conduct or Permissible Joint Venture?

On Tuesday, the ACCC also announced it hopes to publish draft guidelines by “mid-2019” and finalise them before 13 September. Amongst other things, these proposed guidelines will outline:

how the ACCC proposes to investigate and enforce Part IV in relation to conduct involving intellectual property rights. They will also provide hypothetical examples to illustrate conduct that the ACCC considers is likely or unlikely to contravene Part IV.

Invalidity cross-claim blocks interlocutory injunction

The Full Court has upheld Burley J’s refusal to grant Sanofi-Aventis an interlocutory injunction over Alphapharm’s SEMGLEE insulin solution for an injector pen. The significance here is that this is an unusual case where the (alleged) infringer’s cross-claim has negatived the patentee’s prima facie case of infringement. The Full Court also affirmed his Honour’s approach to balance of convenience issues.

Burley J found a clear case that Alphapharm’s product fell within claim 1 of Sanofi-Aventis’ patent. His Honour found, however, that Alphapharm’s cross-claim that the patent was invalid for lack of novelty was sufficiently strong that “it was doubtful” Sanofi-Aventis had made out a prima facie case of infringement.

Since the Interpharma case, cross-claims by alleged infringers that the patent is invalid have not enjoyed much success as the Court has approached matters on the basis that it is the patentee’s “title” to interlocutory relief which is in issue.

What was different here was that the invalidity cross-claim was not “merely” a triable issue. It was of such strength that Burley J considered (provisionally) the patent was invalid. The Full Court explained the correct approach at [14]:

…. A case for invalidity which is merely arguable, of itself, does not undermine the existence of a prima facie case of infringement which has otherwise been found to exist. However, a sufficiently strong case of invalidity may well qualify the conclusion that there is a prima facie case of infringement at all. Far from reasoning contrary to the approach in Interpharma and Janssen, the primary judge was applying the same reasoning, albeit with an outcome not to Sanofi’s liking because his Honour was satisfied that Alphapharm’s case on invalidity was sufficiently strong to qualify (indeed, virtually to negate altogether) Sanofi’s prima facie case of infringement. Further, it is Sanofi’s submissions which have conflated the relevance of the competing cases on invalidity. What is relevant is the strength of the case that the claim or claims said to be infringed are invalid. The primary judge at [118] found that “the lack of novelty case advanced by Alphapharm is sufficiently strong (at the provisional level) to qualify (in the sense contemplated in Interpharma at [17]) the conclusion that Sanofi has a probability of success”. ….

Sanofi-Aventis argued that the weight of the balance of convenience in its favour was a factor in considering its prima facie case of infringement. This argument failed both at the level of principle and on the facts.

First, the Full Court accepted that the strength of a plaintiff’s prima facie case is relevant to consideration of the balance of convenience. Balance of convenience, however, did not affect the assessment of the strength of the prima facie case of infringement. At [8], the Full Court explained:

…. The strength of the prima facie case is relevant to the balance of convenience, but the weighing process involved in evaluating where the balance of convenience lies does not affect the assessment of the existence or strength of the prima facie case. As was said in Samsung at [59] “[t]he critical integer in the test …is the need for the Court to assess the strength of the probability of ultimate success on the part of the plaintiff. The strength of that probability will depend upon the nature of the rights asserted and the practical consequences likely to flow from the grant of the injunction which is sought”. ….

Secondly, Burley J had apparently considered the respective losses relatively finely balanced on the question of balance of convenience, but had ultimately considered the difficulties of calculating Alphapharm’s losses outweighed the difficulties in calculating Sanofi-Aventis’.

In particular, the Full Court considered that Burley J had not inappropriately undervalued Sanofi-Aventis’ position as a long standing incumbent. For example at [51], their Honours explained:[1]

… Sanofi had not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success in all of the circumstances to justify the preserving of the status quo. Each case turns on its own facts so it is not the point that in GenRx and Warner Lambert the preservation of the status quo was given considerable weight. In neither case was the strength of the prima facie case undermined in the same way as in the present case. In neither case was there a suggestion of market circumstances similar to the present case given the primary judge’s reference in [174] to the real possibility of Alphapharm’s prospective market disappearing as a “significant aspect” of this matter. Faced with the primary judge’s reasons, Sanofi’s submission that his Honour failed to take into account the disruption of the status quo as a material consideration is untenable. His Honour weighed all those matters but the balance favoured Alphapharm not Sanofi.

Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH v Alphapharm Pty Ltd [2019] FCAFC 28 (Jagot, Yates and Moshinsky JJ)


  1. One can only speculate how the 1336 paragraphs Jagot J had to write to work out the quantum on an undertaking as to damages in Sigma v Wyeth concentrated her Honour’s appreciation of this issue!  ↩

Cartel conduct and IP licences and assignments

Will your assignments and licences of intellectual property, such as in a typical franchise agreement, expose your client to liability for cartel conduct or will you be ready to apply for an authorisation?

One of the bills pending before Parliament contains the long pursued (by the ACCC) repeal of s 51(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Section 51(3) exempts from most of the prohibitions in Pt IV of the Competition and Consumer Act terms and conditions in assignments and licences of intellectual property which most of us take for granted.

The rationale for repeal is that most transactions involving IP do not have anti-competitive effects or purposes and, if they do, they should not be exempt from the competition laws.

Rodney De Boos, a consultant at DCC with many years’ experience in licensing and commercialisation of IP, however, points out that this explanation was developed before the provisions banning cartel conduct were introduced into the Act. And, he contends, typical arrangements in IP agreements which allocate, for example, territories or customers will constitute cartel conduct and so need authorisation if the parties are not to be in breach of the cartel provisions.

As Rodney explains, a cartel provision are certain types of specified provisions between competitors.

Now, it may well be that an assignor and assignee, or a licensor and licensee, will not be competitors. There are many types of arrangements, however, where the Competition and Consumer Act will deem them to be competitors. An obvious example is the case of a franchisor who has retail outlets (either itself or through a related body corporate) as well as retail franchisees. Other arrangements involving IP could also be similarly problematical.

You can read Rodney’s concerns in more detail here.

The bill repealing s 51(3) has already passed the House of Representatives and is due to be debated by the Senate in the sittings coming up.

Section 105(1A) passes its test

While some of us have been sweltering on the beach or disporting in the northern snows, Beach J has granted Branhaven’s application to amend its patent application for compositions and methods of inferring bovine traits following Meat & Livestock Australia’s opposition.

You will recall that Beach J had earlier rejected MLA’s attack based on manner of manufacture, novelty and inventive step. However, his Honour upheld the challenges based on lack of clarity and, to an extent, utility.

Branhaven applied to amend under s 105(1A) of the Patents Act 1990.

MLA opposed; in broad terms arguing that Branhaven was too late, there was no power to amend at this stage; the amendments were not permissible in any event and, as a matter of discretion, should not be allowed even if the Court did have power.

Prior to the Raising the Bar Amendments, the Court had power under s 60(4) to hear an appeal from the Commissioner’s decision in an opposition. The Court was restricted, however, to dealing with the application in the form the subject of the opposition before the Commissioner. If the opposition was successful but on grounds that could be cured, any application to amend had to be remitted to the Commissioner.[1] Two of the amendments introduced by Raising the Bar were s 105(1A) and s 112A. Section 105(1A) provides:

If an appeal is made to the Federal Court against a decision or direction of the Commissioner in relation to a patent application, the Federal Court may, on the application of the applicant for the patent, by order direct the amendment of the patent request or the complete specification in the manner specified in the order.

MLA argued that, after such a hotly contested ‘appeal’ and detailed reasons, Beach J was in effect functus officio. Amongst other things, MLA’s application was not made during the appeal and the Court therefore had no power to deal with the amendment application.

Beach J has rejected all these attacks. In the course of doing so, his Honour recognised it would not be appropriate to remit the matter to the Commissioner (even if there were power). His Honour also found that s 105(1A), like s 105(1) but unlike the Commissioner’s powers under s 60, was discretionary. His Honour’s reasons also explored the types of considerations that might affect the exercise of that discretion in the context of an application instead of a granted patent.

At this stage, it is not known if MLA will seek to appeal.

Meat & Livestock Australia Limited v Cargill, Inc (No 2) [2019] FCA 33

A computer related invention is patentable

Robertson J has allowed Rokt’s appeal and held that its ‘computer implemented method for linking a computer to an advertising message by way of an intermediate engagement offer ….” was a manner of manufacture and so patentable subject matter.

The Commissioner had found (and here) that Rokt’s patent was not a manner of manufacture as required by s 18(1)(a) and so refused grant.

On the appeal, Robertson J found Rokt’s claims were patentable subject matter in application fo the principles from Research Affiliats and RPL Central on the facts.

Crucial to his Honour’s decision was evidence that computer systems at the priority date in December 2012 did not work in the way claimed, which was not just a routine use of the technology.

In response to the Commissioner’s argument that the method was just a business method, Robertson J said at [205]:

The invention solved not only a business problem but also a technical problem. As to the latter, it provided a single platform in which user engagement data could be coupled with transactional data and user context data to provide a personalised ranking of engagement offers to the user. This technical problem of providing this single platform was solved by introducing the tracking database and the objects database and designing the ranking engine and the engagement engine which accessed and manipulated the data in the two databases to rank and select engagement offers. The ranking engine optimised the personalised output for the consumer.  Critically, the ranking engine implemented a ranking algorithm which ranked the retrieved object by a combination of an engagement score and revenue score. I also accept the evidence Professor Verspoor gave, which is summarised at [46]-[54], [104]-[107], [134]-[135] and [145] above.

On the evidence, Robertson J found that known, exiting components were integrated into a new system in an innovative and previously unknown way. At [213], his Honour explained:

Taken in isolation, a database, a client-server architecture, the running of the Javascript program on a publisher’s website and the creation of a ranking engine to rank abstract data to achieve an ordered list were each known as at December 2012 but, in combination, the distinction between engagement offers and general advertising, coupled with the algorithms making use of background data for personalisation and ranking was a new combination of new and previously existing components and a new use of computer technology.

In this case, the evidence showed that the use of computers was integral to the invention, not just incidental. At [208] – [210], Robertson J said:

The use of computers was integral, rather than incidental, to the invention in the sense that there is an invention in the way in which the computer carries out the business scheme: see RPL Central at [107]. It was not feasible to store and manage large amounts of tracking data collected from real-time interactions with digital devices and manipulate large quantities of data for context-sensitive decision-making without the use of computers. The data bank that was the source of engagement objects and historical/tracking data was a critical component of the invention. I accept the applicant’s submission that the computer was not merely acting as an “intermediary” but that the substance of the invention involved the new functioning given to the computer. I accept Professor Verspoor’s evidence summarised at [55]-[57] above.
Storage and manipulation of data at the magnitude and speed that was required to implement the method could only be done on a computer or computers. The data analysis claimed in the patent could not be performed without a computer or computers, particularly having regard to the gathering, manipulation and subsequent use of the data by the engagement engine.
The user interactions took place on the user’s computer and it was integral to the invention that data be collected, and engagement offers presented, through that computer. The transmission and receipt of data over the internet to and from the advertising system could also only be done using computers.

Rokt Pte Ltd v Commissioner of Patents [2018] FCA 1988

Productivity Commission implementation part 2

IP Australia has released draft legislation for the proposed Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill (Productivity Commission Response Part 2 and Other Measures) Bill 2018.

Schedule 1 of the proposed bill includes measures to:

  • amend inventive step requirements for Australian patents (to bring them into line with the imagined approach of the EPO;
  • introduce an objects clause into the Patents Act 1990
  • phase out the abomination innovation patent system.

Well, 1 out of 3 is not so bad.

Schedules 2 – 4 propose the mooted amendments to the Crown use provisions (both patents and designs) and the compulsory licensing provisions.

There are also streamlining measures and “technical improvements” in schedules 5 to 7.

Download the draft bill, the draft EM and consultation questions from here.

Written submissions are due by 31 August 2018.