Posts Tagged ‘acquisition of property’

Productivity Commission on Compulsory Licensing: Draft Report

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The Productivity Commission has released its draft Report on Compulsory Licensing of  Patents.

There are 10 chapters and 4 appendices.

The main (draft) recommendations at this stage are the repeal of s 133(2)(b), 135 and 136 of the Patents Act. The Productivity Commission also in substance renews the call to repeal s 51(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act.

The primary object to these recommendations is to make the avenue for relief against the restrictive trade practices (antitrust conduct) of a patentee the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). The Productivity Commission also recommends that the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 be amended “to explicitly recognise compulsory licensing of a patent as a remedy under that Act.

The Productivity Commission considers that the current requirements under s 135 requiring demonstration that the reasonable requirements of the public are not being met and consideration of the interests of Australian industry to be inconsistent with promoting community-wide welfare.

In its place, the Productivity Commission proposes that a new test be introduced into the Competition and Consumer Act making a compulsory licence available where:

(a) Australian demand for a product or service is not being met on reasonable terms, and access to the patented invention is essential for meeting this demand.

(b) The applicant has tried for a reasonable period, but without success, to obtain access from the patentee on reasonable terms and conditions.

(c) There is a public interest in providing access to the applicant, having regard to:

• costs to the patentee from granting access to the patented invention

• benefits to consumers and the licensee from the licensee’s access to the invention

• longer-term impacts on community wellbeing.

(d) The terms of any compulsory licence order are consistent with public interest, having regard to:

• the right of the patentee to obtain a return on investment commensurate with the regulatory and commercial risks involved

• the right of the public to the efficient exploitation of the invention.

Bearing in mind that there have been very few private actions based on the antitrust or restrictive trade practices provisions and even fewer successful actions (and, for that matter, very few, if any, applications for a compulsory licence under the Patents Act), this new test plainly has the potential to significantly change the nature of a patentee’s rights. That could be very well affected by the interpretation applied to “being met on reasonable terms” in para (a) and “long term impact on community wellbeing” in para (c) and the extent, if any, that the proposed test is applied based on incentives to innovate before the invention is made (ex ante) or after the invention has already been made (ex post).

A change in this balance would appear to be intended as the Productivity Commission is concerned that the existing competition test in s 133 of the Patents Act is triggered only by anti-competitive behaviour where what is needed, according to the Productivity Commission, is a test based on enhancing competition.

If you wish to make a submission, it should be submitted by 8 February 2013 as the Final Report is due to be submitted to Government by 29 March 2013.

So far, there have been 35 submissions.

Tobacco Plain Packaging reasons

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Having previously announced the conclusion that the Tobacco Plain Packaging laws were valid, today the High Court published their reasons.

6 of the judges, Heydon J dissenting, ruled that s 51(xxxi) did not apply because there was no “acquisition” of the tobacco companies’ intellectual property rights. It was true that the ability, or rights, of the tobacco companies to use their intellectual property rights was severely curtailed, if not extinguished. That was insufficient to constitute an acquisition in itself. But, the Tobacco Plain Packaging legislation did not appropriate those rights for use by the Commonwealth.

As a result, it was unnecessary to consider the Commonwealth’s further argument that, if there were an acquisition, it was justified and reasonable in the circumstances.

JT International SA v Commonwealth of Australia [2012] HCA 43

PPCA v Commonwealth

Friday, March 30th, 2012

The High Court has rejected the constitutional challenge to the validity of the “1%” cap on licence fees payable by broadcasters to the record companies on very narrow and specific grounds.

Section 109 of the Copyright Act 1968 provides a compulsory licence for the broadcasting to the public of sound recordings. Section 152, however, caps the royalty payable to record companies by broadcasters at 1% of the gross earnings of the broadcaster.

No such limitation had applied to the “corresponding” copyright in sound recordings under the 1911 Act.

The 1911 Act was repealed when the 1968 Act came into force on 1 July 1969. Section 220 of the 1968 Act provided that sound recordings in which copyright subsisted immediately before 1 July 1969 qualified for copyright under the 1969 Act effectively as provided for under the 1968 Act.

The record companies argued that the imposition of the 1% cap was an acquisition of their property in sound recordings made before July 1969 otherwise than on just terms in contravention of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.

The High Court has unanimously rejected that claim.

French CJ, Gummow, Hayne and Bell J said the record companies’ argument was predicated on a wrong assumption. They no longer owned copyright under the 1911 Act which had been qualified. Rather that copyright had been terminated and replaced with a new and different copyright under the 1968 Act. So at [10] and [11]:

[10] The assumption by the plaintiffs is that the copyright presently enjoyed in respect of the pre?1969 recordings, and which will expire in accordance with the extended term fixed by the operation of the Free Trade Act upon the 1968 Act, is that which arose under the 1911 Act and was carried forward by the 1968 Act, but with the impermissible imposition upon those copyrights of the “cap” in the compulsory licensing system introduced by the 1968 Act. The Commonwealth denies that assumption. The Commonwealth submission, which should be accepted, is that upon the proper construction of the 1968 Act: (a) copyrights subsisting in Australia on 1 May 1969 under the Imperial system were terminated; (b) thereafter, no copyright subsisted otherwise than by virtue of the 1968 Act; and (c) to that copyright in respect of sound recordings there attached immediately the compulsory licensing system including the “cap” upon the royalties payable thereunder.

[11] It should be emphasised that the plaintiffs do not assert that the 1968 Act is invalid by reason of its bringing to an end the operation in Australia of the Imperial system without the provision of just terms. To do so successfully would be to leave them with such rights in respect of the pre?1969 recordings as they had under the 1911 Act and the 1912 Act, and without any copyrights subsisting under the 1968 Act. Rather, the plaintiffs seek to attack the validity of the attachment to their rights under the 1968 Act of one aspect of the compulsory licensing system for sound recordings. For the reasons which follow, that attack must fail.

Heydon J to similar effect at [63]:

In short, the 1968 Act did not preserve the second to sixth plaintiffs’ rights under the 1911 Act and the 1912 Act. It abolished those rights. It substituted for them distinct and fresh rights – some more advantageous to those plaintiffs, some less. Thus ss 109 and 152 did not cause any property to be acquired. Property may have been extinguished by other provisions, but the plaintiffs’ case was not concerned with them.

After considering the application of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution to statutory intellectual property rights generally, Crennan and Kiefel JJ reached the same conclusion at [129], pointing out at [130] that the record companies could not accept s 220 of the Copyright Act as valid and at the same time contend that ss 109 and 152 were invalid.

[129] When ss 8, 31, 85, 89(1), 207 and 220(1) of the 1968 Act are read together, it is clear that the copyright of the relevant plaintiffs under the 1911 Act, which included the exclusive right to perform the record in public, is not continued under the 1968 Act; rather it is replaced. Whilst it is true that, as the plaintiffs submit, certain records in which copyright subsisted under the 1911 Act are brought within the scheme of the 1968 Act, that is achieved by the re enactment, in substance, of qualifying provisions in the 1911 Act in, and for the purposes of, the 1968 Act. The effect is that the plaintiffs’ entitlement to sue for infringements under s 101 of the 1968 Act in respect of sound recordings in which copyright subsists pursuant to s 89(1) is an entitlement to sue in respect of infringements of the copyright in sound recordings contained in s 85, which replaces the copyright in records under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act. Inasmuch as ss 109 and 152 operate to qualify a record manufacturer’s exclusive rights by providing an exception to infringement, it is the exclusive rights under s 85 which are affected, not the exclusive rights under the 1911 Act (which have been replaced).

[130] Whilst the plaintiffs mount no attack on the validity of provisions of the 1968 Act which effect the replacement of the relevant plaintiffs’ copyright under the 1911 Act with a copyright under the 1968 Act, their attack on the validity of ss 109 and 152, which depends on the continuing subsistence of copyright under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act, is untenable. If the plaintiffs were to attack the validity of the provisions of the 1968 Act which effect the replacement of copyright under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act with a differently constituted copyright under s 85 of the 1968 Act, they would risk being left not only with the awkwardly expressed copyright under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act in respect of records, but also with a copyright, the term of which was limited to 50, rather than 70, years.

Now the High Court have reminded themselves of all these matters, they will be primed for the tobacco companies challenge to the validity of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, the hearings for which start in April.

Phonographic Performance Company of Australia Limited v Commonwealth of Australia [2012] HCA 8

Phillip Morris sues Australia!

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Phillip Morris has announced that it plans to sue Australia under the Australia-Hong Kong (SA) Bilateral Investment Treaty over the planned plain packaging legislation.

What the Government is proposing to do

Under the proposed Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, tobacco companies would be required to adopt a prescribed form of packaging for tobacco products.

In its most recent form, this would involve all tobacco companies using the same olive brown colour for their packaging with large, graphic images and health warnings. Some illustrations here. The contemplated regulations would limit brand names to be positioned on the top, bottom and a designated position on the front of the box in Lucida sans serif font, point size 14. (See pp. 12 and 13 of the Consultation Paper (pdf).

The trade mark lawyers amongst us will notice that clause 15 of the proposed bill will preclude a registered trade mark from being removed for non-use resulting from the strictures imposed by the proposed legislation.

The announced intention is for the laws to come into full operation on 1 July 2012. The proposal is only in exposure draft form at this stage, with public comment being scheduled to have closed by 6 June. However, the Opposition has apparently indicated its support for the Government’s position.

What Phillip Morris claims

If you read a newspaper in Australia, you can hardly have failed to notice the advertisements taken out by the tobacco companies violently opposed to this plan. There is also a website.

Phillip Morris has taken matters a step further and lodged a notice of claim against Australia under the Australia-Hong Kong (SAR) Bilateral Investment Treaty.

Unlike Free Trade Agreements and WTO / TRIPS, apparently, companies can bring claims against a party (alleged) to be in breach of its treaty obligations, not just another country party.

It would appear that Phillip Morris is not just after compensation but also an order requiring Australia to suspend operation of the law.

Details about the basis of Phillip Morris’ claim are sketchy at this stage. According to Phillip Morris’ own News Release:

“The forced removal of trade marks and other valuable intellectual property is a clear violation of the terms of the bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong. We believe we have a very strong legal case and will be seeking significant financial compensation for the damage to our business”.

The speculation is that Phillip Morris will argue that the proposed law is an expropriation of Phillip Morris’ investments (trade mark rights) without fair compensation: see Article 6.

According to its Press Release, Phillip Morris has apparently garnered support from an eminent Georgetown professor (and Harvard graduate) for its position.

The Government has previously denied its plans will breach its international obligations.

Assoc. Prof. Jurgen Kurtz at Melbourne University has a very interesting consideration of the issues, noting that there is case law which would support the Government’s position as well as a contrary line. Prof. Rothwell from the ANU also explores the issues. He also reportedly contends that Phillip Morris may well have lodged its complaint too soon as the bill is not law yet, although, presumably, that would not preclude another complaint at a later stage.

The News Release also indicates that a period of 3 months’ negotiating follows before an arbitration proceeding is implemented under the Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law 2010. The process will not be a short one!