Annual IP Report 2017

IP Australia has published its Australian Intellectual Property Report 2017.

Some key points:

  • there were 28,394 applications for standard patents filed in 2016, a one per cent decline from 2015. At the other end, 23,734 patents were granted last year, an increase of 3 per cent from 2015;
  • there were 2,322 innovation patent applications in 2016 up by 27% from 2015;
  • there were 71,344 trade mark applications in 2016, down by 3 per cent from 2015 – Madrid filings decreased by 14 per cent;
  • there were 7,202 design applications filed in 2016, a 3 per cent increase over 2015;
  • in 2016, IP Australia registered 6,644 designs and certified 978;
  • the number of PBR applications increased by a whopping 8 per cent: from 359 to 387. IP Australia registered 111 PBRs.

IP Australia has completed a draft of its cost-benefit analysis for Australia joining the Hague Agreement and “will look to share the draft and seek feedback on the research later in 2017”.

There is also a long(-sh) chapter challenging the view that there is an Australian crisis in university-business collaboration. The chapter includes convoluted node diagrams showing the types of collaboration by institution and concludes that, rather than being at the bottom of the OECD rankings, we are merely “middle of the road”; in about 13th place.

With a view to geographical indications, IP Australia and Melbourne University have been building a world-first database linking Australian registered trade marks to a global atlas of place names. Apparently, this database will be released later this year.

On the research front, IP Australia has also released the 2017 edition of “IPGOD”. This year IP Australia should also release a database of pharma substances subject to patent term extensions. IP Australia has also made available the literature review on grace periods it commissioned from the University of California, Davis here (pdf). There is also a paper (pdf) on how grace periods affect innovation.

Download the report from here.

Minister’s press release here.

The Government has published its response to ACIP’s Designs Report

On 6 May 2016, the Government published its response to ACIP’s review of designs law. Who knew?

ACIP came up with 23 recommendations. For the most part, the Government accepted ACIP’s recommendations. Those accepted include:

  • introducing a 6 month grace period before filing an application for registration, with a requirement that an applicant relying on the grace period provide a declaration to that effect (recommendation #12);
  • introducing a prior user defence (recommendation #12);
  • retaining the requirement of distinctiveness in s 19 in its current form (recommendation #10);
  • not introducing an unregistered design right (recommendation #22);
  • allowing amendment of a statement of newness and distinctiveness up until certification (recommendation #11 – “in principle”);
  • not extending the maximum term of a registered design from 10 years to 15 years unless Australia decides to join the Hague Agreement (recommendation #3) as to which IP Australia should investigate further and continue to monitor usage by our major trading partners;[1]
  • changing the name of a registered, but uncertified, design to something less misleading like “uncertified design” (recommendation #4);
  • retaining the current requirement that a design be registered for the whole product, while investigating further whether allowing partial product registrations would substantially advantage Australian applicants and does not give rise to substantial practical or legal issues overseas (recommendation #13);
  • take steps to make s 18 consistent with the overlap provisions of the Copyright Act;
  • correcting a miscellany of anomalies (including conferring power on exclusive licensees to being infringement proceedings) (recommendation #18), but aligning s 71 with the exclusive rights granted by s 10[2] is not necessary as the current position has not given rise to any problems and fixing the anomaly would create uncertainty and could have unintended effects (recommendation #17).

The Government has specifically rejected introducing customs seizure provisions for infringing products in line with the regimes currently in force for other intellectual property rights. This:

would pose a range of practical difficulties, and would be resource intensive for the Australian Border Force (ABF) to implement.

Moreover, design owners can currently obtain orders from the Courts which ABF could act on to prevent release of particular imported products.

A number of other recommendations were noted (such as requiring examination to be requested by the first renewal period and introducing an opposition system following certification). The Government considers action on these should await IP Australia’s further investigations into whether Australia should join the Hague system for international registration.

Another recommendation “noted” was the recommendation to improve the process for multiple design applications by reducing the fees. This needs to be considered “further in the context of IP Australia’s current fee review, to be completed in 2016.”

For the full response to all recommendations, go here (pdf).


  1. The Productivity Commission of course is going to say “Don’t do it” – much louder than that! See chapter 10.  ?
  2. Although s 10 confers the right to authorise exercise of an exclusive right, authorising someone to do an infringing act is not itself an infringement under s 71 and, of course, what is required for liability at common law for directing or procuring and infringement is so much clearer following Keller.  ?

ACIP – Designs Options Paper

The Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) has released an options paper for arising from its Review of the (Registered) Designs System.

The Options Paper identifies 3 potential routes for further development of designs law in Australia.

Option 1 would involve addressing a few specific issues in how the 2003 Act works without revisiting the policy settings. This could involve:

  • making the identity of Convention applicants consistent with the rules on entitlement;
  • expanding the rules on priority claiming so that differing formal requirements between jurisdictions do not disadvantage Convention applicants;
  • bringing the rules on entitlement into line with the Patents Act;
  • expanding the prior art base so that it is not just limited to the product the subject of the application;
  • expanding the situations where fraud, false suggestion or misrepresentation can be invoked for revocation purposes;
  • allowing exclusive licensees to sue for infringement;
  • making it clearer that a registered, but uncertified, design does not confer enforceable rights until certification;
  • removing the option to publish a design instead of registering it;
  • reducing the fees for multiple designs included in a single application; and
  • addressing anomalies that have arisen in the copyright-design overlap, especially in relation to 2D and 3D ‘embodiments’.

Option 2 would include the changes identified under Option 1, but going further to bring Australian law more into line with “major trading partners and international treaties”. That could involve amending the Act to allow accession to the Hague Agreement. Changes could involve:

  • extending the term of protection from 10 years to 15 including introducing a require to obtain certification on renewal after the first 5 years and a system of opposition following certification
  • introducing a grace period of 6 months
  • deferring publication to registration
  • introducing customs seizure provisions

Option 3 is summarised in the Executive Summary as:

a wholesale revision of the role of the designs system in Australia’s IP law, including consideration, in particular, of the need for unregistered design protection, and the scope of design protection (including the scope of secondary liability) in the context of technological developments such as 3D scanning and printing. This would also involve consideration of whether protection should be extended to partial designs and whether virtual or non-physical designs (such as screen displays and icons) should themselves be treated as products.

ACIP appears to consider Option 3 would be appropriate if the policies reflected in the 2003 Act no longer make sense or have been superseded. Examples where this might be the case include unregistered design right, full copyright proection regardless of industrial application or broader rights such as allowing registration for parts of products, such as handles, rather than for products as a whole.

The impending availability of 3D-printing, or at least its more widespread take up, is raised as a potential basis for pursuing option 2 or option 3.

ACIP does note that going down the path of Option 3 (at least) would involve costs as well as benefits and concludes:

ACIP does not presently have evidence sufficient to suggest that wholesale change would be in the national interest. ACIP envisages that Option 3 would involve consideration, not only of the designs system per se, but how it interacts with other systems: most obviously the copyright system, but also standard and innovation patents and other systems such as protection for confidential information. Ideally, such a review would also involve gathering more detailed evidence on Australia’s industrial and economic strengths, and developing strategies for industry development in the field of design, as well as more information on the operation of systems, such as those in operation in some European countries, which do not exclude industrial design from the copyright system. Such a review ought to be undertaken by specialist intellectual property economic, business and legal analysts.

In formulating these proposals, ACIP has taken into account responses to a survey it conducted as well as submissions.

ACIP would like to receive your submissions on these submissions on their return from the Christmas/Summer holidays: i.e. 23 January 2015.

ACIP – Review of Designs System Options Paper (pdf)

Refusing a lapsed patent application and other powers of the Commissioner

The Commissioner of Patents has power to refuse an application even after it has lapsed (but is still capable of revival by payment of “late” fees). The Full Court has also affirmed the Commissioner’s power to set a two month time limit for response (especially where she actually allows six months) and to institute a hearing on her own motion.

In some ways, this is a “silly” case, but it does explain how the application process and restoration of a lapsed application works. The chronology was as follows:

  • In December 2011, Miles requested examination of his patent application.
  • In May 2012, the Commissioner’s delegate raised objections to grant, giving Miles two months in which to overcome the objections or risk the Commissioner making a direction to amend under s 107 or refusing the application.
  • Miles did not respond.
  • In September 2012 (i.e., 4 months later), the Commissioner wrote advising that, as no response had been received, the matter would be set down for hearing and allowing one month for submissions to be filed. The Commissioner’s letter warned that it was possible for the Commissioner to refuse the application or direct amendment and inviting Miles to submit his own amendments.
  • October 2012 was the fifth anniversary of the application and continuation fees were payable. Miles did not pay the continuation fees.
  • On 1 November 2012, the Commissioner refused Miles’ application on the basis that objections to grant had been appropriately raised and not overcome.
  • On 28 March 2013, Miles paid the continuation fee (under s 142) and sought to amend the patent application.

The Commissioner said “bad luck, your application has already been refused” (or words to that effect).

Miles sought judicial review under s 39B of the Judiciary Act unsuccessfully. The Full Court (Bennett, Greenwood and Middleton JJ) dismissed his appeal.

Miles’ first argument was that the Commissioner had no power to refuse his application (in November 2012) because his application had already lapsed in October 2012 when he failed to pay the continuation fees.

The Full Court was having none of that. It was predicated on a misunderstanding of reg. 13.3(1) and 13.3(1A). Section 142(2)(d) provides that a patent application lapses if the applicant does not pay a continuation fee within the “prescribed period”. What constitutes the “prescribed period” is defined by reg. 13.3(1) and (1A):

(1) For paragraph 142(2)(d) of the Act:

>(a) a continuation fee for an application for a standard patent is payable for a relevant anniversary at the last moment of the anniversary; and

>(b) the period in which the fee must be paid is the period ending at the last moment of the anniversary.

(1A) However, if the continuation fee is paid within 6 months after the end of the relevant anniversary (6 month period):

>(a) the period mentioned in paragraph (1)(b) is taken to be extended until the fee is paid; and

>(b) the continuation fee includes the additional fee stated in item 211 of Schedule 7; and

>(c) the additional fee is payable from the first day of the 6 month period.

Reg. 13.3(1) and (1A) were not to be read in some bifurcated manner, but in combination. This meant that, if the continuation fee was paid in the 6 month grace period, the “prescribed period” was extended up until the date the fee was paid, i.e. 28 March 2013. As the continuation fee was paid in this case within the 6 month period, therefore, the application was still on foot when the Commissioner refused it in November 2012.

The Full Court went on to reject Miles’ arguments that the Commissioner had no power to set a two month time limit for response to the Examiner’s report in May 2012[1] or to unilaterally institute a hearing.

One “odd” outcome of this, however, is that Miles’ application would indeed have lapsed in October 2012 if he had not paid the continuation fee in the grace period. In that case, the Commissioner would not have had power to refuse the application. I am not sure how that would help Miles either as, presumably, by that stage it would be too late to file another application.

Miles v Commissioner of Patents [2014] FCAFC 109


  1. The Full Court essentially adopted the primary judge’s reasons at [55] to [93] and pointed out that Miles had been given opportunitites to address the grounds of objection and had failed to take any of them up.  ?

The grace period and “reasonable trial”

Mack Innovations lodged a provision patent application for a “cable pulling apparatus for helicopters” on 12 August 2005. The complete application for a standard patent was lodged on 14 August 2006 and a standard patent was subsequently granted (yes, 12 and 13 August 2006 fell on the weekend).

Apparently, Mack Innovations had begun testing parts and subsequently a prototype of the device in public around March 2005; i.e., about 5 months before the provisional application was lodged.

Rotorco, having been sued for infringement, tried to argue that  Mack Innovations’ own actions in March 2005 had rendered the patent “not novel”; contending that the grace period did not apply because the complete application was filed more than 12 months after first public use.

The problem for Rotorco was that its summary judgment application was based on reg. 2.2(2)(d), not 2.2(1A). Reg. 2.2(1A) provides for a grace period where there was a publication or use “within 12 months before the filing date of the complete application”. On the other hand, reg. 2.2(2)(d) applies where:

(d)    the working in public of the invention within the period of 12 months before the priority date of a claim for the invention:
(i)    for the purposes of reasonable trial; and
(ii)    if, because of the nature of the invention, it is reasonably necessary for the working to be in public.

and Tamberlin J, albeit in dicta, had already ruled that filing the provisional application on which the patent was based within the 12 months grace period was sufficient for reliance on this provision.

One might add that, given the difference in wording between reg. 2.2(1A) and 2.2.(2)(d), this conclusion seems consistent with the Full Court’s decision in Mont Adventure Equipment (admittedly dealing with the application of the grace period in the context of a divisional application).

Mack Innovations (Australia) Pty Limited & Anor v Rotorco Pty Limited & Anor [2010] QSC 138 (McMurdo J)

As this was an application for summary judgment, I am not sure whether that means it still remains to be resolved whether or not Mack Innovations’ use was in fact reasonable trial which it was reasonably necessary to conduct in public.

What’s the priority date for a divisional patent?

Mont has an innovation patent for a travel pack.

It sued Phoenix for infringing the innovation patent; Phoenix  counter-claimed for invalidity on the grounds of Mont’s own use commencing in October 2004.

Patents Act 1990 s 24 (read with Reg. 2.2(1A)) provides a patentee with a grace period: protecting the patentee against attacks on grounds of lack of novelty or inventive step/innovative step by reason of the patentee’s own authorised use or disclosure within the 12 months prior to “the filing date of the complete specification”.

The background was as follows:

In October 2004, it had started offering travel packs made according to the invention for sale.

In May 2005, it filed a complete application (with a complete specification) for a standard patent.

In November 2006, however, it filed a complete application (and of course a complete specification) for an innovation patent as a divisional application from the earlier standard application and this application matured into the innovation patent.

The trial judge had found that the “grace period” had to be calculated from the date of filing the complete specification for the divisional application, not the parent.

The Full Court has now allowed an appeal ruling that “the complete specification” referred to in reg. 2.2(1A) in the case of a divisional application is the complete specification for the parent.

Jagot J (with whom Emmett J agreed) explained the rationale:

76 By the provisions relating to divisional applications, the Act and Regulations establish a scheme in which an applicant may ensure that a claim for an invention that the applicant has previously disclosed in a complete specification as filed and which is within the scope of the claims of the complete specification as accepted takes a priority date as if the claim had been included in that earlier complete specification. The scheme thus ensures that the requirements of novelty and inventive step or innovative step for the claims within the divisional application (which are essential determinants of the validity of the patent application) are assessed by reference to a priority date established by the date of the earlier (or parent or original), rather than the later (or divisional) specification.
77 All features of this statutory scheme for divisional applications are consistent. Hence, the claims in any patent granted on a divisional application take the priority date of the claims in the earlier (or parent or original) application. Publications or uses of the claimed invention, after that priority date, cannot affect the validity of any patent granted. The term of any patent granted on a divisional application is also taken to have started on the same date as the date of the earlier (or parent or original) application.

76 By the provisions relating to divisional applications, the Act and Regulations establish a scheme in which an applicant may ensure that a claim for an invention that the applicant has previously disclosed in a complete specification as filed and which is within the scope of the claims of the complete specification as accepted takes a priority date as if the claim had been included in that earlier complete specification. The scheme thus ensures that the requirements of novelty and inventive step or innovative step for the claims within the divisional application (which are essential determinants of the validity of the patent application) are assessed by reference to a priority date established by the date of the earlier (or parent or original), rather than the later (or divisional) specification.

77 All features of this statutory scheme for divisional applications are consistent. Hence, the claims in any patent granted on a divisional application take the priority date of the claims in the earlier (or parent or original) application. Publications or uses of the claimed invention, after that priority date, cannot affect the validity of any patent granted. The term of any patent granted on a divisional application is also taken to have started on the same date as the date of the earlier (or parent or original) application.

Similarly Bennett J said [49]:

49 The scheme of the Act provides that, where the invention of the divisional was disclosed in the parent, the publication or use of the invention within 12 months before the filing date of the parent must be disregarded for the purposes of assessing the novelty and inventive/innovative step of each of the parent and the divisional, provided that a patent application for the invention is filed within the prescribed period. This applies where the divisional is of a parent standard patent or a parent innovation patent. Where the invention of the divisional was disclosed in the parent, the words “the complete application” in reg 2.2(1A) refer to the parent application and not to the divisional application.

Jagot J also provided a detailed rebuttal of Phoenix’ contentions.

Mont Adventure Equipment Pty Ltd v Phoenix Leisure Group Pty Ltd [2009] FCAFC 84

ps: IPTA was granted leave to intervene (and while advocating the view that the Full Court adopted, was ordered to pay any additional costs incurred by the parties as a result of the intervention).

pps:a patentee who needs to rely on a grace period to preserve the validity of the patent in Australia may well still lose the patent outside Australia where the grace period does not apply

Troubles with the grace period

The Patents Act was amended (in relatively controversial circumstances) to include a 12 month grace period (somewhat a la the USA) so that use or publication of the invention in the 12 months before the complete specification was filed could not be relied on to destroy validity: see s 24(1)(a) and reg.s 2.2(1A) and 2.3.

Assume that a complete application for a standard patent was filed on 13 May 2005.  Then a complete application for an innovation patent, as a divisional from the standard, was filed on 22 November 2006.

Assume further that the first publication of the invention the subject of both applications was in October 2004.

Which complete application does time run (backwards) from?

If the standard application, the innovation patent will be valid; if not, it will be invalid.  If time runs from the date of the complete application for the innovation patent, however, the divisional status of the innovation application will not have all the usually expected effects.

Stone J has found that the relevant application, on the basis of the specific wording of the legislative provisions, is the complete application for the innovation patent:

10 There does not appear to have been any previous judicial consideration of the present question. Both parties submit that, having regard to the context in which they appear, the ordinary and natural meaning of the provisions supports the construction for which they respectively contend. For reasons given below I have concluded that the construction for which the respondent contends is correct, namely, that where the specification filed in respect of a parent application discloses the invention claimed in a divisional application based on the parent, the “complete application” to which cl 2.2(1A) refers is the divisional application. Consequently I would answer the question for determination as follows:

For the purpose of determining the validity of the Australian Innovation Patent No 2006100978 (Innovation Patent), and on the facts stated in the orders made by Bennett J on 11 December 2007, “the filing date of the complete application” within the meaning of reg 2.2(1A) of the Patents Regulations 1991 (Cth) is the filing date of the complete application for the Innovation Patent on 22 November 2006.

28 I reject the applicant’s argument that the respondent’s construction creates an anomaly by providing the innovation patent with the benefits of divisional status whilst depriving it of the grace period benefits otherwise accruing to that status. As the respondent correctly submits, the consequence of its view is that the grace period simply runs from a later date, which may or may not extend past the priority date based on the filing of the parent application. This is said to reflect:

… a decision not to allow divisional applications to benefit more than they already do from the earlier priority date in circumstances where the divisional application is filed more than a year after the parent application.

Be very, very very careful if you have to rely on the grace period!

Mont Adventure Equipment Pty Limited v Phoenix Leisure Group Pty Limited [2008] FCA 1476.