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.  ?

Innovation patent consultation on the consultation

IP Australia has issued a consultation paper seeking the public’s view on (the now departed) ACIP’s recommendations for the innovation patent. Specifically:

IP Australia is seeking feedback from interested stakeholders on:

  • the ACIP recommendation that the government should consider abolishing the innovation patent system
  • any alternative suggestions to encourage innovation amongst SMEs.

Get your comments in by 25 September 2015

IP Australia’s consultation paper here (pdf or word). The ACIP report being “consultated” upon, via here and updated here.

ACIP on innovation patents

ACIP’s final report into Innovation Patents has been published.

Key points / recommendations:

  • ACIP can’t find evidence to support conclusion that innovation patents promote innovation

 

  • ACIP recommends that, if the innovation patent system be retained:

 

    • there be a new “innovation” threshold:

amending the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) to raise the level of innovation to a level above the current innovative step level, but below the inventive step level that applies to standard patents. A suitable level of innovative step would be provided by the test of inventiveness described by the High Court of Australia in Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co v Beiersdorf (Australia) Ltd [1980] HCA 9: (1980) 144 CLR 253; (1980) 29 ALR 29 with a modification to that test to include the current definition of what is relevant CGK. In order to be innovative an invention would need to be non-obvious by reference to CGK either within or outside the patent area but not by reference to prior art information that is not part of CGK at the priority date of the relevant claims of the innovation patent. This would be a lower threshold than is applied to standard patents, where the invention must be non-obvious by reference to the CGK and any piece of prior art.

I suppose that would at least be a test that requires some advance over the prior art and is (at least in theory) something which those of us who started growing up under the 1952 Act should be familiar with.

    • a request for examination must be filed within 3 years
    • the term “patent” be reserved for certified “patents” only;
    • exclude from innovation patents “all methods, all processes and all systems “.

The Government has indicated it will respond in due course.

ACIP’s Innovation Patent Inquiry page.

Link to the Final Report (pdf).

The (online) price of things in Australia

Last year, a Parliamentary Committee discovered that Australians pay much higher prices for software and other technology than consumers in other countries.[1]

Now (well, last month), the Fairfax media claimed that Australians are paying much higher prices  for fashion from overseas chains than they charge in their online stores too. Apparently, up to 35% more – although, looking at the unit prices, I wonder if that is before or after postage or delivery has been included.


  1. The [Copyright Society of Australia][csa] held a seminar on the report, the transcripts of which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Copyright Reporter.  ?

Compulsory Licensing of Patents – Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission’s report on Compulsory Licensing of Patents has been published.

One key recommendation is to replace the compulsory licence provisions in the s 133 of the Patents Act with a compulsory licence regime in the Competition and Consumer Act:

The Australian Government should seek to remove s. 133(2)(b) from the Patents Act 1990 (Cwlth), so that a compulsory licence order based on restrictive trade practices of the patent holder is only available under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cwlth). The remedy provisions in the Competition and Consumer Act should be amended to explicitly recognise compulsory licence orders to exploit a patented invention as a remedy under the Act.

The Productivity Commission also recommends that the “reasonable requirements of the public” test in s 135 of the Patents Act be replaced with a “public interest” test:

The Australian Government should seek to amend the Patents Act 1990 (Cwlth) to replace the ‘reasonable requirements of the public’ test for a compulsory licence with a new public interest test. The new test should specify that a compulsory licence to exploit the patented invention would be available if the following conditions are met:

  • 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.
  • The applicant has tried for a reasonable period, but without success, to obtain access from the patentee on reasonable terms and conditions.
  • There is a substantial public interest in providing access to the applicant, having regard to:
    • –  benefits to the community from meeting the relevant unmet demand
    • –  commercial costs and benefits to the patent holder and licensee from

      granting access to the patented invention

    • –  other impacts on community wellbeing, including those resulting from greater competition and from the overall effect on innovation.

Section 136 should be repealed and future Treaty obligations should be incorporated into the Patents Act directly.

The Productivity Commission would also like to see s 51(3) of the CC Act repealed:

but any changes to s.51(3) will need to be based on a consideration of the implications for all types of intellectual property, including those beyond this inquiry’s terms of reference.

Further recommendations relate to Crown Use,which appear to have been largely adopted already in the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013.

Download Full Report, or interesting chapters, here.

Productivity Commission on Compulsory Licensing: Draft Report

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.

House committee recommends Parliament pass the tobacco plain packaging legislation

In a report tabled today (pdf), the House of Representatives’ Health and Ageing committee has recommended that the House pass the tobacco plain packaging legislation.

The Committee noted the submissions about possible breaches of TRIPS, the Paris Convention, the Constitution etc. and said at [1.63]:

While the Committee recognises that there are … complex legal issues relating intellectual property and trade marks, it considers these issues to be beyond the purview of a Committee formed to consider matters directly related to health and/or ageing. Therefore the Committee has decided to confine its comments to evidence relating to health implications of the legislation. ….

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