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.

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.

Canada’s IP and antitrust enforcement guidelines

The Canadian Competition Bureau has published updated guidelines relating to the enforcement of intellectual property rights and the antitrust (competition) rules.

The Bureau does not presume that the exercise of IP rights violates competition rules but, in assessing whether there are competition law ramifications, it distinguishes between two types of conduct: conduct “involving something more than the mere exercise of the IP right, and those involving the mere exercise of the IP right and nothing else.” Special rules, which may be applied in “very rare circumstances” apply to the latter. While the general competition rules apply to the former.

According to the Canadian firm, Tories, the updated guidelines include consideration relating to:

  • patent litigation settlement arrangements including reverse payment settlements
  • product switching
  • patent assertion entities
  • standard essential patents

Why should someone in Australia care?

For one thing (bearing in mind the ACCC’s challenge to Pfizer’s practices when its Lipitor patent was expiring – judgment is reserved in the appeal), the US Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision this year on how US antitrust laws apply to reverse payment settlements.

For another thing, following the Competition Review here in Australia:

  • the Government announced its intention to implement the Harper Review’s recommendation that s 51(3) be repealed and, if that happens, the ACCC is supposed to produce its own guidelines; and
  • in the meantime, at the Government’s direction, the Productivity Commission is undertaking a review of Intellectual Property Arrangements including its alleged anti-competitive effects.[1]

Lid dip: Peter Willis

  1. The draft report is due to published “any day now”.  ?