Second Reading Speech: Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014
The continuing success of the Australian economy depends to a large extent on our ability to innovate, adopt new technologies and capitalise on new markets.
The intellectual property system is crucial to this success because it encourages invention and investment and provides business and consumers with access to valuable new technologies, products and services.
This government is determined to reduce the regulatory burden on business that is holding back Australia’s economic prosperity and development. Therefore the intellectual property system needs to fulfil its important role in the most efficient way possible and lower red tape costs for businesses.
The intellectual property system must also enable Australia to be a good global citizen and help less fortunate countries to access vital technologies essential to their health and wellbeing.
The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014 contains a package of measures, many of which will reduce red tape for those wishing to obtain or enforce their intellectual property rights and will provide more support for other countries facing health emergencies.
Firstly, Schedules 1 and 2 to the Bill amend the Patents Act to implement the Protocol amending the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, also known as the TRIPS Protocol. The Howard government accepted the TRIPS Protocol in 2007 and its implementation in Australia is well overdue.
The TRIPS Protocol helps developing countries that are suffering health crises such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis to obtain essential medicines from other countries at affordable prices. Millions of people die from such diseases every year.
At present, elements of our patent system can make it harder for Australian businesses to provide assistance to such countries.
To address this, the Bill will enable Australian pharmaceutical manufacturers to obtain a licence from the Federal Court to make generic versions of patented medicines and to export these medicines to countries with a demonstrated need.
The scheme will ensure that patents can only be used under strict conditions and that patent owners are fairly compensated.
The scheme is also designed to be as easy to use as possible, while ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place and consistency with Australia’s broader international obligations.
Secondly, Schedule 3 to the Bill will make amendments to the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act to extend the jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court to include plant breeder’s rights.
Plant varieties are very important to the success of the Australian agricultural industry. Plant breeder’s rights encourage breeders – many of whom are small businesses – to invest in developing new, improved varieties.
At present, breeders can only enforce their rights against alleged infringers by commencing proceedings in the Federal Court. This can be a very expensive path.
The Bill will give plant breeders the option of using the faster, more cost-effective and more accessible Federal Circuit Court for less complex matters.
Thirdly, Schedule 4 to the Bill allows for single patent application and examination processes for Australia and New Zealand; and a single trans-Tasman patent attorney regime.
These measures build on the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations free trade agreement by further integrating trans-Tasman regulation.
At present, most patent applications filed in New Zealand are also filed in Australia, but undergo separate examination processes in each country.
In what I understand to be a world first, the Bill allows patent applications for the same invention to be examined by a single examiner in either country. The regime will take account of differences in national laws and will result in two separate patents for Australia and New Zealand.
A single, more efficient patent application process will remove duplication and make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property in both countries. This has the potential to save Australian business and exporters thousands of dollars in professional advice costs.
To support this change, the Bill will allow for an address for service of documents, which is required when parties wish to challenge patents in the relevant courts, to be in either Australia or New Zealand. It will also move the rules relating to addresses for service to the regulations. These amendments will not change in anyway the existing requirement of a physical address for the service of documents.
The Bill will also introduce a single trans-Tasman regulatory framework for Australian and New Zealand patent attorneys.
As the majority of Australian and New Zealand patent attorneys are registered in both countries, a single regulatory body will remove barriers, encourage competition and save time and money for the profession.
The framework will include a single register of patent attorneys, a single IP Attorneys Board and a single IP Attorneys Disciplinary Tribunal.
The Australian Government has worked closely with New Zealand to establish the framework. This is a small but significant step forward for our economic relationship with an important trading partner and the creation of a seamless trans-Tasman business environment.
I thank the New Zealand Government for its cooperation in this endeavour.
Finally, Schedule 5 makes a number of minor administrative changes to the Patents, Trade Marks and the Designs Acts.
These changes will repeal unnecessary provisions that require the government to keep intellectual property documents for longer than they are needed. This will remove unnecessary red tape and help reduce the government’s warehousing costs. The Bill also makes a number of technical corrections to the legislation.
In summary, this Bill makes a number of important improvements to Australia’s intellectual property system to streamline processes, and reduce barriers and regulatory costs for Australian business.
I note that, when in government, the opposition supported the progression of these measures. I therefore look forward to the Opposition’s support for this Bill.
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