B&E | Streamlining Australia’s IP System
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B&E | Streamlining Australia’s IP System

By Office of Chief Economist
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Australian Government

Intellectual Property (IP) rights in Australia have a long and rich history, with the first known use of the term ‘intellectual property’ dating back to 1769.[1] IP rights, however, are hardly archaic, with the system continually evolving and adapting to a modernizing world. 

FEATURED | Streamlining Australia’s IP System

Today IP rights exist to provide an incentive to invest in innovation. They provide a right to exclude others from using an innovation in exchange for the full public disclosure of the invention, brand name, design or new plant species. A well functioning IP system can foster innovation and encourage the flow of ideas. It can benefit innovators, investors, and consumers alike, as well as the broader community by incentivising investment in innovation while also facilitating the public dissemination of new ideas.

As the IP system becomes increasingly important to business, and the demand for IP rights continues to grow, so too does the importance of having a well-functioning IP system that strikes the right balance between incentivising future innovation and maximizing the benefits of innovation across the whole community. To this end, the Productivity Commission has recently commenced a 12-month public inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property system that is due for release in August 2016.

The Global Stage

Australia is an active participant in the international IP system and is a party to many international IP treaties and agreements.[2] Some of these agreements set guidelines and standards to be met for IP rights protection in signatory countries and others unify procedures for the filing of IP rights applications. By participating in international IP treaties and agreements Australia has aligned its interaction with international IP systems to a high degree, thereby reducing the regulatory burden on Australian IP right applicants and increasing assurance of a globally consistent outcome.[3]

IP rights are also a prominent feature in Australia’s multilateral and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Australian trade policy seeks to reduce costs to Australian businesses through streamlining and harmonizing international processes, while also providing greater certainty of the outcomes of IP rights claims for exporters and investors.

In addition to being a signatory to IP treaties and agreements, IP Australia (the Australian IP office) works collaboratively with IP offices across the globe to improve the efficiency of its operations and ultimately reduce costs to Australian businesses. These initiatives include:

The Global Patent Prosecution Highway — an initiative allowing patent applicants to request accelerated examination in one office based on the same application being granted in another office.

The Vancouver Group — an initiative that includes the Australian, UK and Canadian IP offices and facilitates sharing of information and experiences on common issues to inform best practice behaviour and improve the efficiency of office operations.

WIPO CASE — a global system spearheaded by IP Australia that enables patent offices to securely share documentation related to the search and examination of patent applications in order to improve the efficiency of the examination process.

The Single Economic Market agenda — the New Zealand and Australian Governments are working to remove regulatory barriers to firms operating in both markets. The aim is to create a more seamless trans-Tasman business environment through introducing new processes, such as a single regulatory framework for patent attorneys and a single application and examination process for patents.

Global trade mark database — IP Australia is currently engaged in a multinational project to develop a global database for trade mark recognition and linking, to make it easier to compare and evaluate policy impacts across countries.

Regional Patent Examination Training — IP Australia has developed a comprehensive distance learning capability for patent examination training for overseas IP offices. This allows for in depth training and knowledge transfer necessary to examine patents to international standards.

At present, some of the processes for obtaining, maintaining and challenging the four IP rights administered by IP Australia are complex and may create additional regulatory effort for some parties. This can create costs for businesses dealing with the IP system, particularly smaller businesses that face compliance costs disproportionate to their size. Businesses may incur significant costs due to lost opportunities and having to adopt alternative strategies. Some of the causes of this complexity include:
  • Different administrative processes and rules exist between the IP rights
  • Administrative procedures may be more burdensome than they need to be
  • Delays in the examination and granting of IP rights that can lead to prolonged

To address these issues, IP Australia is placing a high priority on aligning and streamlining processes, improving service delivery and reducing unnecessary delays. This will make administration of the system more efficient for IP Australia and for applicants.
In February 2015, IP Australia released a consultation paper on proposals to streamline IP processes and support small business. This consultation paper helps Government understand the costs and benefits of policy options to address a range of issues.
The Government received 20 submissions and is currently drafting the legislative changes in light of the issues raised. IP Australia intends to release an exposure draft of the legislative changes for public comment before introducing the bill to Parliament in early 2016, subject to Government priorities.
The consultation paper includes over twenty proposals to streamline IP processes and support small business. This is grouped into three main themes:
  •  Aligning and simplifying
  •  Assisting small business; and
  • Technical fixes. "Table Below" summarizes the aim of each proposal and provides a few examples.

Modernizing IP Australia

In a constantly changing environment it is critical that IP Australia maintains an effective and contemporary operation and identifies and adopts best practice to harness new efficiencies and to provide greater value to Australian businesses and research organisations. This has led to a number of recent reforms to ensure Australia’s IP system remains modern and flexible.
The reforms being implemented by IP Australia include:

Rights in One (RIO) will allow the harmonisation of IP Australia business processes across all four IP Rights groups, realising efficiencies for both internal and external users.

The Patent Analytics Hub — the Hub has been introduced to assist the Australian innovation community capitalise on its knowledge and ideas. This is achieved by providing analysis of IP issues to Australian Government agencies and Australian research organisations that informs research priorities and the efficacy of IP decision making.

IP Government Open Data — a publicly available set of IP Australia’s administrative data dating back to the early 1900s. It contains information on each aspect of the application process from application through to the granting of IP rights, matched to firm data from the Australian Business Register. The data is of value to IP researchers and professionals, and supports the development and implementation of policies associated with intellectual property in Australia.

The IP Toolkit — together, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and IP Australia released an educational resource and information package on business.gov.au in September 2015. The toolkit is designed to assist stakeholders, especially small businesses, in managing IP in research collaboration.

The Source IP digital marketplace — a one-stop-shop for information sharing, licensing preferences and facilitating contact for IP generated by the public research sector in Australia. This initiative will seek to address a current barrier to collaboration and commercialization through making information about available public sector IP more accessible.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary (3rd Ed.), Oxford University Press, September 2005 (citing Monthly Review, vol. 41. p. 290 (1769))

[2] Such treaties include the Paris Convention, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS Agreement), the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Patent Law Treaty, the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trade marks, the Madrid Protocol, the Nice Agreement, and the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

[3] For example, an Australian applicant may file an international patent application through the PCT, making it easier for them to apply for a patent in multiple overseas jurisdictions. Another example is an Australian plant breeder who can be assured that other UPOV signatory countries will offer them similar protection for Plant Breeder’s Rights.

Source: Licensed from the Commonwealth of Australia under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License. The Commonwealth of Australia does not necessarily endorse the content of this publication.    

For more information or to comment on the report, please contact: Manager - Industry and Firm Analysis, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science GPO Box 9839 CANBERRA ACT 2601 Telephone: +61 2 6213 6000 Email: AustralianIndustryReport@industry.gov.au