Proposed changes to Australia’s Intellectual Property arrangements

25 May 2016 | Georgie Leahy

If Australia's so called 'ideas boom' is to truly take off, we will need intellectual property laws that foster innovation and creativity. Whether strengthening or weakening intellectual property rights is the way to achieve this is a contentious issue that has been brought to the forefront over the past month.

The Productivity Commission released its draft Intellectual Property Arrangements Report on 29 April 2016. The report has been of particular interest to Australia's innovators and creatives, but is relevant to the community at large as consumers of technology and culture.

The Commission's proposed changes are aimed at developing an appropriate balance between providing incentives to creators and keeping costs down for consumers. According to the Commission's report, Australia's IP arrangements provide protections that are too broad for too long. This, it argues is driving costs up for consumers whilst failing to encourage innovation. Further, the Commission argues that as Australia is a 'net importer' of intellectual property, the bulk of the benefits afforded by our system are being claimed by foreign creators.

The draft report's findings and recommendations call for less stringent protection of intellectual property. This includes:

  • Shortening the duration of copyright to 15-25 years;
  • Repealing parallel importation restrictions for books;
  • Introducing a broad 'fair use' exception in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth);
  • Abolishing the innovation patent system;
  • Excluding business methods and software from patent protection; and
  • Raising the threshold for 'inventive step'.

The proposed changes are bound to be divisive. Many creative artists and authors have reacted with anger to suggested changes to the duration of copyright and restrictions on parallel importation. The 2014 Man Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan has labelled the move as one that will 'destroy any future for Australian writers'. Flanagan and others take particular objection to the fact that reducing the term of copyright protection will mean that many authors will lose economic rights in their works during their lifetimes. This is in comparison to the current laws under which literary works are protected for the author's life plus 70 years. The lifting of parallel importation restrictions on books is also likely to see a reduction in royalty income for Australian authors and its unpopularity with that group is inevitable.

It is by no means certain that the Productivity Commission's recommendations will be implemented. However, the report has highlighted some of the key challenges facing Australia's aspirations to becoming a nation of innovators and inventors. What is certain, is that this is a conversation that will continue to elicit strong opinions on both sides.

The Productivity Commission is currently accepting submissions on the draft report until the 3rd June 2016.

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