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Intellectual Property Arrangements: Australian Productivity Commission Inquiry Report – Parallel books import and publicly-funded research

Parallel import restrictions (PIRs) on books are the physical equivalent of geoblocking. Except in limited cases, Australian booksellers are prevented from purchasing stock from lower priced suppliers overseas, but must purchase from an Australian publisher regardless of the price.

This restriction applies to booksellers only — Australian consumers can purchase books themselves from overseas online retailers. The restrictions can put Australian booksellers at a competitive disadvantage, and result in those Australians unable to purchase online paying higher prices.

IP arrangements can facilitate commercialisation of publicly-funded research by allowing exclusivity over certain inventions created with the benefit of public funding. Where IP rights are used in combination with broader innovation policies, such as direct funding for research, it is important that the neutrality of public sector funding allocation is not compromised.

The current policy settings for publicly-funded research, whereby recipients of funding own any resultant IP, and specialised technology transfer offices facilitate the dissemination of research results, are generally sound. Publicly-funded research publications should be available to the public under open access arrangements after a 12 month embargo period.

The Commission recommends the Federal Circuit Court introduce a specialist IP list, with procedural rules similar to the IPEC. The Court’s jurisdiction should be expanded to cover the full range of IP matters, mandatory caps should apply to cost and damages awards, and strict case management adopted to minimise court events. A separate small claims track suitable for self-represented litigants should provide an informal forum for low-value cases.

International agreements that commit Australia to implement specific IP provisions — such as the duration of patent or copyright protection — have worked against Australia’s interests. These agreements typically involve trade-offs, and keen to cut a deal, Australia has capitulated too readily.

Australia’s cooperation with other countries on IP arrangements should focus on minimising the transaction costs associated with assigning, using and enforcing IP rights, and encouraging more balanced policy arrangements for patents and copyright.

Finally, the Commission has identified specific reforms that Australia should pursue with like-minded countries in the ‘long game’ of achieving more balanced IP settings. These include introducing formalities for copyright, improving the quality of patents.