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Strengthening the patent system to safeguard access to new technologies

30 May 2013

The Gillard Government is moving to strengthen intellectual property safeguards and improve oversight of the patent system.

Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation, Yvette D'Ath today introduced the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013 into Parliament to clarify the operation of Crown use provisions in the Patents Act 1990.

"Safeguards that protect the community's access to new technologies are an integral part of Australia's patent system," said Ms D'Ath.

"Crown use is an important, although rarely used, safeguard that allows governments to access patented inventions to deliver critical public services."

The announcement follows the release of the Productivity Commission's Report on Compulsory Licensing of Patents which found there was uncertainty around the scope of current Crown use provisions, particularly in the context of healthcare.

The Bill will clarify that Crown use can be invoked in relation to any service that governments have the primary responsibility for funding or providing.

"Some categories of patents, such as gene patents, raise complex legal and ethical questions. The validity of these patents is currently being considered in court cases in Australia and the United States," said Ms D'Ath.

"In the meantime these changes make it clear that, if necessary, the Australian Government has the power to address unreasonable conduct by patent holders and protect patients' access to healthcare services."

The Bill will also improve transparency and accountability of Crown use, including a requirement to negotiate and providing a basis to determine remuneration for patent holders. These amendments will give governments and business greater certainty about the operation of Crown use.

While commercial negotiation with patent holders will continue as normal, Crown use will be a safeguard to address exceptional circumstances.

Ms D'Ath said the Government would also undertake a number of measures to further clarify the patent system and strengthen mechanisms for oversight. She announced the Government will:

  • appoint a Patent Audit Committee to advise on patent policy settings and undertake audits of patent approvals for certain technology groups,
  • commence consultations on a new objects clause for the Patents Act, and
  • consult on excluding certain inventions that would be offensive to the public.

"It is important that the patent system strikes the right balance between encouraging innovation and providing equitable access to new technologies," said Ms D'Ath.

"The Gillard Government continues to review the operation of the patent system to ensure it operates in the interests of all Australians."

Media contacts: Parliamentary Secretary's office 02 6277 4501

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