Productivity Commission to look at intellectual property in Australia
The Productivity Commission has just been tasked to inquire into the intellectual property (IP) system in Australia.
A media release from Treasurer Joe Hockey explains that ‘[t]he Australian Government wishes to ensure that the intellectual property system provides appropriate incentives for innovation, investment and the production of creative works while ensuring it does not unreasonably impede further innovation, competition, investment and access to goods and services.’
The review was flagged and recommended by the April 2015 Harper Report, which found that Australia’s IP system was ripe for review.
The Productivity Commission is notorious for producing hard-nosed economic rationalist reports. A December 2010 Productivity Commission research report studied the impact of bilateral and regional trade agreements on trade and investment barriers, and on Australia’s trade and economic performance. The report strongly cautioned against automatically throwing IP rights into the mix when Australia negotiated an FTA. It warned against the tendency to ‘strengthen’ IP protection in that circumstance. There should first be a broader analysis of the benefits of IP protection, and a consideration of the so called ‘net costs’ of extending IP protection through FTAs. In particular, a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed IP provisions should be carried out before an FTA is finalised.
On point is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Under the TPPA it is rumoured that Australian IP law would be tightened (or ‘strengthened’)(the detail of the TPPA is still confidential and hasn’t been released). This echoes similar additional obligations assumed 10 years ago by Australia in the Australia-US FTA, which itself involved a weighty ‘net cost’ to this country’s businesses and consumers.
Recently Parliament introduced a bill to allow rights holders to compel ISPs to block websites which facilitate delivery of infringing material. International obligations were cited as one reason for these changes.
It will be interesting to see just how broadly the inquiry will go. The final report must be released in 12 months’ time.