On 18 August 2015, the Treasurer Joe Hockey and the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, announced that the Productivity Commission will be commencing a broad inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property (IP) arrangements. This inquiry implements a key recommendation of the Competition Policy Review (the ‘Harper Review’) released earlier this year,1.which, while noting a recent number of partial IP reviews, expressed a concern that ‘there is no overarching IP policy framework or objective guiding changes to IP protection’ in Australia and thus that there was need for an overarching review of IP.2

The background for the Productivity Commission inquiry, as set out in the terms of reference, is that the government wishes to ensure that an ‘appropriate balance exists between incentives for innovation and investment and the interests of both individuals and businesses, including small businesses, in accessing ideas and products’,3 at a time where the global economy and technology are changing.

Accordingly, the terms of reference of the inquiry include an examination of the scope and duration of protection afforded by Australia’s current IP system and its effects on research, competition, and trade.4 The Productivity Commission has also been asked to recommend changes to the current IP system that would ‘improve the overall wellbeing of Australian society’,5 including changes that would encourage creativity, investment and innovation while not unduly restricting access to technologies and creative works, allow access to an increased range of quality and value goods and services, provide greater certainty to individuals and businesses as to whether they are likely to infringe the IP rights of others, and to reduce the compliance and administrative costs associated with IP rules.6

The Productivity Commission has also been asked to consider:7

  • Australia’s obligations under foreign trade agreements to which it is party;
  • The IP arrangements of Australia’s top IP trading partners;
  • The relative contributions of imported and domestically produced IP to the national economy;
  • Retention of appropriate incentives for innovation and investment;
  • Ensuring the IP system will be efficient, effective and robust through time;
  • The consequences of recommendations for changes to the existing IP system, including how proposed changes fit with or require changes to existing regulation or assistance currently in place for developing IP;
  • The findings and recommendations of previous IP-related inquiries, including the Harper Review, the Advisory Council on Intellectual Property's Review of the Innovation Patent System, the Senate Economics References Committee's inquiry into Australia's innovation system, and the Australian Law Reform Commission's Copyright and the Digital Economy report.

The inquiry, which is due to be completed by August 2016, will include consultation with government and non-government stakeholders as well as accept public submissions.

Further information about the inquiry may be found on the Productivity Commission’s website.