Australia is not renowned for ice and snow, so a ranking of 24th in the 2014 Winter Olympics medals tally is an appropriate performance.  But can the same be said about its performance in the IP/innovation stakes?

 The 2013 Global Innovation Index produced by Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO ranks Australia 19th in the world. Its performance over the past 5 years has been consistent – no higher than 18th, no lower than 23rd.  Judged against comparable countries, this is not a record of which to be proud.  In each of the past five years Australia has trailed the UK, the US and Canada on the innovation rankings table.  More strikingly, it is a laggard amongst the South East Asia and Oceania (SEAO) countries, with Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and New Zealand always featuring higher.

Of the SEAO countries, Singapore and Hong Kong are standouts – consistently in the top 10, and usually in the top 5. Among the things they have in common is an aspiration to be an “IP hub”.  Singapore was first out of the blocks in April last year, with its IP Hub Master Plan.  Under this 10-year vision, the country will become a centre for IP transactions and management, quality IP filings, and IP dispute resolution. Hot on its heels, Hong Kong released a strategic framework for a regional IP trading hub last November.

Common to both the IP hub plans are commitments to developing local capacity for patent examination and related professional services.  The plans recognise that an innovation-driven economy requires first-rate expertise in patent preparation, prosecution and examination.  While Australia can lay claim to possessing this expertise, it can’t take it for granted.  Its patent office and its patent profession will need to develop and evolve just to keep pace with other countries. 

Also central to the IP hub plans is efficient resolution of IP disputes.  As part of its aspiration to be a forum of choice, Singapore gives as much emphasis to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as it does to the court system.  Its proposals for enhancing IP ADR include, in addition to greater arbitration and mediation of disputes, the establishment of an expert adjudication service facilitated by its patent and trade mark office.  

There is a lesson here for Australia.  The world-class IP system required by an innovation-driven economy must have excellent means for resolving IP disputes – including, in particular, mechanisms outside of the court system.  Australia’s Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) proposed a number of ADR mechanisms in its 2010 report on post-grant patent enforcement strategies.  The government’s response to ACIP’s report was lukewarm, and its action on the proposals has been glacial.

Glacial action on IP policy will ensure Australia maintains its Winter Olympics-level ranking for the innovation system.  To attain a Summer Olympics-level top-ten standing, a more feverish commitment to IP reform is required.