Australia has intellectual property protection and enforcement systems of a standard consistent with those of the United States, Europe and other developed economies. Australia's intellectual property laws are enacted through Federal statutes effective nationally. The statutes are interpreted by decisions of the Federal Court of Australia (and, to a lesser extent, the courts of the states and territories), and of Australia's ultimate appellate court, the High Court of Australia.
The government agency responsible for registering patents and trademarks and for administering other aspects of IP in Australia is called IP Australia, and is based in Canberra. While there are many differences of details, IP Australia's practices and procedures are generally consistent with those of jurisdictions of the kind referred to above. IP Australia's systems are now largely wholly electronic and its databases are generally of a high quality.
The main features of Australia's laws relating to patents, trademarks, copyright, designs and confidential information are as follows:
- Patents the term of a standard patent is 20 years from filing date with a further five year extension of term possible for pharmaceutical patents based on regulatory delay. Innovation patents are also available (term is 8 years from filing date in Australia). Patents may be granted for a device, substance, method or process which is new and inventive, and grant of a patent gives the patentee the exclusive right to "exploit" an invention for the term of the patent. Australia's standards of novelty, inventive step and other requirements for patentability are generally consistent with international standards.
- Trademarks a trademark is a "sign" (such as a word, logo, colour, shape, sound, scent, aspect of packaging) which is used to distinguish goods or services provided in the course of trade from those of other traders ie use as a "badge of origin". The terms of a registered trademark is 10 years and may be extended for further 10 year terms, subject to the requirement to use the mark to avoid removal on grounds of non-use. Registration requires that marks meet standards of sufficient distinctiveness and not be substantially identical or deceptively similar to a prior registered mark for similar goods or service. Australia is a member of the Madrid Protocol and other relevant international conventions. An Australian trademark or application will be sufficient qualification for a .com.au domain name. The common law tort of passing off and the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct, can also be used to protect both registered and unregistered trade marks.
- Copyright copyright protection automatically arises, without registration, in original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and other subject matter such as sound recordings, films or broadcasts with a sufficient Australian connection. Australia is a member of the Berne and other international copyright conventions, and accords reciprocal protection to works connected with other member countries. The term of protection of an original work is for the life of the author plus 70 years or, if published after the death of the author, 70 years after first publication. Creators of copyright works also enjoy personal non transferrable rights in those works that protect the reputation and integrity of authors and their works.
- Designs a "design" refers to features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation which can be judged by the eye in finished articles. Design registration protects the visual appearance of new and distinctive designs for manufactured products, with a maximum term of protection of ten years.
- Confidential information the law of confidential information recognises an obligation to keep information secret in circumstances where a person communicates confidential information to another on the express or implied understanding that the information is confidential, in addition to confidentiality obligations that may be imposed by contract. This law provides remedies, including pecuniary remedies, where there has been unauthorised disclosure or use of confidential information. Publication, not expiry of time, destroys confidentiality.
In relation to enforcement of IP, Australia has sophisticated systems whereby a full range of relief including injunctions (urgent interim injunctions are also available in appropriate cases), pecuniary remedies (additional damages for flagrant conduct are also available) and ancillary relief. Site blocking procedures are available for websites that facilitate copyright infringement.