Changes introduced by the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 (Cth) include an extension of the jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Court.

From 15 April 2013 the Federal Magistrates Court will be able to hear and determine civil matters arising under the Designs Act 2003 (Cth) and the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth), including appeals from decisions, directions or orders of the Registrar. The jurisdiction will not extend to prosecutions for offences.

The Federal Magistrates Court was established to provide a simpler, quicker means of conducting proceedings.

The Court is to conduct proceedings without undue formality, and must ensure matters are not protracted. To this end, respondents must file and serve their responses within 14 days, and the Court aims to list all cases for a final hearing within six months from the date an application is filed.

A ‘docket’ system is used under which an application is usually allocated to the same Magistrate from the first court date until the final hearing. In Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne specialist commercial panels have been established, and the Magistrates on these panels have experience in intellectual property and consumer law.

It is interesting to note that the name of the Federal Magistrates Court will soon be changed to the ‘Federal Circuit Court of Australia’, and that the title ‘Magistrate’ will be changed to ‘Judge’.

The Federal Magistrates Court’s jurisdiction already includes civil copyright proceedings. The Court also already has jurisdiction with respect to claims under the Australian Consumer Law as contained in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). This includes matters relating to misleading and deceptive conduct, false or misleading representations about goods and services, mandatory consumer guarantees and unfair contract terms. The Australian Advisory Council on Intellectual Property recommended that the Federal Magistrates Court’s jurisdiction also be extended to cover patents and plant breeders rights, but this recommendation was not adopted.

Implications

The alternative of commencing proceedings in the Federal Magistrates Court should be of particular interest to small and medium sized enterprises given the potential for significant cost savings, and the time savings will have general appeal for less complex matters.