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IP Australia Director General’s review

IP Australia’s vision is to create a world-leading intellectual property (IP) system building prosperity for Australia. The vision is supported by our corporate plan, which outlines the steps we will take to ensure we deliver on our commitments to customers and stakeholders.

Our primary objective is to continue to administer the IP rights system efficiently and optimise its operation to serve Australian innovation and business. An effective IP system creates a secure environment for investment in innovation and enables firms to build brand value and capture market share. Importantly, the patents system also encourages the disclosure of inventions and the diffusion of knowledge and technology across the economy.

IP Australia also undertakes IP education and awareness-building initiatives, represents Australian interests in international IP activities, and provides policy advice to government on IP issues. Highlights of our work in 2016–17 are outlined below.

Key achievements

IP rights administration

This year we continued to focus on our core business to deliver an effective framework for the protection of IP rights. We exceeded quality and timeliness service commitments for all four IP rights.

Our commitment to quality improvement was furthered by the creation of the IP Rights Technical Excellence Centre, consolidating the delivery of competency-based technical training programs to examiners. The centre brought all of our technical training delivery functions together in a single section responsible for the design and evaluation of all technical training for IP rights examiners. This will ensure consistency, quality and optimal use of resources in design, development and management of competency-based training across the four IP rights.

We also established a mediation referral service to assist small and medium-sized enterprises to access private sector alternative dispute resolution services. The service consists of a register of qualified, accredited and specialist private sector mediation providers listed on the IP Australia website. The register will provide details on the fees and contact details of each listed provider, allowing parties with IP-related disputes to engage directly with mediators.

Enhancing our customer experience and building awareness

This year we continued to achieve a high customer satisfaction rate of 84%. While this result is pleasing, we continue to work hard to improve our customer experience via a range of service improvements. This year we created a suite of tools designed to provide an easier and more streamlined approach to management of IP rights for customers. We launched a new Australian Trade Mark Search tool, replacing the historical Australian Trade Marks Online Search System (ATMOSS) search tool. This tool delivers a more modern search experience making trade mark searching more accessible for small businesses, innovators and IP professionals overall.

Other important tools introduced this year include Portfolio View, a tool that displays all patent and trade mark rights associated with the user in one simple and easy-to-use location. We also expanded the scope of our virtual assistant, Alex, to cover all four IP rights. To encourage IP research and analysis we released IP NOVA, a data visualisation platform that allows policymakers, researchers, analysts and individuals to explore the IP data landscape through an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.

We commenced work on a number of innovative projects that will further improve the customer experience. We are currently prototyping Trade Mark Assist, an interactive customer tool aimed at unrepresented applicants. The tool leverages artificial intelligence capabilities to assist small businesses and self-filers through the trade mark application process.

Policy

In 2016–17, IP Australia delivered a single regulatory system for patent attorneys in Australia and New Zealand. The new system features a single trans-Tasman register for patent attorneys, a single set of requirements for registration, a single code of conduct, and a single disciplinary process for Australian and New Zealand attorneys. Existing patent attorneys in both Australia and New Zealand were automatically registered as trans-Tasman patent attorneys on the commencement date, resulting in an increase of more than 100 attorneys registered to work in Australia. In conjunction with this work, we also began a review of the IP Attorneys Code of Conduct.

More generally, we contributed to a range of IP policy advice, from technical amendments to our legislation to analysis of the use of the IP system by various industry sectors. A major focus over the year was the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Australia’s IP arrangements. We provided submissions and assistance to the inquiry and contributed to the development of the Government’s response.

International engagement

In 2016–17, IP Australia continued to undertake capacity-building activities with other IP offices, especially those in our region. We are moving our Regional Patent Examiner Training program to a sustainable mentoring model designed to allow broader impact. Other international activities included collaborating with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to deliver online alternative dispute resolution services. Australian businesses can use the new services to enforce their IP rights in other jurisdictions through an online process.

The successful posting of our first overseas IP Counsellor to the Australian Embassy in Beijing has provided valuable assistance to Australian businesses operating or seeking to operate in China. During 2016–17, the IP Counsellor worked closely with Austrade, the Australia China Business Council and a number of Chinese agencies dealing with IP.

This year we contributed to the advancement of the international patent harmonisation agenda through the work of WIPO Group B+, which Australia currently chairs. This work supports IP Australia’s international agenda to promote and facilitate progress on substantive patent law harmonisation issues.

We also contributed to the negotiation of several free trade agreements in 2016–17. We attended five rounds of negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the first round of negotiations for the Australia–Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement. We also contributed to a scoping study for a potential free trade agreement with the European Union.

National Innovation and Science Agenda

IP Australia sees itself as an important element of the innovation ecosystem and we seek to support the National Innovation and Science Agenda through research and other initiatives. In 2016–17, we undertook a range of research including university collaboration around IP rights, the costs and benefits of patent grace periods, the value of geographical indications for products and the impact of patent expiry on the government’s pharmaceutical expenditure. We also released an improved Australian IP Toolkit to support collaboration between researchers and industry.

Technology and data

ICT systems are central to our IP rights management work and to customer service, as online transactions account for more than 99 per cent of our customer transactions. This year we developed a new strategy to fix, modernise and transform our ICT systems. This will provide optimal support for our customers and staff, and better manage and utilise our data holdings to support both policy and operational objectives.

Overview

Role and functions

IP Australia is the Commonwealth entity responsible for administering Australia’s registrable IP rights system—specifically, patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights (PBR). The legislation that IP Australia administers includes the Patents Act 1990, the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994, the Trade Marks Act 1995 and the Designs Act 2003.

As well as granting exclusive rights under the statutes it administers, IP Australia advises the Australian Government on IP policy; provides IP information and education services to business and the broader community; regulates the IP profession; and contributes to bilateral and multilateral negotiations and development cooperation programs to promote a more efficient and harmonised global IP system.

These activities foster innovation and growth by:

  • providing an incentive for research and development by offering an opportunity to capture the economic benefits of innovation
  • promoting the disclosure of discoveries, thereby facilitating follow-on innovation
  • enabling firms to build brand value and business reputation
  • providing the legal framework that underpins trade and investment in intellectual property.

IP Australia operates with direct responsibility to government on financial matters and with delegated authority on other matters. It recovers its costs by charging fees for its IP rights services.

Organisational structure

Figure 6 shows the organisational structure of IP Australia. The department’s organisation chart (Figure 1 in Chapter 1) shows how IP Australia fits into the overall structure of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

The Director General is assisted by two deputy director generals who manage the two divisions within IP Australia:

  • The Deputy Director General, IP Rights Division, holds the statutory offices of Commissioner of Patents, Registrar of Trade Marks, Registrar of Designs and Registrar of Plant Breeder’s Rights.
  • The Deputy Director General, Policy and Corporate Division, is responsible for policy advice, corporate support, international engagement and education, and awareness activities.

Figure 6: IP Australia organisational structure, 30 June 2017

Figure 6 - IP Australia organisational structure at 30 June 2017

Outcome and program structure

IP Australia has one outcome and three programs that contribute to that outcome, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: IP Australia outcome and program structure, 2016–17

Figure 7 IP Australia outcome and program structure 2016-17