House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

7:13 pm

Photo of Yvette D'AthYvette D'Ath (Petrie, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) Share this | Hansard source

I thank my fellow members for their contributions to the debate. It is disappointing to hear those on the other side will be opposing this legislation but unfortunately we hear that all too often in this chamber. I would like to take a moment to thank all of the members of the community who contributed their thoughts and suggestions on this bill. Despite what we have heard from the two speakers on the other side, the proposed legislation covers a wide range of intellectual property issues and is the product of various consultations with stakeholders over a number of years. Finally, I extend my thanks to the New Zealand government for its contribution to the development of the Australia-New Zealand single economic market provisions.

Before summing up this debate, I would like to take the opportunity to note the recommendation made in relation to this bill by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs and address some comments of the committee's deputy chair, the honourable member for Pearce.

On the issue of TRIPS protocol, provisions applying to developing countries that are not members of the WTO, I note that the TRIPS protocol is designed to help developing countries address public health problems. It does so by enabling access to vital medicines that these countries may otherwise not be able to obtain. Arguably, non-WTO members are the countries that need our help most. These provisions are consistent with the humanitarian principles of the TRIPS protocol, Australia's international obligations and the approach successfully taken by several other WTO members, including Canada, Norway and Switzerland.

The member for Pearce also queried definitions of 'exploit' and 'work' in the bill. The term 'work' has been used for various purposes in the Patents Act. Under the amended Crown use provisions, the Crown retains the right to fully exploit a patent. The term 'work' is used only in relation to prior negotiations with the patentee and does not limit the Crown's rights in relation to use of a patent.

I now turn to the key elements of the legislation. This bill introduces sensible and important amendments to Australia's intellectual property system. Through modifications to Crown use provisions this bill provides the Australian public with greater confidence in the patents system, particularly over access to the latest innovations in health care. Crown use is an important safeguard which, while rarely used, provides the government with the power to be able to make use of patented inventions to serve the interest of the community. The bill clarifies the scope of Crown use, adopting recommendations made by the Productivity Commission.

There has been public concern over patents over genetic material, particularly patents over the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene sequences, which are linked to an increased risk of breast and other cancers. The validity of these patents is the subject of an appeal to be heard by the Federal Court later this year. While the government monitors the progress of these proceedings, this bill gives confidence to the community that the government can act if necessary. It clarifies that the government has the power to intervene in circumstances such as where a patent holder would deny patients reasonable access to healthcare services. On 13 June 2013 the United States Supreme Court found that patents over naturally occurring genetic material were invalid, including patents over the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene sequences. The United States is one of our leading trading partners and we are party to international agreements with the United States that influence our intellectual property system. As a result we will be closely considering the implications of the US decision for Australia.

This bill also recognises the needs of developing countries facing health crisis. Implementation of the TRIPS protocol will allow Australian industry to help the most disadvantaged countries by providing them with vital medicines that would otherwise be beyond their means. In addition, the bill implements agreements between the government of New Zealand and Australia that will provide for a more streamlined business environment across the Tasman. It will also provide parties to disputes over plant breeders' rights with a faster, more cost-effective and less formal way to protect their registered rights from infringement.

Finally, the bill makes minor technical amendments to the Patents Act to ensure that the Raising the Bar Act operates as intended and reduces the costs involved in running our IP rights system by bringing storage requirements for applications into the modern age.

In conclusion, a strong and well balanced intellectual property system is essential to drive the innovation and research that benefits so many Australians. The previous amendments to the Patents Act passed in this House in 2012 did much to assist Australian inventors. This bill further strengthens our intellectual property system for innovators and the Australian public and allows Australian industry to give a hand to our neighbours when most needed. I commend the bill to the House.


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