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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON TREATIES - 17/09/2007 - Treaties tabled on 7 and 15 August and 11 September 2007

CHAIR —Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House and the Senate. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. If you nominate to take any questions on notice could you please ensure that your written response to questions reaches the committee secretariat within seven working days of your receipt of the transcript of today’s proceedings. Would you like to make some introductory remarks before we proceed to questions?

Mrs Beattie —I would like to make some opening remarks on behalf of IP Australia and the Attorney-General’s Department, as this initiative is a cross-portfolio initiative. In September 1999 the World Intellectual Property Organisation, known as the WIPO, established a working group to consider and study proposals concerning constitutional reform. After six sessions the working group made several recommendations to the General Assembly. On 1 October 2003, the WIPO conference and the competent assemblies of certain unions administered by WIPO unanimously adopted the recommendations of the working group on constitutional reform. Several amendments to the WIPO convention and 11 other WIPO administered treaties are required. These amendments introduce no changes to Australia’s current obligations under these treaties.

Australia is party to the following treaties that are to be amended in order to formally implement the recommendations adopted by the assemblies: the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Nice Agreement Concerning the International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of Registration Marks, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Strasbourg Agreement Concerning the International Patent Classification, the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Micro-organisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure.

The 2003 amendments cover the abolition of the WIPO conference. The WIPO conference was established for full members and members who are not members of another union. It does not meet separately from the General Assembly and has considered very few items separately from the assembly. The functions of the WIPO conference will be taken over by the General Assembly. The changes also include formalisation of the unitary contribution system and changes in contribution classes that have been operative in practice since 1994. The unitary contribution system has involved changes in the contribution classes. These changes are more equitable and more in line with the economic capacity of the developing countries to pay. A review of the operation of the unitary contribution system shows the number and rate of adherence to the contribution provisions have increased considerably and the system has proven to be simpler to administer for the WIPO secretariat and member states.

The changes also include establishment of an annual ordinary session of the WIPO General Assembly and the assemblies of the unions administered by the WIPO. It was considered by delegates that a two-year interval is too long and the practice of frequent extraordinary sessions illustrates this. The WIPO General Assembly currently meets annually, as do all unions which have business to discuss. In addition to the amendments adopted by the General Assembly in 2003, an amendment to article 9(3) of the WIPO Convention was unanimously adopted in 1999 by WIPO member states. This amendment limits the number of terms of the Director-General of the WIPO to a maximum of two fixed terms of six years each.

WIPO has had two director-generals. The current director-general, Dr Idris, is due to end his second term in 2009. The adopted recommendation amends article 9(3) of the WIPO Convention as follows:

The Director General shall be appointed for a fixed term of six years. He shall be eligible for reappointment only for one further fixed term of six years. All other conditions of the appointment shall be fixed by the General Assembly.

This amendment will enter into force one month after a written notification of acceptance has been received by the Director-General of the WIPO from three-quarters of the member states of the WIPO at the time the conference adopted the amendment. To date, 48 of the required 129 notifications of acceptance have been received. It is worth noting that these amendments which were adopted by the general assemblies in 1999 and 2003 will come into force one month after three-quarters of the member states have notified the WIPO of their formal acceptance. They will be binding on Australia from that time, whether Australia notifies formal acceptance or not.

The amendments formalise existing practices. The changes to the unitary contribution system have been in place since 1994, and general assemblies of the WIPO meet annually. Australia is very supportive of constitutional reform which simplifies the system and it has previously indicated its support of these amendments. The amendments do not impact on IP rights or IP laws and will formalise the current practices. These amendments are not controversial, and there has been little interest from our legal fraternity and stakeholders as the amendments do not impact on them. However, as these amendments will formalise current streamlined practices in the WIPO, they considered it appropriate that Australia notify its formal acceptance.

In conclusion, as I have said previously, Australia is seen as a leading member of the intellectual property community in the region. Notifying the Director-General of the WIPO of Australia’s acceptance of these amendments is in line with our history and reputation. We would be happy to answer any questions.

Mr ADAMS —I take it we are encouraging everybody to live by intellectual property law.

Mrs Beattie —I am sorry; I did not catch the question.

Mr ADAMS —I take it we are endeavouring to encourage more countries to come on board, to sign this convention.

Mrs Beattie —Yes.

Senator WORTLEY —I was wondering, in regard to IP Australia’s consultation, what sort of industry feedback you have had.

Mrs Rush —This issue was not of very great interest to most of our stakeholders but, because of Australia’s position and our reputation in the World Intellectual Property Organisation, they felt we should sign them. They did so recognising and stating that they had no impact at all on Australian stakeholders. So it was a thing that we should do despite the fact that it had no impact on Australian stakeholders.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —In regard to timing—this is similar to some of the issues Senator Wortley raised—if Australia complies already and the main benefit to us is once again in setting the example and so on, particularly with the 1999 amendments but I guess also with the 2003 ones, why has it taken this period of time to get to this stage?

Mrs Rush —I think, as with most countries, this has had a lower priority because these are already in force. The current director-general made a statement when he was first elected that he was very firmly supportive of a limited mandate. Because they were already in force, there was not seen to be such an urgent need to undertake the domestic treaty processes. We chose to wait to go through the treaty process until we had other treaties so we could do them all at the same time.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for appearing before the committee this morning.

Mrs Rush —Thank you.

[10.54 am]