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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3420


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (17:38): Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, I must congratulate you on your appointment to the Speaker's panel. I think this is the first time I have spoken whilst you have been in the chair. I am sure you will bring great wisdom to your role as Deputy Speaker.

I would also like to congratulate the member for Makin on his fine contribution to this debate on the Intellectual Property Law Amendments (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011 [2012]. I actually learned quite a bit listening to what he had to say.

The Intellectual Property Law Amendments (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011 [2012] is very important legislation, which has at the heart of it the fact that the intellectual property rights system is in place to support innovation by encouraging investment in research and technology in Australia and by helping Australian businesses benefit from their good ideas. The purpose of this legislation is to make improvements to IP rights to better meet these objectives. Most members of this parliament will have been approached by constituents who have an invention that they would like to have patented. They work through their research and then they start to go through the process that is involved in registering intellectual property rights on their invention. We all know just how difficult that is and we also all know that there are many problems associated with the current system.

Unlike the original bill that this one is amending, the 1999 bill, this legislation raises equality in the granting of patents—it has been a problem in the past that it was far too easy for a patent to be given on an invention or a product—and allows free access to patent inventions for regulatory approvals and researchers, reduces delays in the resolution of patent and trademark applications, assists the operation of the intellectual property right profession, improves mechanisms for trademark and copyright enforcement and simplifies the IP system. That last one is fairly important, and I will refer to all of them in a little bit more detail as I make my contribution to the debate.

The IP system and the patent system in particular encourage innovation, and innovation is the key to success for Australia as a nation. It is those countries that can be innovative, that can conduct the research, that can invent the next great invention that will be successful in the future, and I think Australia is in a particularly strong position to lead the way as far as—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 17:42 to 17:57

Ms HALL: Before we were interrupted, I was making the point about how important innovation and research are to the future of our nation. It is innovation and the direction of innovation and invention that are going to position Australia as a power in the world. It is a special niche and unless we have the right legislation in place then this will not occur. I refer to the minister's second reading speech. He talks about how the IP system underpins investment in innovation. He points out that this was recognised in Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century. In that it points out how a strong IP system gives investors the opportunity to recoup the investment that is necessary in bringing their inventions to the marketplace.

Innovation and invention are not things that happen overnight. They are things that take a great deal of effort and a lot of investment. The minister recognised that in his speech. I would like to endorse what he had to say. In order to meet the objective of supporting innovation the patent system must strike a balance. I do not think it actually does that at the moment. It has to provide suitable protection to reward innovation but there must not be so much protection that it will stop future innovation. So it is that fine balance. I have pretty much decided that at the moment the bar is set a little bit too low and it is impacting on Australia's global position in innovation and research. The government recognises that patents involve commercial monopolies over inventions and they should not be given away too easily. If the bar is set too low, if it is too easy to register a patent or intellectual property then that is going to create monopolies. It could create situations like the one that the member for Makin was referring to where patents can be purchased and can be placed on a shelf. Setting the bar too low can work as a disincentive for future innovation. As a nation, innovation is the thing that we should be pursuing vigorously.

Over the last decade concerns have recognised that the threshold set for granting a patent in Australia was too low and that it was suppressing competition, as I mentioned a moment ago. Rather than letting a new invention or new product come onto the market, it is shelved so that somebody, such as a producer or a company, is able to continue to monopolise the market. This is something we should ensure does not happen. It happens right across the field, in medical research, in areas like patenting DNA—which is something that we need to look at very, very carefully—and in the patenting of seeds and plants, which is impacting on food supply. The registering of intellectual property is something that can create great inequalities within our society as well as be a barrier to us entering the global market. By having the bar set very, very low there are enormous implications.

On the other hand the government wants to ensure that innovators can protect their ideas. Low patent standards provide uncertainty for innovators, who cannot be confident their patent will withstand the challenges in Australia of overseas companies, research or innovators. The bill seeks to address patent standards that are too low. They are lower in Australia than elsewhere, which I have touched on, and we really need to address that. We need to make sure that we are up to at least international standards. Researchers can be threatened with lawsuits by patent owners, and the bill addresses this by exempting research from patent infringements. Some applicants can profit by delay and uncertainty. The system allows them draw out the process, and I have seen that with constituents I have worked with. The bill tightens up the process for assessing applications to give certainty sooner.

This is very important legislation. It is legislation that I suspect both sides of this parliament are supporting because they recognise the fact that innovation and research are important to our future. Both sides of this House recognise that if you set the bar too low then it is going to have consequences, such as the development and enhancement of monopolies. It can also lead to certain things being patented that should not be. I think that this legislation is vital. I congratulate Senator Carr, who, as the minister at the time, has done a considerable amount of work in this area. Senator Carr is someone who really understands the importance of patents, innovation, research and placing ourselves in a position in the international sphere as far as science and research are concerned. This bill has my full support and I commend it to the House.