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Friday, 16 June 1989
Page: 4265

Senator LEWIS(1.18) —The Senate is commencing its debate on the Patents Amendment Bill 1989 but I understand that we will deal only with the second reading stage because there are some amendments to be moved at the committee stages. Currently, Australian patents are granted for a term of 16 years. Applications may be made to the courts on two separate grounds for extensions of up to an additional 10 years. The Bill will change all of that procedure. The Bill was first introduced into the House of Representatives on 3 June 1988 and, more than 12 months later, it has come back with a number of Government amendments which make it a much better Bill: the Government's amendments improve it. The Bill arises from a report prepared in August 1984 by the Industrial Property Advisory Committee which recommended that all extension of term provisions for patents be abolished.

The Bill abolishes existing provisions for extensions for all inventions but introduces a new scheme to enable extension of patent term for pharmaceutical products. The Government decided on special treatment for pharmaceutical patents as part of a plan to develop the pharmaceutical industry in Australia. However, I note that that plan appears to be faltering. I observed in an article in the Australian of 13 June this year that Dr John Stocker, the Managing Director of AMRAD, one of a tiny group of Australian companies successfully developing new pharmaceuticals, recently addressed a science and industry forum in Melbourne and accused the Federal Government of sabotaging its own pharmaceutical industry development plan through conflicting aims, too much regulation and tax disincentives.

It is very interesting that he chose those three points about which to criticise the Government in relation to its pharmaceutical industry development plan when just this week we have had tabled a draft report of the Industries Assistance Commission which makes similar criticism of the Government for not looking to the proper development of industry because of conflicting aims, too much regulation and tax disincentives. It appears that that pharmaceutical plan is faltering and Dr Stocker has said that unless urgent measures are taken to encourage investment in the industry and remove hindrances, the plan might actually falter.

There were serious defects in the original Bill. For example, it provided for extensions of patent for imported pharmaceutical substances, but not for those from within Australia. So overseas interests were looked after but Australian patentees were not. Many important bodies complained about the serious defects of the Bill. The extension of term provisions in the Bill were fundamentally flawed and required substantial amendment to correct the problems. The Government was clearly in trouble. It took the Bill away for nearly 12 months and now it has brought it back in an amended form. Those amendments address many of the concerns raised by industry but not all the defects.

The coalition parties will move two amendments in the committee stage-one to change the effective commencement date of the Bill with regard to applications for extensions of patent terms by non-pharmaceutical patentees, and a second to reduce the opportunity for a kind of blackmail in the circumstance arising in section 12. I will explain these further in the committee stage of the debate.