The Australian Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, recently announced that there will be an inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property arrangements.  The inquiry, to be conducted by the Productivity Commission, the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body, will examine the balance between promoting competition and protecting intellectual property in Australia, taking into account our international trade obligations.

The initiation of the inquiry delivers on a key recommendation of the Competition Policy Review (also known as the Harper Review, after its chair Professor Ian Harper), a review of Australia’s competition laws and policy by the Australian Government.  The Harper Review’s final report was released in March 2015, including the recommendation that an “overarching review” of Australia’s intellectual property system be conducted.

The terms of reference for the inquiry provide that the inquiry should look at the effect of Australia’s intellectual property arrangements on investment, competition, trade, innovation and consumer welfare.  This includes an examination of the protection offered by Australia’s current intellectual property system, including the scope and duration of protection.

The terms of reference provide that the Commission should then recommend changes that would achieve the following:

  1.  encourage creativity, investment and new innovation by individuals, business and through collaboration while not unduly restricting access to technologies and creative works;
  2. allow access to an increased range of quality and value goods and services;
  3. provide greater certainty to individuals and businesses as to whether they are likely to infringe the intellectual property rights of others; and
  4. reduce the compliance and administrative costs associated with intellectual property rules.[1]

In developing its recommendations, the Productivity Commission will consult with both government and non-government stakeholders, as well as inviting public submissions.  It is expected that it will provide a final report to the government within 12 months.

It is highly likely that the inquiry will traverse issues of particular relevance to the Life Sciences sector, including:

  • Compulsory licensing;
  • The intellectual property safe harbours in Australia’s competition laws;
  • Further carve-outs from the patent monopoly; and
  • Changes to the research and development concessions.

[1] See the Intellectual Property Arrangements Terms of Reference, available at