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Director General's review

2019–20 was a year of transformation at IP Australia. In addition to focusing on the administration of the intellectual property (IP) rights system, we improved the services we provide to our customers to ensure all Australians benefit from great ideas.

The flat growth in IP rights applications over 2019–20, coupled with the increasing impacts of COVID-19 on domestic and international IP rights systems, was a reminder that IP Australia must be well positioned to adapt and respond to challenges in the future.

Our continued commitment to our customers saw us deliver a range of initiatives that laid the foundation for improved quality, timeliness and administration of IP rights. We improved our digital services, including the way that our customers transact with us and the systems our staff use to deliver IP rights. We also made progress with key policy changes to streamline the operations of the domestic IP system and increase engagement with international systems.

This transformation would not have been possible without the ongoing commitment and flexibility of all Agency staff who have demonstrated a willingness to adapt as we continue to improve how we do business.

The following overview outlines some of our key achievements in support of building a world-leading IP system that increases prosperity for Australia.

IP rights administration

IP Australia is an important element of Australia’s innovation ecosystem and we have a strong focus on providing robust IP rights. Following a record number of applications for IP rights in 2018, demand remained steady in 2019.

Table 1: Rights administered by IP Australia, 2019–20

Patents

Trade marks

Plant breeder's rights

Design rights

32 034 applications, of which 11% were Australian

76 150 applications, of which 60% were Australian

274 applications, of which 44% were Australian

7351 applications, of which 33% were Australian

Duration: up to 20 years (standard patent) or eight years (innovation patent)

Duration: no limit

Duration: up to 20 years (standard plant breeder’s right)

Duration: up to 10 years

Protects novel, useful, non-obvious invention

Protects ‘brands’, including words, phrases, numbers logos, images and sounds

Protects new plant varieties

Protects the shape, look and feel of a product

During 2019–20, we continued to develop better systems and strategies that improve the quality, timelines and efficiency of our service delivery and the IP rights that we administer.

We delivered a new quality review framework, shifting IP Australia to a principles-based approach that enables greater consistency across our search and examination services. The framework will be rolled out across all IP Rights and will be supported by a new information technology (IT) system in 2020–21, allowing us to further streamline and automate our quality processes.

IP Australia also introduced a new performance and achievement framework to support a culture of teamwork and continuous improvement that places greater emphasis on collaboration. Over time this will lead to improvements in the production of high-quality IP rights that are robust and defensible for our customers.

Improving the customer experience and building awareness of IP

We redesigned and released our new Customer Service Charter, establishing a simplified set of commitments that places the needs of our customers at the centre of IP rights administration. The Customer Service Charter also provides customers with the opportunity to tell us how well we are performing, informing the way we do business with them in the future.

Our Transactional Digital Services program continued to replace our legacy Business to Business platform with a more modern application programming interface (API) foundation that covers over 96 per cent of IP rights transaction types. This introduced several open data APIs that enable our customers and stakeholders to access our IP right search systems more efficiently.

The Program has now commenced the iterative replacement of our eServices with the focus on delivering a modern and efficient customer-centric digital experience.

We trialled the award-winning Smart Trade Mark platform, which enables brands to better protect themselves against counterfeits and misuse of their IP. It connects our customers directly to the Australian Government’s trade mark register, so they can authenticate products and services related to their trade mark.

We also commenced a trial of a new Trust Badge application built on the Smart Trade Mark platform, which links a customer’s address to their trade mark and provides visual proof of authenticity for use in online marketplaces.

Policy and international engagement

In 2019–20, we undertook several policy initiatives, including expanding the Patent Analytics Hub service offering to include a patent landscape analysis in international-type searches, in line with Article 15(5) of the Patent Cooperation Treaty.

The Patent Analytics Hub also published a suite of products to help global researchers and decision makers identify critical knowledge and resources required for COVID-19 responses. This included interactive visualisations of relevant medical equipment, diagnostics tools, therapeutic products and vaccines.

We also undertook an exploratory review of Australia’s design economy and the role of design rights in incentivising design innovation, establishing evidence to inform potential changes to the design rights system. The findings of this research are available on our website.

The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Productivity Commission Response Part 2 and Other Measures) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 26 February 2020. Under the Act, Australia’s second tier patent, the innovation patent, will be phased out starting from 26 August 2021. The Act also implements recommendations from the Productivity Commission’s report into the compulsory licensing of patents, including Crown use and its use in a pandemic, and makes minor amendments to streamline the operation of the IP system.

Technology and data

IP Australia’s data on filing trends for IP rights and on IP holdings in certain technologies contributed to national and international efforts aimed at monitoring and managing the impact of the pandemic on global economies. This data will form the basis for continued research in 2021.

We relocated the IP Australia data centre, which improves the reliability, flexibility and scalability of our data facilities while reducing the amount of infrastructure in operation. We also updated our data strategy and continued to improve TM-Link, the global trade mark database originally developed in partnership with Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Melbourne.

During 2019-20, the Patents Modernisation Initiative laid the foundations for our new patents management system, delivering a modern and user centric interface for examiners to view patent applications.

A flexible workforce for the future

IP Australia has undergone a significant program of cultural change through our Future Way of Working (FWOW) Program. In 2019-20 the final stages of construction works were delivered, and the Program was officially closed on 30 May 2020. The FWOW Program delivered contemporary physical workspaces and technology that enables an efficient, adaptable and sustainable workplace, increasing collaboration and productivity for our staff in activity-based working environments. The flexible working environment established by the FWOW Program aided IP Australia’s response to COVID-19, enabling our staff to effectively work from their homes during a challenging and potentially disruptive period.