Time to review your IP arrangements

In February this year, the Federal Parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 5) Bill 2018 (Act), repealing the intellectual property exemptions under section 51(3) of the Competition & Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) (CCA).

The repeal is set to come into effect on 13 September 2019.

What’s section 51(3)?

Section 51(3) covered contractual terms in licences and assignments of patents, designs, copyright and EL rights, and specified agreements in relation to trade marks.

Do your IP contracts need review?
Do your IP contracts need review?

The section provided a limited exemption for IP rightsholders, to allow them to make arrangements that would otherwise be prohibited under the CCA. So, for example, a generally anti-competitive term, or a cartel provision, which met the requirements of section 51(3), would be permitted.

The background of the section was the perceived conflict between the monopoly rights of IP rightsholders, and the competition provisions under the CCA, meaning that IP rights needed this exemption.

What’s the background to the changes?

Section 51(3) has had a life under the microscope, with consistent review and advocation for its repeal for quite some time. It was reviewed in the Hilmer Report, as well as in a number of subsequent competition reviews.

More recently, the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Intellectual Property Arrangements, released in late 2016, considered the balance between access to ideas and products, and the encouragement of innovation and investment.

The report recommended the repeal of section 51(3) on the basis that IP rights did not have significant competition implications, and issues only arose where there were few substitutes or where IP rights aggregation could create market power.

The Commission considered that there would be increasing benefits to repeal, especially in the pharmaceutical and communications markets, as the level of licensing and cross-licensing rises in the future.

 Where does this issue arise?

There have been very few cases where section 51(3) has been considered – in fact the ACCC stated in its 2016 submission to the Productivity Commission that it was not aware of any cases where section 51(3) had been used successfully as a defence.

That said, it’s anecdotally clear that IP rightsholders have relied on knowing that section 51(3) was there, in structuring agreements, and there are several situations where regulators and courts have considered a tension between IP rights and competition regulation. These include:

  • Exclusive dealing – such as where rightsholders impose restrictions on distributors about their permitted suppliers or customers. For example, in Transfield v Arlo [(1979) 144 CLR 83 at 108, the Court considered whether Transfield was obliged to sell exclusively promote and sell Arlo’s steel pole. Wilson J was of the view that if a contract clause requiring a licensee to use its ‘best endeavours’ to sell a patented product meant that the licensee could not sell competing products, it would have been protected by section 51(3).
  • Geo-blocking – where rightsholders impose geographical restrictions on the basis of consumer nationality or location. The EU recently regulated geo-blocking with Regulation 2018/302. The European Commission subsequently found that clothing company, Guess, violated the regulation by restricting authorised retailers from selling cross-border to consumers within the EU single Market, allowing them to maintain artificially high retail prices.
  • Assignments-back – In the US, Pilkington Glass was found to have built up a dominant position in the glass manufacturing market by requiring licensees to assign back improvements to Pilkington’s processes. Consequently, the court prohibited Pilkington from imposing territorial and use limitations on their US licensees, allowing them instead to manufacture and sublicence anywhere in the world, free of charge, using the technology in the licences.

What will happen when the repeal comes into effect?

When the repeal takes effect this September it will operate retrospectively, meaning that existing contract terms will not be grandfathered.

We can anticipate that with this change, the ACCC will have an increased focus on IP-heavy arrangements and compliance activities to ensure businesses understand their new obligations under the CCA.

The ACCC has stated that they are in the process of writing guidelines to assist businesses in complying with the repeal, but while we wait for these, we can expect that agreements including the following aspects will be of interest:

  • Exclusive arrangements, territory restrictions, geo-blocking and assignments-back, as mentioned above;
  • Licences that impose quantity restrictions on the licensees, split licensees’ rights by reference to customers, or involve bid-rigging;
  • Bundling and third-line forcing, where the licensee has to accept other products from the licensor or a third party;
  • Patent pooling arrangements – these are agreements where companies with related patents cross-license them to each other and agree on the terms of licence agreements to parties outside the pool; and
  • Clauses that provide for a first mover advantage or “pay for delay”, where one party pays the other to agree not to commercialise a product or move into a market.

Now is the time to review

With the commencement date fast approaching there is still a window of time to ensure that your existing IP arrangements will comply with the repeal.

If you have any concerns or questions about the potential impact of the repeal on your IP licensing, assignment or distribution arrangements, please contact us.

Author: Blake Motbey, Paralegal.

ACCC announces 2019 enforcement priorities

influence legal canberraEarlier this week, the ACCC announced its enforcement priorities for 2019.

As well as the enduring priorities of:

  • cartel conduct;
  • anti-competitive conduct;
  • product safety;
  • conduct affected vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers; and
  • conduct affecting Indigenous consumers,

this year’s focus areas include:

  • consumer guarantees on high value electrical products and whitegoods;
  • anti-competitive conduct and competition issues in the
    financial services sector, including foreign exchange services where fees “seem to remain stubbornly high“;
  • opaque pricing of essential services, including telecoms and energy;
  • protection for small business, including under franchising and unfair contract requirements; and
  • customer loyalty schemes.

A new focus is on emerging issues in advertising and subscriptions on social medial platforms, especially for younger consumers.

In announcing the 2o19 priorities, Chair Rod Sims stated that the ACCC expects 3 significant cartel investigations to be referred to the Commonwealth DPP. The ACCC will also be occupied with the Consumer Data Right, where pilots and generic data sharing are expected to be in place in July, with consumer data to be shared by February next year.

Highlights of 2018 and areas to watch in 2019

2018 came and went in a flash. France celebrated glory in the FIFA World Cup in Russia; Banksy sold his ‘Girl With Balloon’ painting for $1.86 million before the artwork shredded itself seconds after the gavel dropped; and the online world was captivated by the World Record Egg. And as we say goodbye to summer and settle into the working year, why not take the chance to reminisce on some of the more important developments of 2018, and look forward to those that 2019 has in store?

Influence Legal developmentsLooking back on 2018

  • New obligations were enforced under the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR). While the GDPR is an EU regulation, the obligations have a wide reach, applying to all Australian businesses who have an establishment in the EU, offer goods & services to the EU, or monitor the behaviour of individuals in the EU.
  • As part of the government’s safe harbour and insolvency reforms, we saw the introduction of the ipso facto insolvency reforms by way of the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Enterprise Incentives No.2) Act 2017. The reforms apply to contracts entered into on or after 1 July 2018, affecting the ability of contracting parties to exercise termination, enforcement or other rights that are triggered by a company restructuring or insolvency.
  • The European Parliament voted in favour of introducing the controversial EU Copyright Directive, a legislation designed to better meet the needs of copyright protection in the internet age. The proposed directive caused significant global debate around the detrimental effects of Articles 11 (the Link Tax) and 13 (the Meme Ban), headlined as the ‘death of the Internet’.
  • The ACCC highlighted its hard stance against franchises attempting to contract out of their obligations under the Franchising Code of Conduct and the Competition and Consumer Act. The ACCC’s case against Husqvarna Australia highlighted the importance of all companies that appoint dealers, distributors, licensees or similar, to confirm whether their contracts are in fact franchise agreements.
  • A Victorian Supreme Court cast some doubt over the enforceability of contractual provisions that attempt to limit the period in which parties can claim for misleading or deceptive conduct. This arose in the case of Brighton Australia Pty Ltd v Multiplex Constructions Pty Ltd [2018] VSC 246, where the court considered the enforceability of a contractual provision requiring claims (including for misleading or deceptive conduct) to be made within 7 days.Justice Riordan, deciding in contradiction to a number of NSW decisions, ruled in favour of the “no exclusion principle”, stating that allowing the enforceability of such time limitations on claims would be against the public policy underpinning the provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

Some areas to watch in 2019

  • Discussions over the EU Copyright Directive continue, with negotiators for the European Parliament aiming to finalise the directive shortly. However, negotiations have broken down, with the three-way discussion between Council, Parliament and member states  derailed over the exact wording over Article 11 and Article 13. Consequently, the “trialogue” discussion that was set to take place on  23 January was cancelled. With upcoming EU elections in May, there likelihood of any closure on this matter in the near future is low, with a final vote likely to take place under the next parliament.
  • The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018, commonly referred to as the AA Bill, was passed in December of last year. The Bill’s aim is to compel various companies, especially those in communications industries, to assist Australian security and law enforcement agencies by allowing access to encrypted communications they believe may contain plans for illegal or terrorist activity. The implications of the Bill will be an interesting area to watch throughout the year, with a number of people, especially those within the tech and start-up communities expressing their concerns.
  • On 10 December 2018, the ACCC released its Digital Platforms Inquiry Preliminary Report. The ACCC’s report is founded on questioning the role and accountability of the global digital platforms (such as Facebook and Google) in the supply of advertising, news and journalism in Australia. The final report addressing these issues will be due on 3 June of this year.
  • There has been some debate globally and in Australia regarding the “hipster antitrust” laws, questioning the standards of competition law. The current foundation of competition law in Australia is focused on consumer welfare. However, concerns have been raised that this standard is too narrow and does not allow for prosecution of some types of conduct that some commentators believe competition law should cover.While this debate is likely to continue throughout the year, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims has reinforced Australia’s consumer welfare position, expressing their opposition to the introduction of broader interest considerations of public policy into competition law enforcement.

Author: Blake Motbey, Paralegal.

Highlights of 2017 and areas to watch in 2018

Influence Legal ParliamentHere is a round-up of some key developments in 2017:

  • The Competition and Consumer Amendment (Misuse of Market Power) Act 2017 came into effect, implementing Harper reforms in the area of misuse of market power, adding an effects test as well as the purpose test.
  • The Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms were enacted and are now in a 12 month implementation period. These reforms impose obligations on carriers and carriage service providers to take steps to ensure the security of networks and notify breaches, and provide powers to the Attorney-General to issue directions relating to security risks.
  • Business gained useful guidance on the issue of unfair contract terms in small business contracts with a case in the waste management area which provided a detailed review of some common, and some less common, standard terms.
  • Consultations closed in December on a draft bill to implement aspects of the Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s review of Australia’s IP arrangements.
  • A controversy in relation to the Olive Cotton Award highlighted issues around copyright, commissions and collaboration.
  • The Full Federal Court dismissed Vodafone’s application for judicial review in relation to the ACCC’s decision not to declare a domestic mobile roaming service. If a domestic mobile roaming service had been declared, this would have allowed carriers to access Telstra’s regional networks in areas not covered by their own networks.

Areas to watch this year:

  • With mandatory data breach notification coming into force later this month, and the EU General Data Protection Regulation taking effect in May, 2018 is the year of privacy compliance for Australian businesses.  Check out more details here and ensure that your privacy compliance systems are up to date.
  • Also in Europe, the Trade Secrets Directive, which harmonises trade secrets protection, will be implemented by member states by the middle of the year.
  • In the FOI area, submissions to the OAIC on the Freedom of information regulatory action policy close this Friday.
  • The ACCC has foreshadowed its 2018 priorities, including criminal cartel enforcement and deterrence. In an interview in the AFR, Chairman Rod Sims suggested that there would be 3 to 4 cartel actions in 2018, including the possibility of penalties for executives. This follows the ACCC’s successful actions in financial services and in the shipping industry, with a further shipping case to be heard in July.
  • Other ACCC priorities mentioned in the interview include bank interest rate decisions, and media sector mergers.
  • On the IP front, submissions on the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill, which would extend safe harbour provisions to educational and cultural institutions, libraries, archives and organisations assisting people with disabilities, close on 30 January.

Highlights of 2016 and areas to watch in 2017

Influence Legal ParliamentHere is a round-up of some key developments in 2016:

  • The Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms went through 2 rounds of public consultation and have now been referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security. These reforms will impose obligations on carriers and carriage service providers to take steps to ensure the security of networks and notify breaches, and provide powers to the Attorney-General to issue directions relating to security risks.
  • The Masters Bendigo case saw developments in relation to agreements to agree and good faith.
  • There were several key cases in the credit reporting area, including the Veda trade mark and SEO case, and the OAIC determination requiring Veda to improve accessibility of free credit reporting.
  • The Productivity Commission released its report on IP arrangements, prompting public debate in relation to fair use and the rights of copyright holders.
  • The OAIC consulted on its draft Big Data guide.
  • An exposure draft of the Harper review bill was released.
  • The unfair contracts rules for small business came into effect from 12 November.
  • The ACCC took landmark consent proceedings relating to attempted cartel conduct in the financial services industry.
  • The Federal Court found that Woolworths’ “Mind the Gap” payments were not unconscionable.

Areas to watch this year:

  • Data protection remains a key focus area with significant developments continuing in Australia (including the Notifiable Data Breaches Bill), the EU (the European Union General Data Protection Regulation will take effect in May 2018 and will significantly affect data relating to employees) and across the globe.
  • Trade secrets have become another focus area.  In 2016 the European Council approved the Trade Secrets Directive to harmonise European trade secrets protection. Member states will need to implement the directive by mid 2018. The US Defend Trade Secrets Act 2016 has created a federal jurisdiction for misappropriation of trade secrets including significant whistleblower protection which will need to be reflected in US employment and confidentiality agreements.
  • Ahead of the release of its 2017 priorities, we can anticipate that the ACCC will continue to focus on unfair contracts in business, cartel conduct (following the significant financial services case) and optional extra preselection in the airline industry. The ACCC is seeking submissions on a proposed FIFO airline alliance (due on 27 January) and on its draft decision for the declared superfast broadband access service (SBAS) and the local bitstream access service (LBAS) (due on 17 February).
  • CAANZ will report on the first Australian Consumer Law review by March.
  • Further legal and regulatory attention is likely in the problematic commercial VET sector, with reforms promised to address the significant consumer protection issues that were highlighted during 2016.
  • On the IP front, submissions are due by 22 January on the proposed IP Laws Amendment Bill.

ACCC action on attempted cartel conduct in financial services industry

influence legal competition lawLate last month the ACCC announced that it has commenced consent proceedings against ANZ and Macquarie in relation to allegations of attempted cartel conduct.

The proceedings involve conduct in 2011, when traders at Macquarie and ANZ, as well as other banks, are alleged to have communicated in private chatrooms about submissions to be made to the Association of Banks in Singapore about the benchmark rate for the Malaysian ringgit (MYR), and the Macquarie and ANZ traders are alleged to have tried to make arrangements with other banks to make high or low submissions.

The ACCC, ANZ and Macquarie have agreed on facts and penalties to be submitted to the Federal Court. The proposed penalties are $9 million for ANZ and $6 million for Macquarie, as well as costs contributions. Continue reading ACCC action on attempted cartel conduct in financial services industry

Productivity Commission releases draft IP report

The Productivity Commission released its draft report on Australia’s intellectual property system on 29 April 2016.

The Commission has been asked to consider whether current arrangements appropriately balance access to ideas and products, and encouragement of innovation, investment and creative works.

Key recommendations Continue reading Productivity Commission releases draft IP report