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.

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.

EU Copyright Directive – what’s all the fuss about?

Earlier last month the European Parliament voted in favour of the EU Copyright Directive (known more formally as ‘Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market’), proposed legislation designed to better meet the needs of copyright protection in the Internet age.

The directive is an attempt at amending the imbalances between the large digital corporations and the content creators who use these platforms to share their work. The aim is to implement a more rigorous process for protecting works against copyright infringement, while also providing a more efficient way to distribute earnings to rightsholders and reduce the ‘value gap’ between creatives and the big players in the tech world.

With piracy and the misuse of copyright being one of the ubiquitous consequences of the digital era, updating copyright protection laws would be something to get behind and celebrate, right?

Well…

While those in the creative industries, such as publishers, music labels, and individual creatives have thrown their support behind the Directive, many others, especially those in Silicon Valley, are rallying in strong opposition of the proposed laws; extreme opposers even heralding the “death of the Internet” as we know it.

Two specific articles of the directive find themselves at the heart of the polarising debate, namely, Articles 11 and 13.

Article 11

Article 11, aptly nicknamed ‘the Link Tax’, is designed to allow publishers of news content to request online platforms and news aggregators to obtain licences before they are able to share any of their publications. The obvious players finding themselves in the cross-hairs of this article are the larger platforms such as Google and Facebook. However, while individual and non-commercial use has been exempted from the law, there is concern the article will have broader implications, especially on smaller websites who wish to publish snippets and links to articles and who may be unable to afford the required fees.

Will this be the end of the Internet as we know it?

Article 13

Article 13, dubbed the “upload filter”, is the more controversial of the two.

The article is aimed at holding platforms that host user-generated content (such as YouTube) liable for any misuse of copyright that may result from any material uploaded by their users. Essentially, it means these platforms can be sued directly by rightsholders for infringement.

While the current method of policing the misuse of copyright is by responding to complaints by rightsholders, and removing any infringing content accordingly, the directive will require these platforms to take “effective and proportionate” measures to prevent unauthorised works from being uploaded.

“But YouTube has over 300 hours’ worth of video content uploaded every hour. How could they possibly find and stop all the infringing content from being uploaded?” you ask. It is exactly this practicality of complying with Article 13 that has proved one of the more contentious points of the debate.

It is argued that the only possible way to implement this process of prevention is by using automatic filtering technology capable of scanning through every single piece of content and stopping any content it recognises as copyrighted material in its tracks. Easy enough, right?

While it might not be a significant burden for the giants of the tech world, like Google, YouTube, and Facebook, who have the finances to develop and implement such technologies, its effect on smaller platforms appears to be more problematic; with some contending it will hinder the growth of digital platforms in the EU which will be unable to cope with the article’s requirements.

Just as concerning is just how efficient such filtering technology can be. It has been queried how the technology will be able to recognise and distinguish copyright infringement from other authorised or legal uses of copyright, such as parody or satire. This worry has given the article another common nickname: the “Meme Ban.”

For those not familiar, memes are often created by using still images (commonly taken from copyrighted works such as photographs, films, or television shows) and layering text over the top for comedic effect or expression of an idea. While they are most often created without the author’s consent for use of an image, they are still currently considered legal under EU law. Accordingly, there are serious concerns that if the filtering technology required by Article 13 is unable to distinguish legal use from infringement, content such as memes will mistakenly be flagged as infringement.

So, while memes may not be technically banned as the nickname suggests, they may likely still be flagged and killed off amongst the other infringing uploaded content.

What happens next?

The proposed legislation still faces one more round of voting in January 2019 before it will receive final approval. Many believe that, after the successful vote last month, it is very unlikely the legislation will be defeated in the new year.

What remains to be seen is in fact, however, is just much of a disruptive impact the directive will have on the Internet both in the EU and around the world.

Author: Blake Motbey, Paralegal.

 

My business idea is being copied – what can I do?

You’ve put time and thought into a great idea, invested in R&D, brought your idea to market – and now you find a competitor marketing the same idea.  What can you do?

Influence Legal idea
How can you protect your idea?

The different aspects of intellectual property can help to an extent, but the issue of copying a concept can become complex.

Copyright protects the original material expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. Unless your competitor copied your original artwork, wording or code, copyright won’t assist – for example, if you have had an idea for a scheduling program, and a competitor saw your idea and released a scheduling program which doesn’t use any of the original coding or graphical elements of your program, you won’t be able to make a copyright claim.

What about trade marks? Have you applied for trade mark protection of your product’s distinctive name? If the competitor used your name or a substantially similar name to promote similar products, you can make a claim based on your registered trade mark.

Patents protect inventions. They must be new to the market. If you think that your idea may be patentable, consult a patent attorney – but you must keep your idea confidential until the patent application is filed. If you have publicised it yourself, it may no longer be patentable. You can use confidentiality agreements where you need third parties to develop your invention. Also, take practical steps to protect confidentiality – limit distribution and keep information in secure files.

The law of passing off and consumer protection law can help where the competitor is making their offering look like it is, or is associated with, yours. For example, your competitor might be marketing compatible goods which have the look and feel of your brand, or suggesting that they are your authorised distributor or licensee.

If none of these will help in your specific situation, there are still practical steps you can take:

– make sure that you have all the relevant variations of your domain name so that there is no chance that an unscrupulous competitor can pick up similar names to direct traffic to their own website;

– make sure you have your domains set to auto-renew, or diarise renewal dates, so that you don’t accidentally drop your domain and have it picked up by your competitor;

– ensure that your website security is strong so that you reduce the risk of losing customers if your website is offline;

– make sure you are actively marketing on all relevant social media channels;

– if you are using a name or logo that is distinctive, apply for a trade mark, including in relevant overseas markets you plan to expand to;

– once you have your trade mark, ensure you diarise renewal dates;

– keep a record of your marketing activities, including promotions, press releases and media coverage, in case you need to demonstrate your reputation in the market in future years; and

– ensure that your concepts are kept confidential, including using effective confidentiality agreements, until they are ready for release.

If you have any questions about how to protect your ideas, contact us.

Copyright, commissions, collaboration and the Olive Cotton Award controversy

influence legal copyright commissionsThe recent controversy about the winning entry for the 2017 Olive Cotton Award is interesting in terms of the requirements of this photography portraiture prize, but also a helpful illustration of how copyright ownership can become complicated in the areas of commissions and collaboration.

Justine Varga entered a fascinating work, “Maternal Line”, which had been inspired by the sight of her grandmother seated at the kitchen table testing pens by scribbling.

She asked her grandmother to scribble directly onto a piece of film, and then handprinted the result in the darkroom. The result is a moving artwork described by the judges as “a very complex photographic portrait”.

There has been plenty of discussion about whether the result of Varga’s process was a portrait or a photograph.

However it also prompts discussion of some frequently misunderstood areas of copyright, as this article, quoting North Sullivan, former president of the Australian Commercial and Media Photographers association, and Professor Kimberlee Weatherall of the University of Sydney law school, highlights. Sullivan and Weatherall have both queried whether the copyright in the artwork is owned by Varga or her grandmother.

Collaboration

The general rule in relation to collaboration, where parties jointly create a copyright work, is that the authors own the copyright jointly.

In order to qualify as a joint author, a person must have contributed more than ideas or suggestions, because copyright applies to the expression in material form, not to the idea.

Dictation, though, is different from suggestion. The scribe who takes down dictation is not the copyright owner. This has the corollary that where one person has seen a copyright work and dictates it, copyright can be infringed even though the scribe has never seen the copyright work.

The question raised in this situation is whether Varga’s process involved a collaboration with her grandmother, or whether her grandmother was the sole author.

Importantly, joint authors cannot deal with their copyright without the consent of the other authors. Where two parties to a commercial transaction are jointly contributing to a copyright work, it’s worthwhile considering whether to agree that each party can commercialise the work without the other party’s permission, or whether they want to act jointly throughout the life of the copyright.

Commissions

The laws relating to copyright in commissions differ between jurisdictions, and it’s important to understand the Australian rules for local situations.

When you commission a copyright work – as, in this situation, Varga may have done by asking her grandmother to scribble on the film – you do not automatically own the copyright.

There are some exceptions.

Photos commissioned for private or domestic purposes, such as wedding photos or a family portrait, under a paid arrangement, are an exception to this general rule. However, it’s open to the photographer to retain copyright by agreement, so the person commissioning the photograph needs to check the photographer’s terms and conditions.

The situation is also different for copyright works commissioned by the Crown, or created in the course of employment.

In other situations – whether it’s marketing material, website content, a logo, or photographs for your business – you need a written assignment agreement from the author if you want to own the copyright. You should also consider appropriate treatment of moral rights.

There are also compromise options. If your key requirement is to be able to use the commissioned work freely, a broad licence from the author may be adequate for your situation.

If you would like us to review your terms and conditions in relation to copyright ownership and licensing, contact us.

 

What does the Universal v TPG decision mean?

At the end of last month, the Federal Court made orders in the Universal v TPG litigation. The results were not unexpected and the key areas of dispute related to costs of complying with the orders and costs of the litigation.

influence legal how to download torrents
From wikiHow “How to download torrents (with pictures)”

Background

Universal and other copyright owners took action under section 115A of the Copyright Act against 20 ISPs, including TPG, to block access to a torrenting website, and associated clones, mirrors and proxy sites. The website was found to have the main purpose of allowing wide-scale downloading of copyright works, including music, movies and books.

Section 115A was added to the Copyright Act in 2015 and allows copyright owners to apply for an injunction requiring a carriage service provider to take reasonable steps to disable access to an online location – in Australia or overseas – which has the primary purpose of infringing, or facilitating the infringement of, copyright. There doesn’t need to be any fault on the part of the ISP for orders to be made.

Section 115A had already been used in the Roadshow v Telstra, Foxtel v TPG decision last year, with similar results.

The offending website in this case, KickassTorrents (KAT) had previously been blocked in Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Finland and Belgium and had then been shut down in July 2016 following the arrest of the alleged owner, but the case went ahead.

The ISPs had indicated even before that date that they were prepared to block access to the offending sites, but the key question remained as to who should bear the cost of implementing and maintaining the site blocking.

The copyright owners argued that the ISPs should bear the costs because they are subject to the regulatory framework. The ISPs argued that they are innocent parties in the infringement, that section 115A creates a no-fault regime, and that the orders under section 115A benefit the rights holders.

Orders

The Court ordered that the ISPs must:

– disable access by users of their service, to the infringing website, by DNS blocking or equivalent.

– redirect users to a page with a prominent message that the Court has determined the site infringes copyright, or facilitates infringement.

– block additional domain names if the copyright owners apply to extend the injunction.  These orders may be made without further hearing if the ISPs do not object.

The copyright owners will be required to pay the ISPs’ compliance costs, set at $50 per domain name. The Court, noting that the submissions on costs were similar to the submissions made in the Roadshow v Telstra, Foxtel v TPG case last year, supported a uniform approach to compliance costs. If costs exceed this amount, the ISPs will have to bear the additional amount.

The ISPs had also sought orders for costs of the litigation. The Court determined that the copyright owners should pay the ISPs’ costs for the limited area of evidence and submissions on compliance costs, but not the ISPs’ other costs.

Further developments

In February, Village Roadshow commenced a new action to block access to 41 websites including WatchSeries, Putlocker and MegaShare.

There have been reports that Village Roadshow and Foxtel will apply to block additional websites shortly.

There have also been reports that KAT has been revived in a new form by original staff members, with new domain names and a streamlined database, and a revised DMCA takedown procedure. The orders allow copyright owners to apply to block new domain names but this can only be reactive. With torrenting websites potentially able to use a huge number of domain names and structures, it will be interesting to see how much practical protection section 115A will provide to rights holders as cases develop over the coming months – especially when Gizmodo reports that “It’s laughably easy to circumvent Australia’s torrent site blocking”.

 

 

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