Intellectual property

Intellectual property includes patents, trade marks, copyright and related rights, geographical indications, industrial designs, know-how and trade secrets. Intellectual property is an integral part of international trade, and its importance is increasing as the effective use of knowledge contributes ever more to national economic prosperity. The Australian Bureau of Statistics National Accounts for 2013-14 values intellectual property in Australia at $A222.0 billion with expenditure on intellectual property products in Australia at $A 38.5 billion on current prices (Australian Bureau of Statistics National Accounts for 2013-2014, 5204.0, p.25). Trade in intellectual property for Australia in 2013-14 was $A 1.008 billion (exports) and $A 5.433 billion (imports) (Australian Bureau of Statistics ABS, International Trade in Goods and Services, November 2014, 5368.0.)

As a trading nation with a strong research tradition and a need for access to new technologies, Australia has interests in the agreed international standards on the protection and exploitation of intellectual property rights.

Consequently, Australia protects those interests, notably in its work within the World Trade Organization (WTO) to promote the effective and balanced implementation and development of the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is responsible for the overall coordination of Australia's engagement with the WTO. Within OTN, the International Intellectual Property Section (IPS) has particular responsibility for intellectual property issues. Please contact us for any further information.

World Trade Organization (WTO) and TRIPS

The World Trade Organization was established in 1995 at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, building on the earlier General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade system. The WTO, under the direction of its Member economies, administers a wide-ranging system of rules for international trade, aimed at liberalising and expanding trade under agreed and enforceable rules for reciprocal benefit. This system has led to significant benefits for Australian exporters, yielding improved market access and lower tariffs in many sectors. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights is one of the set of agreements making up the integrated WTO system of trade rules.

What does TRIPS do?

TRIPS is intended to maximise the contribution of intellectual property systems to economic growth through trade and investment by:

  • establishing minimum standards for intellectual property rights protection in the national systems of WTO members
  • prescribing agreed elements of an effective mechanism for administration and enforcement of intellectual property rights
  • creating a transparency mechanism - each WTO member is required to provide details of their national intellectual property laws and systems, and to answer questions about their intellectual property systems
  • creating a predictable, rules-based system for the settlement of disputes about trade-related intellectual property issues between WTO members
  • allowing for mechanisms that ensure that national intellectual property systems support widely accepted public policy objectives, such as stamping out unfair competition, facilitating transfer of technology, and promoting environmental protection

TRIPS and geographical indications

Australia has been an active participant in the WTO negotiations for a multilateral register for wine and spirit geographical indications. Australia is a co-sponsor of the ‘Joint-Proposal’ for the register which would facilitate protection for wine and spirit geographical indications in accordance with the mandate in TRIPS (Article 23.4). 

The WTO website provides information on the history of the geographical indications negotiations.

Within the Australian Government, the Department of Agriculture has policy responsibility for wine geographical indications and Food Standards Australia New Zealand has responsibility for spirit geographical indications. IP Australia is responsible for the registration of geographical indications as certification trade marks. A geographical indication for wine may also be included on the register of geographical indications and other terms maintained by Wine Australia.

TRIPS and WTO dispute settlement

TRIPS established a binding, transparent and rules based dispute settlement mechanism. The WTO Understanding on the Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes enforces the commitments made by WTO Members under TRIPS. The availability of a binding dispute settlement mechanism to enforce obligations under TRIPS helps to ensure that Australian exporters can continue to expand and diversify trading opportunities in intellectual property and value-added products.

DFAT's Trade Law Branch has responsibility for managing and advising on all WTO Disputes.

See also general information on Australia's involvement more generally in WTO disputes.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

Australia is an active member of WIPO, which is the United Nations agency responsible for international intellectual property administration, services and policy development.

Australia supported the unanimous appointment of Dr Francis Gurry for a second six-year term as Director General of WIPO in May 2014.

Australia is involved in a broad spectrum of committees and treaty negotiations at WIPO, including the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

DFAT works closely with IP Australia and the Attorney-General’s Department to implement Australia’s intellectual-property related commitments.  In 2014, Australia signed the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled, which was negotiated and adopted under the auspices of WIPO. Further information and electronic (braille-accessible) copies of the treaty are available via the Attorney-General Department’s website

Intellectual Property in free trade agreements

Australia typically seeks to include commitments on intellectual property in our free trade agreements to address international developments in, and achieve a more consistent approach to, the protection and enforcement of intellectual property.

The DFAT webpage on Australia’s trade agreements provides details on existing agreements and current negotiations, including frequently asked questions on Intellectual Property and Public Health Issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations.

Under the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), Australia co-chairs the Intellectual Property Committee with Singapore and New Zealand. The Committee continues to develop and implement capacity building programs to further AANZFTA outcomes on intellectual property protection and cooperation.

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC)

The APEC Intellectual Property Experts' Group (IPEG), formed in 1995 under the auspices of APEC's Committee for Trade and Investment, plays a valuable supporting role in promoting efficient, TRIPS-consistent intellectual property protection among our APEC trading partners. Part of the TRIPS package is an undertaking by member economies to provide technical assistance for the implementation of TRIPS. Australia has supported the development of TRIPS-consistent intellectual property systems in developing countries in our region.

International intellectual property sites

For further information on intellectual property issues you may wish to consult the following sites:

Contact us

International Intellectual Property Section
Intellectual Property, Aid for Trade & Other Issues Branch
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
R.G.Casey Building
Barton ACT 0221

Email: ip@dfat.gov.au

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