The Australian Government has released the National Science Statement setting out its long term vision and objectives for Australian science as part of the overarching National Innovation and Science Agenda.

It is clear from the release of the Science Statement that the Government wants to build upon this legacy, in part by increasing both public private investment in research and development (R&D), but also by ensuring that an appropriately skilled workforce is available to work in various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors.

The Science Statement is aimed at providing an enduring framework to guide Government decisions relating to science. This will complement the work of Innovation and Science Australia, which is developing a long-term 2030 Strategic Plan for innovation, science and research that is expected to be released later in 2017. Submissions for the 2030 Strategic Plan are due by 31 May 2017.

Although, in one sense, the Science Statement is the Government’s plan for a plan, it is encouraging to see an intended commitment to science and recognition of the role science plays in our society and economy. Nevertheless, it is surprising that the Science Statement is silent on one important aspect of innovation, that being Intellectual Property (IP) rights and its role in the proposed initiatives.

In conjunction with all the outlined initiatives, the Government should also ensure that a robust and effective system exists for the protection of IP rights. This is especially important given the release of the Australian Productivity Commission’s report “Intellectual Property Arrangements”, which provides a number of recommendations for “improving” Australia’s IP system. With respect to the patent system, recommendations include: further raising the bar on inventive step to a threshold which is higher than major jurisdictions such as the US or Europe; raising fees for granted patents; and abolishing the innovation patent system (as opposed to improving the innovation patent system). Arguably, each of these proposals renders an Australian patent a less desirable investment.

Although not every R&D development will lead to a patent, design or associated trade mark, vested parties should be aware of their options for protecting and enforcing their IP rights as a reward for their R&D labour. IP rights are a powerful tool for new businesses to attract investors and gain revenue streams through strategic licensing. IP Australia offers a raft of tools that can be used by patent applicants to help with protecting their inventions, including expedited examination of patent applications directed to, for example, green technology, and providing a search report for provisional applications which can help patent applicants decide whether a patent application will be difficult to prosecute in Australia and overseas. The latter tool may be useful for businesses intent on attracting and incentivising financial support, especially if the report identifies a potentially favourable outcome, i.e. a potential granted patent.

The Science Statement affirms the Government’s support for science as a springboard for economic and social advancement. In order to provide an element of stability for businesses, investors and researchers, we now need to see a long-term vision and approach to science and innovation (with tangible efforts being made) across the political spectrum.

The Government is currently considering its final response to the Productivity Commission’s report. Clearly, IP and innovation are intrinsically tied, hence this response will have a strong bearing on the course of Australia’s innovation landscape and the beneficial outcomes the Government intend to reap.

At this stage it appears that the intention of the Science Statement and the Productivity Commission’s report are not aligned. Given the fact that intellectual property and innovation are not mutually exclusive, if Australia is going to move into an “innovative era”, all Government agencies, including IP Australia, need to work together on a clearly defined course and start laying the ground work for implementation of an innovation plan.

We now eagerly await the release of the 2030 Strategic Plan and the Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s report, which will hopefully provide details on turning vision into action. We will provide updates regarding the Plan and response as they are released.

An in-depth review of the various aspects outlined in the Science Statement can be found here.