ALRC’s views

18.69 Many of the problems facing the biotechnology industry, and possible reforms to address them, lie beyond the scope of this Inquiry. However, the ALRC considers that continuing current education programs, and developing further programs to address particular issues faced by the Australian biotechnology sector, may assist to improve the ability of Australian biotechnology firms to compete in the world market.

18.70 The ALRC recognises that considerable efforts are being made at both the federal and state levels to support the biotechnology industry, including the provision of information and training about intellectual property issues. These programs should continue, and should focus on providing companies with the specific skills and knowledge to deal with the issues raised by gene patents (Recommendation 18–1).

18.71 The ALRC considers that Biotechnology Australia, in conjunction with its member departments, is best placed to continue the development of education and support programs for the biotechnology industry. Biotechnology Australia has responsibility for managing the Australian Government’s non-regulatory biotechnology activities.[99] It also administers the National Biotechnology Strategy, which includes:

  • improving management of research, intellectual property and technology within established firms and new enterprises;

  • developing programs and systems to foster entrepreneurship;
  • monitoring emerging skill needs and developing appropriate responses;
  • promoting opportunities for research and industry groups to share experiences in intellectual property management from innovation through to commercialisation; and
  • identifying biotechnology intellectual property management needs of researchers, technology managers and other stakeholders and developing programs to address these needs.[100]

18.72 The success of the ALRC’s proposed programs rests in part on effective coordination with state and territory government initiatives directed at similar objectives. Biotechnology Australia is well placed to achieve this coordination as it has responsibility for maintaining cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories on biotechnology policies and activities.[101]

18.73 Success also rests on cooperation with the biotechnology industry to ensure the programs developed meet its needs. AusBiotech Ltd has indicated that it is willing to work in partnership with Biotechnology Australia to develop programs and provide support through: promotion and provision of information to its members; holding high-level workshops, forums and CEO roundtables; and utilising the high-level strategic ‘think tank’ capabilities of its advisory groups.[102]

18.74 The ALRC considers that AusBiotech Ltd, as the peak body representing the biotechnology industry, should be consulted by Biotechnology Australia when developing programs to assist industry.[103]

18.75 Solutions to some of the other concerns raised in this chapter are discussed elsewhere in this Report. Broader licensing issues, including support for skill development in relation to licensing negotiations, are discussed in Chapter 22. Compulsory and statutory licensing, as mechanisms for dealing with other licensing issues, are considered in Chapters 23 and 27 respectively.

18.76 Further, Recommendation 11–3 suggests that the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) should review their principles and guidelines to provide for conditions to be placed on research funding, in exceptional circumstances, where the public benefit would clearly be served by broad dissemination of the results of publicly funded research. These conditions may be used to promote the dissemination of research results by wide licensing, or by precluding patenting entirely. Chapter 12 recommends that, as part of this review, the ARC and NHMRC should ensure the public interest in encouraging commercial exploitation of inventions is balanced with the public interest in the wide dissemination of important research tools.[104] Some industry concerns about access to research tools may be met by this proposal.

18.77 In addition, the role of competition law in addressing patenting issues within the biotechnology sector is considered in Chapter 24. In that chapter the ALRC makes a number of recommendations directed at addressing anti-competitive behaviour in relation to intellectual property.

18.78 Taken together, these recommendations address suggestions that commercialisation guidelines are required in relation to restrictive and anti-competitive practices in the biotechnology industry.

Recommendation 18–1 Biotechnology Australia, in conjunction with its member departments, and in consultation with state and territory governments and other stakeholders, should:

  1. develop further programs to assist biotechnology companies in commercialising inventions involving genetic materials and technologies; and
  2. develop strategies to ensure widespread participation of biotechnology companies in these programs.

[99] Biotechnology Australia and Commonwealth Biotechnology Ministerial Council, Australian Biotechnology: A National Strategy (2000), 27.

[100] Ibid, 20, 24.

[101] Ibid, 27.

[102] AusBiotech Ltd, Submission P94, 16 April 2004.

[103] See also Ch 22.

[104] Rec 12–1.