4.1 This chapter provides an overview of the international legal framework within which Australian patent law and practice operates, with reference to a number of international conventions that seek to harmonise procedural and substantive aspects of patent law.[1] The Terms of Reference specifically require the ALRC to have regard to Australia’s existing or proposed international obligations in relation to patent law and practice. In addition, the ALRC has a general legislative obligation to have regard to Australia’s international obligations in performing its functions.[2]

4.2 Elements of the international legal framework have an important influence on the reform of Australian patent law. Although it is possible for domestic laws to be amended so that they do not conform to Australia’s international treaty obligations, Australia may be held responsible on the international plane for breaches of such obligations. The ALRC would need the most compelling reasons to recommend any reform of patent law or practice that would raise doubts about Australia’s compliance with its international obligations.

4.3 In particular, reforms proposed by the ALRC may have implications for Australia’s obligations under multilateral agreements dealing with patents and other intellectual property laws, and under bilateral free trade agreements with other states, including the free trade agreement recently concluded with the United States.

[1] Aspects of the international legal framework relating to copyright are discussed in Ch 28.

[2]Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996 (Cth) s 24(2).