Crown use of patents will be invoked by the federal government where it is necessary to allow local manufacturers to rapidly ramp up the production of essential medical equipment, the Department of Industry says.
Under the Patents Act, the government can exploit patented inventions and registered designs without the permission of the copyright owner if this is “necessary for the proper provision of those services within Australia”.
With this government help, Australian manufacturing businesses can more easily be repurposed to produce important medical equipment needed to combat the spread of COVID-19, even without the cooperation or permission of copyright holders.
The government has not yet invoked this power but would use it if necessary, an Industry department spokesperson said.
“Crown use is not a provision that has been invoked by the Australian government,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.
“Crown use is a rarely used safeguard and exists where terms cannot be agreed with a technology owner.”
“The government is working closely with technology and manufacturing companies to respond to the ongoing situation and Crown use is part of that landscape of options which are available to the government.”
Last month the Opposition called on the government to provide information on how this exploitation of patents could take place, and when it will do so.
“The government will need to detail how Crown use of patents may be invoked, particularly for use for repurposed manufacturing businesses, to address shortages of essential goods impacted by disrupted supply chains. This really is a very important matter,” shadow industry minister Brendan O’Connor said.
“With a high degree of uncertainty about the supply of certain goods and a potentially drawn-out disruption to supply chains, Labor publicly wants to raise this issue as a matter that should be properly considered.”
Crown use relates to patented inventions and registered designs, not copyright. It can be invoked by the federal government, along with state and territory governments. The IP holders would likely still receive compensation, but this would not be immediate during a time of emergency.
The Coalition has already taken a number of measures in an effort to rapidly ramp up local manufacturing of medical equipment to combat shortages.
Earlier this week the Therapeutic Goods Administration relaxed the restrictions around the production of hand sanitiser in Australia amid widespread shortages.
Under the rules, manufacturers will be able to proceed without approval from the organisation, so long as they are using recipes developed by the World Health Organisation.
Local manufacturers are now also allowed to use food grade alcohol to make the sanitiser, which is much cheaper and more readily available.
Another crucial medical resource that is in short supply is the face mask. A number of manufacturing firms around the country have received government support to scale up the manufacturing of medical face masks.
South Australian packaging manufacturer Detmold Group has signed a federal and state government agreement to produce 145 million surgical masks, which will see it employ an extra 160 staff.
Regional Victorian manufacturer Med-Con has also received support from the federal government and Australian Defence Force to increase production of necessary medical equipment.
Last month the Industry department also issued a request for information on the domestic production capabilities of medical personal protective equipment, including surgical gowns, gloves, goggles, hand sanitiser and clinical waste bag.
This was made to get an understanding of the current local manufacturing capability, not for procurement.