Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Strengthening economic relations

The Australian and New Zealand Governments are looking at stronger economic relations between the two countries. The Productivity Commissions of each country have been asked to conduct a joint study on the options for further reforms that would increase ecomomic integration and improve economic outcomes.

One of these reforms is the establishment of a Single Trans-Tasman Regulatory Framework for Patent Attorneys. I covered this in an earlier blog post.

The process kicked off with an issues paper released in April this year. The closing date for submissions was 31 May 2012. The New Zealand Institute of Patent Attorneys (NZIPA) made a submission.

The Trans-Tasman profession

Patent attorneys are one of the registered professions covered by the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997 (TTMRA). Any New Zealand patent attorney may register as an Australian patent attorney. Any Australian patent attorney may register as a New Zealand patent attorney.

There is no barrier to a New Zealand patent attorney providing a full range of services to an Australian resident client. There is no barrier to an Australian resident patent attorney providing a full range of services to a New Zealand resident client.

Clients prefer a local service provider

Members of our profession have had 10 years experience with TTMRA. We have found that a local service provider is almost always more attractive to a client because of the ease of engagement. We have seen only two attempts to build a fully integrated firm with offices in New Zealand and Australia. Both unsuccessful.

Further integration unlikely to bring great cost savings

The NZIPA observes that, since the enactment of the TTMRA, a New Zealand resident patent attorney acting for a New Zealand client is able to file patent applications in Australia without needing to engage an intermediary Australian resident patent attorney. The TTMRA has therefore brought about some cost savings. These cost savings are not substantial. The NZIPA states that further integration is not going to result in greater further savings.

Loss of local services

Individual patent attorneys have become a mobile commodity. New Zealand and Australian patent attorneys can already freely move to and practice in their country of choice. The overall result is a net migration of skilled patent attorneys from New Zealand to Australia. Clients prefer to deal with a local service provider. This means that the skills of these migrants are essentially unavailable to New Zealand enterprise.

The potential for the hollowing out of a local services industry in New Zealand is real.

Economic analysis

The NZIPA has conducted its own economic analysis with the help of the Bureau of Economic Research Limited (BERL). The BERL report covers the proposed establishment of a single regulatory framework, observing that:
'New Zealand has failed to undertake a substantive analysis of the effects of economic integration activities on the New Zealand patent attorney industry prior to commitment to harmonisation activities. It is the finding of the current study, that if care is not taken to structure relationships appropriately harmonisation will lead to a decline in the New Zealand patent attorney industry. New Zealand will lose a valuable resource in the innovation ecosystem, and a valuable opportunity to grow a local knowledge industry.

Patent attorney firms are key members of New Zealand's innovation ecosystem. New Zealand businesses find them valuable, and consider them at their best when they are in a close working relationship with the innovating business. The opportunity cost of losing such a valuable industry is unknown. No substantive research has been undertaken on the effects of the patent attorney industry on revenues derived from patenting activities and technologies commercialised and exported from New Zealand. We are blind to the implications'.
Further steps

The NZIPA believes that a well informed and appropriately structured integration could stimulate growth in the New Zealand patent attorney industry, ensuring that it continues to provide highly skilled and efficient services in the New Zealand economy. Such an approach requires research and detailed consultation with the industry in New Zealand.

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