As many will be aware, Australia has a 2-tier patent system, providing for the more common Standard Patents (which provide protection for up to 20 years for inventions that are novel and inventive), and Innovation Patents (providing protection for up to 8 years for inventions that are novel and "innovative").
The most significant difference between the two patent types is that the threshold for an invention being "innovative" is much lower than that for an invention being "inventive" and in practice, Innovation Patents can provide protection for inventions that are essentially only novel over the prior art, even if they may be obvious.
As well as being used to protect more incremental inventions (which may nevertheless be very commercially valuable), Innovation Patents have been used as a tool in patent enforcement because, since they cannot be invalidated for lack of inventiveness, they are very robust patents and can be difficult to invalidate. Indeed, they have been described as the "strongest patent in the world".
After a review conducted by the Australian Government1, the decision was made to abolish the Innovation Patent system. This takes effect on 26 August 2021, from which date no new Innovation Patent applications can be filed. There is however, a quite generous transition phase, which still allows new Innovation Patent applications to be filed as divisional applications of a pending patent application, or converted from a pending patent application, provided that that pending patent application was filed before 26 August 2021. This means that the significant benefits of the Innovation Patent system can still be accessed for the next 8 years, until 26 August 2029, at which time all Innovation Patents will have expired.
This means that, should you wish to keep your options open to use the Innovation Patent System for the next 8 years, you must take certain steps to ensure that a Standard or Innovation Patent Application is filed before 26 August 2021. A number of different scenarios include:
a) pending Provisional Patent application in Australia: if you have a pending Australian Provisional Patent application whose 12-month period expires on or after 26 August 2021, you should consider filing an Australian Standard Patent application or Innovation Patent application before this date. The Provisional Patent application may still be used after that date as a priority basis for filing overseas patent applications before the expiry of the 12-month period as usual.
b) pending overseas patent application: If you have a first patent application filing for an invention in another country, and the 12-month period for claiming priority expires after 26 August 2021, you can consider filing an Australian Standard Patent application or an Innovation Patent application before this date.
c) invention in development: while filing a patent application too early is generally discouraged, and it may not be practical or in the best interests of your long-term protection strategy for an invention under development, consideration should be given to the potential value of keeping the option of obtaining an Innovation patent for your invention, or at least a part of your invention, by filing a Standard Patent application or Innovation Patent application before 26 August 2021.
So while the Innovation Patent system is soon coming to an end, early and appropriate planning can maximise your opportunities to still benefit from its many advantages for up to 8 years. If you would like to consider the options available to you, speak with your Patent Attorney soon.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.