25 October 2013

IP Australia Head, Philip Noonan, to Move On

Philip NoonanI have it on good authority (two independent sources, just like a proper journalist) that the Director General of IP Australia, Mr Philip Noonan, has made the decision to leave his post at the authority, possibly as soon as 13 November 2013.

Philip Noonan has been with IP Australia for nearly six years, having joined as Director General – replacing Dr Ian Heath – in January 2008.  According to his LinkedIn profile, he has Bachelor degrees in both law and science, which are ideal qualifications for patent law.  He is admitted to practice as a solicitor and barrister in Victoria, although I am unaware that he has ever done so.  Instead, he has pursued a career in public service.

From 1982 to 1998, Mr Noonan worked for the Attorney General’s Department, firstly as a Senior Legal Officer working in legal policy, and later as the Head of the Consumer Affairs Division.  At this point, there is a gap in his profile which I have been unable to fill with the assistance of Google, however for the three years immediately prior to his appointment at IP Australia he headed the Tourism Division in the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

A lot has been achieved at IP Australia in the past six years, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Mr Noonan would feel that his work there is done, and that it is time for a change and to let someone else take over!

Legacy…

People will have different views of the ‘Noonan legacy’, however there can be no question of the great changes that have taken place on his watch.  He has overseen a period of significant growth and modernisation at IP Australia.  In just the three years since I started this blog, I have reported (often favourably) on the following developments:
  1. the launch of a new corporate image and branding for IP Australia;
  2. a program of hiring and efficiency improvements which resulted in a 30% decrease in examination delays in the two years to March 2011;
  3. progress towards a single patent application process for Australia and New Zealand, and a single regulatory regime for patent attorneys in the two countries;
  4. the development, in conjunction with WIPO, the UK IPO and the Canadian IPO, of an electronic data-sharing tool to enable improved efficiencies in the three participating offices;
  5. a great leap forward in online data availability, including full-text patent searching and access to application file histories, through the AusPat service;
  6. the launch of a new, modern web site;
  7. a campaign to ‘clarify’ the law in relation to patenting of computer-implemented ‘business methods’, nearing its culmination with Full Federal Court appeals in both the Research Affiliates and RPL Central cases;
  8. huge advances in online service delivery; and
  9. the creation of a Chief Economist role at IP Australia.
However, the ‘jewel in the crown’, as it were, is undoubtedly the passage of the Raising the Bar reforms.  The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 achieved what efforts by two previous governments had failed to achieve – the substantial alignment of standards in the Australian patent law with those of our major trading partners, including the US and Europe.  Furthermore, in the end the most significant and extensive changes to Australian patent law since the commencement of the Patents Act 1990 passed through both houses of parliament with bipartisan support.

This was the culmination of a process that began a couple of years before Philip Noonan’s tenure at IP Australia, but the heavy lifting of consultations, drafting of legislation, more consultations, introduction of the Bill to parliament, passage of the laws, and more consultations and drafting of regulations, all occurred under his management.  As his Deputy, and Commissioner of Patents, Fatima Beattie said when I spoke with her earlier this year, ‘…for any change to succeed it requires the environment to be receptive to the change, and that sometimes requires time for various players to come on board.’  This can be no easy feat when the players include powerful people on all sides of politics!

What Next for IP Australia?

Obviously, IP Australia will need a new Director General, and it will be interesting to see whether the new government elects to appoint from within (in which case I would assume that Fatima Beattie would be the lead candidate), or from outside the organisation.

Personally, I would prefer to see a promotion within IP Australia.  IP law, policy and practice are complex areas, and while there is always a case to be made for bringing in ‘fresh blood’, anyone coming in from outside will require time to find their feet.  Currently there are ongoing projects that have momentum which would most likely be lost in the absence of continuity in management, to compound the recent change of government (the effects of which on IP Australia are still not clear).

In any event, I wish Philip Noonan all the best in whatever is next for him.  While not necessarily agreeing with all of the changes that have been implemented during his time as Director General, there is no question that overall he is leaving the Australian patent system in a better state than he found it.

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