12 May 2011

Patentology Newsbytes – 11 May 2011

A semi-regular round-up of breaking news, current events and brief comments.


Australian Federal Budget Spares Medical Research – Parliamentary Library Releases ‘Gene Patents’ Bill Digest – Qatar Becomes 143rd PCT Contracting State – Microsoft Buys Skype for US$8.5bn, While Shareholders Scratch Heads


Last month we reported on the rumours that the Australian federal government was looking to slash as much as A$400 million from the budget for medical research funding over the next three years, and the incredibly well-orchestrated campaign launched by the research fraternity to oppose any such cuts (see Budget Cuts Threaten Australian Medical Research Funding and Update on Campaign Against Medical Research Funding Cuts).

The 2011/12 Federal Budget was handed down last night, and we were very pleased to see that the government saw sense in the end, and recognised that it might just as well have cut off its nose to spite its face, as cut spending on medical research.  It has been estimated that every dollar spent on medical research returns at least five dollars in national economic development.  With a return on investment of that magnitude, we are much better off as a nation borrowing the money to fund research than we would be taking it away to pay off existing debt (which is what the government wants to do, by returning the budget to surplus in 2012).

The Discoveries Need Dollars campaign has issued a media release on the budget announcement.



For each Bill that is introduced for debate in the Australian Parliament, the Parliamentary Library produces a ‘Bill Digest’, which is a document summarising the background to the proposed legislation, its purpose, structure, and other surrounding issues.  Bill digests exist primarily for the benefit of Members of Parliament who need to inform themselves prior to debate and voting in the Chambers.

As the disclaimer at the end of each digest points out:

Bills Digests are prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament. They are produced under time and resource constraints and aim to be available in time for debate in the Chambers. The views expressed in Bills Digests do not reflect an official position of the Australian Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Nonetheless, we were interested to note the release of the Bill Digest for the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010.  We have written extensively on the subject matter of this Bill, and its progress, and do not intend to repeat any of that material here (see various previous articles tagged Genetic technologies.)

The Bill Digest is available for download from the Parliamentary Library website (PDF).

The Digest attempts to cover all of the major issues, from both sides of the debate, and takes into account the submissions to the Senate Enquiry into the Bill.  It is impossible not to notice, however, that in the final summary of arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ the Bill (on page 27), the counter-arguments are more numerous.  Ultimately, of course, it is a matter of ‘weight’ rather than simply ‘numbers’.



An email announcement from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) reminds us that:

Qatar (QA) became the 143rd PCT Contracting State on 3 May 2011. The PCT will enter into force for that State on 3 August 2011. Further information will be published in the May issue of the PCT Newsletter and in a WIPO Update.

So let us all welcome Qatar to the club!  In case you are wondering where to go for the reception, we are providing a helpful map.



While not really a patent story (although Microsoft obviously owns a lot of patents, and makes regular appearances in litigation) we were interested to see the news of Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype for US$8.5bn.  One thing that struck us was the fact that the equivalent Australian dollar figure quoted in the local news was so much lower than the US dollar number – A$7.8bn.  We can still recall that only a few years ago the local currency threatened to fall below US$0.50!

Reaction to this news has been mixed.  It has been reported that the other bidders fro Skype were Facebook and Google, and that Microsoft paid twice what either of the competing suitors were willing to offer.  The amount to be paid by Microsoft is around three times the value of the company when it was last sold (by eBay), in 2009.  On one view, Microsoft has paid far too much for a company that is struggling to turn a profit.  On another, the synergies with Microsoft’s existing businesses more than justify the price.  Just imagine if, at the click of a button, you could video-call a friend or business associate direct from Outlook, as easily as you could reply to their email…

To read more:
  1. get an Australian perspective on the head-scratching from The Age newspaper; or
  2. check out the reaction from the Wall Street Journal blog.


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