09 April 2018

Designs and the Hague Agreement

IP Australia has released an economic analysis of the costs and benefits to Australia of joining the Hague Agreement Concerning the Registration of Industrial Designs.

The report states
The report assesses the impacts with reference to the Productivity Commission’s (PC) guiding principles of effectiveness, efficiency, adaptability and accountability. This report is intended to form part of the evidence base in relation to whether Australia should join the Hague Agreement. In addition to feedback on this report, we are seeking feedback on any unquantified impacts, not limited to those acknowledged in the report, and welcome case studies and any experience users of the Hague system, or applicants for design overseas have had. Joining the Hague Agreement would enable Australian designers easier access to international markets by allowing them to file a single design application to gain protection in 68 countries and regions. Joining would also require Australia to increase its maximum term of protection for designs from 10 to 15 years, at a minimum. Both the former Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) and the PC considered that a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted before the Australian Government decides whether to join the Hague Agreement. In their final report, the PC urged caution - advising a “wait and be convinced” approach.
Under the proposed methodology, it appears that the economic costs to Australia of joining the Hague Agreement outweigh the benefits. The net benefits to Australian applicants are outweighed by significant net costs to Australian consumers (with IP professionals and the Australian Government being subject to smaller net costs). Some costs and benefits are not as easily assessed, and were not quantified in the current analysis, but could affect the net outcome over time. The objective of providing a fertile ground for innovators that is adequately balanced with costs to consumers is an issue requiring careful and ongoing calibration. Realistically, these costs and benefits might only be assessed and quantified at a later date should Australia join the Hague Agreement. Furthermore, we acknowledge that there may be additional evidence gathered in the future which will necessitate further analysis of the potential impacts.
The results are driven by the fact that non-residents currently file almost three times more designs into Australia than resident Australians file abroad, and non-residents maintain these registrations longer on average. Based on the cost-benefit methodology adopted in this report, joining the Hague Agreement could increase this disparity. The report takes account of the fact that accession to the Hague Agreement should also make it easier for Australian residents to file abroad into multiple jurisdictions. The methodology tries to forecast the impact on Australia based on the experience of other Hague accession countries, taking the most positive and negative experiences of other accession countries and using these as the upper and lower bound of what might occur if Australia joined the Hague Agreement.
ACIP concluded that “a significant uplift in international usage would support Australia joining” the Hague Agreement. Despite the United States of America, Japan, and Republic of Korea recently joining, less than 10 per cent of global non-resident design applications were filed through the Hague Agreement in 2016. A number of countries are expected to join in the future, including the People’s Republic of China, Canada and Thailand. These accessions will impact upon any future cost-benefit analysis and may make it more beneficial for Australia to join. This report notes that under certain circumstances, Australian applicants can file design applications through the Hague Agreement already, despite Australia not being a signatory. This pathway is available to Australian applicants that have a residence or an establishment in a member country. Increased awareness of this existing avenue may hold additional benefits to Australia and designers alike.
The report argues -
Net cost to Australia of joining the Hague Agreement at present 
The net present cost to Australia is estimated to be between approximately $25 million and $124 million over ten years, with $61 million being the best estimate. Ten year impacts by stakeholder group are:
  • Australian designers: a potential net benefit of approximately $0.03 million to $6 million, with a best estimate of $1.7 million. This is due to increased savings on international applications and increased profits from taking new designs overseas. 
  • Australian consumers: a net cost of approximately $23 million to $114 million, with a best estimate of $58 million. This is due to income flowing overseas from Australian consumers paying higher prices to non-resident designers over a longer term of design protection. 
  • Australian IP professionals: impacts estimated as between a benefit of approximately $0.3 million and a cost of $12 million, with the best estimate being a cost of $2.5 million. Australian IP professionals will receive some extra business from non-residents at the examination stage, but will likely lose more business at the filing stage as non-residents go through the Hague system. 
  • Australian Government: a net cost of approximately $2.3 to $3.4 million, with a best estimate of $2.8 million. This is due to Information Technology system changes that will be required to process applications filed via the Hague Agreement. 
It concludes
We estimate there is a net cost to Australia of joining the Hague Agreement (see Tables 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3 in Appendix 4).
• The most optimistic show an annual net cost starting at just under $1m in the accession year, growing to an annual net cost of $2.5m in the tenth year. The cost over 10 years would be $25.5m in net present value terms under an average 10% annual discount rate.
• The best case show an annual net cost starting at $2.2m in the accession year, growing to an annual cost of $7.1m in the tenth year. The cost over 10 years would be $61.5m in net present value terms.
• The worst show an annual net cost starting at $3.9m in the accession year, and growing to $17.3 m in the tenth year. The cost (over 10 years) would be $123m in net present value terms.
The costs outweigh the benefits, presently
Both ACIP and the PC recommended that Australia should take a “wait and be convinced” approach to joining the Hague Agreement. Most Hague member countries considered similar to Australia) have more incoming registered designs than they do outgoing registered designs, so the benefits to using the Hague system to go overseas are small. While there are some savings to Australian applicants filing overseas, the costs to Australian consumers of the extension of term from 10 to 15 years are estimated to outweigh these benefits by a significant margin under all scenarios.
While we note that some benefits could not be quantified, we also note that there are also costs (for example, social welfare costs) that we have been unable to quantify. We particularly welcome feedback on this aspect.
Applying the PC’s suggested framework for assessing IP policy changes (effective, efficient, adaptable and accountable) we have been unable to find compelling evidence that joining the Hague Agreement would be a net benefit to Australia at the present moment.
We have been unable to find reliable evidence that a longer term of protection would be effective in stimulating additional design innovation. We have found that the efficiency benefits to Australians going overseas are outweighed by the negative income flows (and possibly also the economic inefficiency due to the unquantified social welfare costs) arising from the longer monopoly period. Locking Australia into the Hague Agreement would limit our ability to adapt our IP system in the future. And the above analysis is accountable because it seeks to provide a transparent evidentiary basis to inform a decision to join the Hague Agreement.
8.2 The Hague Agreement landscape will change
A number of countries will join the Hague Agreement in the near future, including China, Canada and Thailand.
The size of the Chinese economy and the volume of its design applications make it a candidate for a country whose accession to the Hague Agreement could represent a ‘tipping point’ that could substantially increase global usage of the Hague system. While China is by far the largest filer of designs globally, China is also Australia’s largest trading partner. Easier access for Australian designers to this significant market, facilitated by the Hague system, might tip the balance for Australia to the point where we had more outgoing applications than incoming applications, which would increase the benefits and reduce the costs to Australia of joining the Hague Agreement.
Canada’s accession is unlikely to be a tipping point in the same way as China. However, their experience could provide a valuable comparison for Australia to re-evaluate the cost and benefits in the future. Canada is similar to Australia in size and population; has a resource-dependent economy; and has a similar legal system. More importantly, Canada, like Australia, would also be moving from a 10 to 15 year design term in order to accede. Canada is set to join the Hague Agreement no earlier than 2018 based on public accounts. We are not aware of any detailed cost benefit analysis performed by Canada. Information from Canada’s experience, once they have joined, would be extremely valuable to assessing the costs and benefits to Australia.
Thailand has previously indicated its intention to join the Hague Agreement in 2015. While that timetable has been delayed, it may be expected to join at some point in the near future. Again, Thailand may provide a useful comparison for Australia when it joins: it is one of the few countries that will have to move from a 10 to 15 year term and is closely linked to many of the same regional markets as Australia.