Intellectual Property and International Trade

Intellectual property includes patents, trade marks, copyright and related rights, geographical indications, industrial designs, know-how and trade secrets. Intellectual property is an integral part of international trade, and its importance is increasing as the effective use of knowledge contributes ever more to national economic prosperity. The Australian Bureau of Statistics National Accounts for 2010-11 valued intellectual property in Australia at $182.5 billion. Trade in royalties for intellectual property for Australia in 2011 were $1.1 billion (exports) and $5.2 billion (imports).

As a trading nation with a strong research tradition and a need for access to new technologies, Australia has interests in the agreed international standards on the protection and exploitation of intellectual property rights.

Consequently, Australia protects those interests, notably in its work within the World Trade Organization (WTO) to promote the effective and balanced implementation and development of the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

The Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is responsible for the overall coordination of Australia's engagement with the WTO. Within OTN, the International Intellectual Property Section (IPS) has particular responsibility for intellectual property issues. Please contact us for any further information.


The World Trade Organization was established in 1995 at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, building on the earlier General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade system. The WTO, under the direction of its Member economies, administers a wide-ranging system of rules for international trade, aimed at liberalising and expanding trade under agreed and enforceable rules for reciprocal benefit. This system has led to significant benefits for Australian exporters, yielding improved market access and lower tariffs in many sectors.The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights [PDF] (TRIPS) is one of the set of agreements making up the integrated WTO system of trade rules.

What does TRIPS do?

TRIPS is intended to maximise the contribution of intellectual property systems to economic growth through trade and investment by:

TRIPS and WTO dispute settlement

TRIPS established a binding, transparent and rules based dispute settlement mechanism. The WTO Understanding on the Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes enforces the commitments made by WTO Members under TRIPS. The availability of a binding dispute settlement mechanism to enforce obligations under TRIPS helps to ensure that Australian exporters can continue to expand and diversify trading opportunities in intellectual property and value-added products.

DFAT's WTO Trade Law Branch has responsibility for managing and advising on all WTO Disputes.

See also general information on Australia's involvement more generally in WTO disputes.

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC)

The APEC Intellectual Property Experts' Group (IPEG), formed in 1995 under the auspices of APEC's Committee for Trade and Investment, plays a valuable supporting role in promoting efficient, TRIPS-consistent intellectual property protection among our APEC trading partners. Part of the TRIPS package is an undertaking by member economies to provide technical assistance for the implementation of TRIPS. Australia has supported the development of TRIPS-consistent intellectual property systems in developing countries in our region.

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)


Review of ACTA by Parliament

The ACTA text was tabled in Parliament on 21 November 2011 along with a National Interest Analysis and Consultation document.

Importantly, the National Interest Analysis states that the implementation of ACTA in Australia will not require any changes to existing Australian laws.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties conducted an inquiry into ACTA. On 27 June 2012 the Committee tabled its report. The Government tabled its response on 27 November 2012.

ACTA signing ceremony

On 1 October 2011, Trade Minister Craig Emerson signed ACTA on behalf of Australia at a ceremony in Tokyo, Japan. Seven other ACTA countries (Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States) also signed.

Participants in ACTA

Australia, Canada, the European Union (represented by the European Commission, and the European Union Presidency), Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States were participants in the ACTA negotiations.

Objectives of ACTA

The participants in ACTA intend to use the treaty to establish a new standard of intellectual property (IP) enforcement to combat the high levels of commercial-scale trade in counterfeit and pirated goods worldwide. Participants intend that ACTA improve IP enforcement by:

It is not intended that ACTA target individuals, the privacy of individuals or the property of individuals where those individuals are not engaged in commercial-scale trade in counterfeit and pirated goods.

The Australian approach to ACTA

It was important that Australian perspectives be reflected in the ACTA negotiations. Australia has a high quality IP system with an effective and balanced enforcement regime. Australia did not join ACTA to drive change in Australian laws.

Australia sought an enhanced, practical international standard on IP rights enforcement with broad international support, to complement the existing international IP architecture. Australia regards the extent to which ACTA can attract support from countries in our region as one important issue in determining the value of ACTA for Australia.

No new legislative measures will be required to implement obligations under ACTA in Australia.

Public information and consultations on ACTA

Australia consistently advocated the maximum possible transparency for the ACTA negotiations. During the negotiations, several versions of draft text were released to the public containing the various proposals put forward by parties.

Throughout the ACTA negotiations, DFAT led extensive whole-of-government consultations with stakeholders, and information sessions on the published ACTA text.

ACTA was first publicly announced by the United States on 23 October 2007. In November 2007, DFAT published an Australian discussion paper outlining the details of the proposed ACTA, its purpose in the international IP system and its likely impact on Australia. DFAT published the paper on its website, with a request for submissions on the merits of participating in negotiations. The majority of submissions received favoured Australia's participation in negotiations. Australia announced its decision to participate on 1 February 2008 and posted a media release on the homepage of the then Minister for Trade.

Further information about ACTA can be found in the ACTA Factsheet.

International intellectual property sites

For further information on intellectual property issues you may wish to consult the following sites:

Contact us

International Intellectual Property Section
Services and Intellectual Property Branch
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
R.G.Casey Building
Barton ACT 0221