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IP Australia commissioned the Centre for Transformative Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology to assess the impact of past policy changes and whether Australia’s design rights system is providing incentives for Australians to invest in design. Using financial records from over 1 million Australian firms between 2001–02 and 2016–17 and an in-depth survey of 50,000 Australian firms, the study covers all active Australian firms.

Firms in design rights-intensive industries spend nearly 50 per cent more on research and development (R&D) than the average Australian firm, are more labour-intensive and are more active in global value chains, as they have high exports and material costs relative to their contribution to economic growth. There are 45 design rights-intensive industries in Australia. Most—31 of the 45—are in manufacturing and nine are in wholesale trade. These wholesale trade firms possibly carry out the design in Australia and contract others to manufacture or assemble the final products.

Researchers assessed whether past policy changes around design rights contributed to a framework that supports entrepreneurship and economic growth. They found no conclusive evidence that major changes made by the Designs Act 2003 affected either demand for design rights or productivity in Australian firms. Key changes in 2004 included a reduction in the term of protection for designs by six years and the loss of unregistered protection (under copyright) for two-dimensional designs. Neither change affected productivity or the level of design rights use, including in the textile, clothing and footwear industry, which is said to have depended on unregistered protection for designs. The introduction in 2013 of a streamlined court process for resolving design disputes also had no clear impact on the economy.

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IP Australia Economic Research Paper 9