The recent Trading Ideas Symposium in Sydney brought together leading figures in Intellectual Property (IP) policy development from around the world. Tackling issues such as IP piracy and counterfeiting and dealing with the global patent backlogs were among the main topics discussed at a range of practical, interactive sessions and a roundtable meeting.

Organized by IP Australia and the Australian Attorney-General's Department, the Trading Ideas Symposium provided a forum for robust debate between speakers from the Asia-Pacific and other important global IP centers.

Dealing with IP piracy and counterfeiting in the APEC region was a topic of broad discussion with proactive education, business planning and consumer understanding as essential ingredients to overcoming the problem.

Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States' Patent and Trademark Office, Mr. Jon Dudas, highlighted the harm that piracy and counterfeiting are inflicting upon the future of innovation.

"Every issue comes down to one question, whether or not people are serious about long term innovation or short-term gain," Mr. Dudas said to the panel and around 500 delegates at the symposium.

"Counterfeiting and piracy is very much a short term gain, you may make money by stealing but in the long term it won't work."

These were sentiments supported by Time Warner's Asia-Pacific Senior Vice President for International Relations and Public Policy, Mr. Hugh Stephens.

"I hope the average consumer cares about IP and that they show respect for the products that they wish to consume," Mr. Stephens said.

"Because if consumers who buy DVDs and other products don't care about IP, it is they who will lose out in the long run as that cannot continue forever."

As a company at the forefront of dealing with the threat piracy poses to the bottom line, Mr. Stephens provided an overview of some of the business strategies employed by Time Warner to deal with piracy. "A big challenge is distribution," he said in relation to operations in some markets in Asia.

"I think we have signed up all of the reputable and legitimate distributors. Now the other challenge is to get into that next chain of distribution, the 'Mom and Pop' stores, where inevitably there will be some legitimate products and some pirated products sold.

Mr. Stephens said the ultimate goal was to convert these businesses so that they sell legal merchandise because, he said at the end of the day they perform an important function in the local market.

"Our aim is not to put them out of business but to convert them to sell legitimate products."

Successful strategies for dealing with counterfeiting and piracy were proposed, including initiatives aimed at assisting law enforcement officials to deal with the issue at a local level. However, speakers acknowledged that much remains to be done and that governments and the private sector would need to work closely together to raise awareness of the public about the impacts of buying counterfeit or pirated goods.

The large and ever-growing global backlog of patent applications was another issue that led to debate. The issue became particularly interesting when Andrew Christie from the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA) made a suggestion that has been floated in the past that is for the broader adoption of an existing Australian system as an option to reduce backlogs at the global level.

Mr. Christie suggested that as only a very small number of patents are ever commercially successful, the backlog could be reduced through the adoption of the Australian system used for utility models or second-tier patents. Under this system, patent applications are not examined unless an applicant wishes to enforce the patent or if third parties believe that the patent is not valid.

The President-Elect of the European Patent Office, Ms. Alison Brimelow, responded that the idea had "intrinsic rationality" in that it is a model that people are already using, though there would be those who might hold strong reservations. "There are as many opponents to the idea as there are proponents and anxieties about uncertainties in the marketplace that come to the fore," she said to the roundtable discussion on the final day of the symposium.

"Whether we will go that way in Europe I am not clear. While I can see some of the disadvantages, I would be most reluctant to react with alarm when there might be evidence around that this is a rational way forward, so I am agnostic at the moment and open to persuasion."

United States Undersecretary Jon Dudas expressed interest in further exploring the potential of the suggestion that was already being discussed in the United States. "I would say it is absolutely an option, but an option with costs, both substantive and political," he said. "It is something that we are discussing as part of our strategic planning."

However the Deputy Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Dr. Francis Gurry also raised the point that such a system might draw into question the value of an asset if the relevant patent has not been fully examined.

"What does it do to the financial value of your asset if you haven't had an objective assessment by an independent authority that it is valid," Dr. Gurry said posing the question to the panel. "How does that affect a company's capacity to go forward, particularly a start-up with that asset?"

In response Ms. Brimelow, raised the question of what the backlogs also mean for the value of assets waiting for examination. "We are looking at the world and we've got queues of patents waiting for anybody just to open the dossier," she said. "What does that do to the value of an asset?

Ms. Brimelow urged stakeholders in the IP environment not to lose sight that making applicants wait for a great number of months is not doing anything to enhance the value of assets. "What this does do is enable a lot of people to play what I call rich man's poker," she said and presented a scenario; "My stack of 500 pending is probably as good as your stack of 600 pending, so shall we do a deal."

Importantly, the debate on patent backlogs indicated a strong sense that economies in the APEC region are willing to explore work-sharing options to reduce waiting times for patent grant, which will ultimately lead to reductions in transaction costs for businesses trading in the region.

The three day symposium was attended by policy planners, business executives, inventors and attorneys from around the APEC region and was formally opened by Australia's Attorney-General, the Honorable Phillip Ruddock.

The success of the symposium has fueled interest in holding a second Trading Ideas Symposium in another APEC Member Economy in the coming years. Selected transcripts are available at www.tradingideas.org.