As moves to commercialise government-owned software gather pace, the question arises of how much intellectual property the state can call its own?
Among SOEs such as TVNZ, crown research institutes like Industrial Research, universities and large government departments, it’s sitting on an awful lot. But exactly how much isn’t likely to be known for some time, if ever.
The Audit Office checks the accounts of government agencies but isn’t required to aggregate IP assets, which are usually not separated out from intangibles in organisation balance sheets. And patents and copyrights and plant varieties being what they are, their value isn’t always immediately apparent especially in public-private joint ventures.
There appears to be no overarching policy mandate for departments to follow when assessing, tracking and commercialising IP, but a number of projects are under way. The Ministry of Economic Development has a role in formulating policy advice on IP law, which has some flow-on to management and commercialisation. Also involved are the grant-giving Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, which is busy working on IP guidelines for research contracts, Industry NZ and even NZ Trade and Enterprise, which offers IP commercialisation advice. The Crown Law Office plays an obvious role in copyright owned by the government. The State Services Commission would usually circulate any policy guidelines.
But individual departments are unlikely to be particularly proactive, if their counterparts across the Tasman are any example. Only 30% of the 74 government agencies surveyed by the Australian National Audit Office had a policy specifically addressing the management of intellectual property.
Australian Commonwealth intangible assets totalled $A6679 million in 2002 to 2003, compared to $A2284 million in 1996 to 1997. Of the more current figure, computer software comprised about half, $A3406 million.
The ANAO has recommended that all agencies work on their own IP policies and a whole-of-government approach to the management of IP be developed. Australian states largely take this approach already. Officials here expect a “multilayered” approach, and, like the ANAO report, no “one-size-fits-all” model.