The seemingly innocuous topic of management of federal government software IP has raised its head in parliament with Labor accusing the government of putting nearly $4 billion of software at risk of being pirated.
Labor Senator Mark Bishop accused the government of being indifferent towards intellectual property leaving it vulnerable to theft or loss.
The claims follow a report by the Australian National Audit Office on the management of intellectual property in the Australian government sector, which highlights the need for an "overarching approach" to IP management among federal government agencies.
This year's report references one from 2003-2004 that noted there was no unified policy approach to the management of government IP and a "clear senior commitment to IP management" was of utmost importance to manage IP appropriately.
The previous audit found that although 61 percent of agencies rated IP as of medium or high importance to their operations only 30 per cent had developed policies or plans addressing the management of IP.
With the Attorney General's Department, Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts, Department of Finance, and IP Australia all expressing an interesting in developing a unified approach to IP management, the audit report stated after three years of agreeing this has not been achieved.
The value of intangible assets reported in the Commonwealth Consolidated Financial Statements was $7.7 billion for 2005-2006, including $3.8 billion worth of computer software assets, up from a few hundred million a decade ago.
"This damning report highlights Australia's vulnerability in protecting our IP assets against sophisticated and litigious firms," Bishop said. "Companies can currently place their own IP on such public assets, such as computer software, because the government has to date not been able to manage this process."
Bishop said agencies are often unaware of the IP they create and fail to see any benefit arising from owning such property.
"They need a whole-of-government approach and this government must accept responsibility for such IP management, otherwise we will see a 'brain-drain' through the back-door of expertise it has taken years to build," he said.
The auditor's report, which cost $324,000 to compile, was tabled in parliament late last week.
Parliament House's Joint Committee of Public Account and Audit (JCPAA) is investigating, and supports, the proposed concerted approach to IP management.
Some 18 months after the earlier report, the JCPAA expressed concern there had been little progress towards developing a whole-of-government approach to IP management.
The JCPAA recommended that the whole-of-government approach and guidance be completed by May 2006.
The federal Attorney General's Department was contacted for this story but was unable to respond before deadline.