Patents agency moves online in $3m deal

An Australian federal government agency is leaving the 'paper shuffle' behind to take its place in the online world.

IP Australia, the agency that grants rights in patents, trademarks and designs has contracted Objective Corporation for three years in a deal worth $3 million, to implement an electronic catalogue management system.

Dr Ian Heath, director general for IP Australia, said the agency operated purely on a paper system and was fast running out of warehouse space to store records.

"The view is that we should be able to receive applications online or be able to scan in the applications at the point of receipt, and then electronically store the file for life."

Heath said Objective was chosen for its backend processes, specifically for storage retrieval. The company has other contracts worth $15 million with several Australian federal government departments and agencies.

Heath said the agency will be implementing the system product by product. First off the rank is the new Innovation Patent, which comes into force at the end of May. These applications will be handled online, with the electronic filing system introduced at the same time.

"We are starting with the Innovation Patent as it is small and we will be able to test the software live. We don't expect a flood of applications."

Following the Innovation Patent, more standard patents will move online by the end of September, with designs and trademarks to follow.

Heath said he expects the transition of all products online within the three-year contract.

The new system will not create any integration issues with the agency's legacy systems as the only existing system, the patent's administrative system which tracked applications and held basic information about applications, will be replaced with the new system.

"There is the issue of what we will do with the data that pre-dates the new system, but we will probably just move this off the mainframe and onto a new database."

Paper applications will continue to run side-by-side with electronic files until 2002.

Heath said that, at this point all existing patent applications would be converted into an electronic format. He said trademark applications may continue to be accepted in the paper format for a while as the processing time is shorter.

As a security measure, Heath said the agency will issue service-side digital certificates to customers, adding that security options are yet to be finalised.

"Obviously security is an issue with online lodgement. We are aiming for our customers to be able to come online to see what step of the process their application has reached."

Heath said there was no question that the agency will gain a cost benefit from the system.

There would be a reduction on storage costs, the cost of handling the paper and a saving on processing time internally with some processes, such as a the statutory requirement of publishing new applications, automated, he said. However, due to certain statutory regulations, the application process will be no shorter for customers.

The system will result in big changes for the agency's 750 staff, but Heath said a lot of processing issues had already been worked through. The agency is also working with a reference group of external users on a B2B basis.

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