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3 Summary assessment

The review team considers that IP Australia is delivering on its core objectives but has the opportunity to become more strategic, effective, efficient and influential for the benefit of Australia.

To seize this opportunity, the agency will need to:

  1. Clarify its purpose and value proposition.
  2. Develop greater connection across the APS.
  3. Develop a more transparent, consistent and engaging approach to leadership.
  4. Make its systems and processes more robust and transparent.

Background

IP Australia maintains a dual role—its primary role as an IP rights regulator and its role as an IP policy adviser. As rights regulator, IP Australia over recent years has established a track record of examining IP rights within set timeframes and to defined quality standards. As a policy adviser, IP Australia has helped to deliver key policy outcomes through the revision of IP legislation and the provision of IP advice to inform whole-of-government policy positions, such as during free trade agreement negotiations.

Employees and external stakeholders frequently made positive comments to the review team regarding IP Australia’s high level of technical expertise on IP matters. External stakeholders noted that, when IP Australia has a seat at the table, it contributes its expertise in a useful manner both across government and in international forums, such as during WIPO meetings. International and domestic stakeholders acknowledged the contribution of IP Australia, which is seen as a ‘constructive multi-lateralist’, often able to bridge the gap in perspectives held by other countries.

Employees consistently commented to the review team that they generally enjoy working at IP Australia and appreciate the development opportunities the agency provides. The review team observed significant internal goodwill towards, and support for, the agency’s purpose. IP Australia’s leadership team has an opportunity to more fully harness employees’ intrinsic motivation thereby creating a more unified, cohesive and collaborative culture and unlocking latent innovative talent within the agency.

IP Australia is a leader within the APS in terms of flexible work arrangements. The agency has plans to continue to extend its use of such arrangements to help incentivise and retain high-performing employees, increase examination productivity and reduce accommodation overheads.

It is worth noting that while IP Australia’s financial arrangements have insulated it somewhat from the financial pressures experienced by most APS agencies, it has pursued its own internal efficiency agenda to reduce costs. IP Australia’s revenue is also exposed to the economic cycle.

In recent years, IP Australia has pursued a necessary change agenda across a broad range of business functions encompassing:

  • Streamlining and increasing the rigour of examination systems and processes, such as through implementing the Product Quality Review System, identifying opportunities to consolidate processes across the IP rights areas and planning a new integrated information and communications technology (ICT) system to support IP rights examination.
  • Strengthening relationships with customers and modernising service offerings, by increasing engagement with major customers through an Executive Visits program, and transitioning from a paper-based to a digital IP application process.
  • Developing greater internal policy capability, including through the establishment of its Office of the Chief Economist and efforts to improve data and reporting capability.

The agency will need to continue to focus on these areas of capability to fully realise its vision and potential.

The review team identified the following priority capability areas to be strengthened.

Clarifying IP Australia’s purpose and value proposition

IP Australia would benefit from more clearly articulating its value and role to stakeholders and mobilising the agency towards its vision: ‘Australia is a leading economy in the region supported by a world-class IP system that fosters innovation and promotes trade, investment and competitiveness.’

IP Australia can also more closely align its strategies to its vision. The agency has started to develop an evidence-based narrative of the role of IP in Australia and abroad. Continuation of this work is pivotal for the agency as it seeks to communicate the importance of IP and its impact on and potential for the Australian economy. This work will help the agency to develop stronger engagement on IP matters across the APS and with other relevant stakeholders, which the review team considers desirable.

Clarifying the value and cohesion of IP Australia’s dual roles of regulation and policy advice, how they complement each other, and allaying concerns over potential conflicts in these functions, will help to increase trust, transparency and understanding of the agency’s operations internally and externally.

Employees and external stakeholders had different perspectives on the composition of IP Australia’s customer base, with attorney firms, IP rights holders and the broader community all in the mix. The review team considers that IP Australia could legitimately regard all these stakeholders as customers. Developing a clear enterprise message of who are IP Australia’s customers, and how the agency serves them, will help maintain a consistent customer-focused culture.

Greater connection across the APS

IP Australia works closely with the Department of Industry and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and plays a technical, supporting role in policy discussions, particularly those involving trade matters. As with the Department of Industry’s desire, the review team considers that IP Australia could play a stronger policy role, notwithstanding its role as regulator, because of the very technical nature of IP rights work. This will require the agency to better develop connections across the APS and become more centrally involved in policy, as opposed to purely technical, discussions.

As IP Australia continues to grow in domestic and international importance, the agency will need to develop its connections across the APS so it can effectively contribute to and lead policy work in the specialist field of IP.

This will enable IP Australia to become a higher performing agency, with better connections within the Commonwealth Government and with its other stakeholders, in support of a national agenda to improve productivity. A challenge for IP Australia will be to further inform and engage the broader APS regarding the important role IP plays as a mechanism to control and commercialise knowledge, innovation and brand equity to support economic growth and productivity.

There are a number of benefits for IP Australia from developing greater connection across the APS. These include:

  • broadening employees’ experience through greater exposure to the broader public service environment
  • supporting employees’ movement between IP Australia and other APS agencies both as a career path and to share expertise
  • increasing IP Australia’s access to external policy and corporate expertise
  • gaining access to existing communication channels to deliver key messages about IP to relevant stakeholder and community groups.

More transparent, consistent and engaging leadership

IP Australia faces a significant challenge to unite the agency under the leadership of its SES and EL groups. At present, senior leadership groups do not have a shared and aligned commitment to lead the agency. Trust is missing between the leaders and the people they lead.

The agency has vertical siloes due to employees’ divergent perspectives regarding IP Australia’s purpose and strategy, and horizontal siloes between management levels. This has contributed to a lack of internal cohesion.

IP Australia’s challenge in this area is not unique. The review team heard that most IP regulators face a similar situation due to the technical and solitary nature of some examinations work. Many organisations face these challenges, especially those employing highly qualified employees who are well equipped to question leadership decisions. IP Australia needs to address these internal issues to increase its own cohesion and effectiveness and better achieve its strategic potential.

While IP Australia has effective recruitment and development programs in place, the agency would benefit from greater focus on strategic people leadership through an holistic people strategy. The development of such a strategy would assist the SES to refocus on the areas of people leadership that would provide the greatest value to the agency into the future. This includes addressing cultural challenges, strengthening leadership capability, assisting in the development of a more robust internal talent pipeline and improving the focus on performance and accountability, particularly differentiating performance and managing underperformance.

To free up leadership time to focus on addressing these challenges, the SES will need to refocus on strategic and people leadership while developing and empowering EL2 employees to take over much of the detailed management of the business, with appropriate exception reporting to manage risk.

Greater SES visibility, communication and engagement with employees will also help to develop more positive perceptions of a unified, open and supportive leadership cohort. In addition, the responsibility for leaders at all levels (SES, EL and APS) to drive organisational change and take responsibility for supporting enterprise matters needs to be strongly reinforced. This will help to ensure that leaders, especially at EL and APS levels, own and cascade important messages to their employees, take accountability for enterprise objectives and lead their people consistently.

More robust and transparent systems and processes

Feedback to the review team highlighted a number of productivity challenges and demotivating factors. These include the way the agency has managed change, particularly in implementing the quality review system. Further efforts by IP Australia to refine systems and processes in the short term (one to two years) may yield significant organisational benefits that increase employees’ motivation and help ensure broader support and acceptance for quality and productivity systems.

Greater communication of the rationale for setting examiner’s minimum performance expectations may help develop greater employee trust, understanding and ownership of this process. The agency may also wish to consider if individual minimum performance expectations are the best way to achieve optimal productivity, as opposed to team-based outputs.

While all employees believe a quality system is essential, there is a divergence of views around its practical operation. Many employees question whether the current system measures the most important aspects of quality or if, in some instances, it simply focuses on aspects that are easiest to measure. There is an opportunity to enhance the existing system to maximise its potential to serve the needs of the agency for high-quality decision making in support of robust IP rights, while building stronger employee understanding and commitment.

IP Australia’s governance arrangements, particularly those in the ICT area, appear complex and, in some cases, obscure accountability and impede effective decision making. A review of governance arrangements, with a view to ensuring that accountabilities and responsibilities are aligned, streamlined and performed at the most appropriate level, may increase productivity and free up SES time.

The review team also identified  ICT challenges that IP Australia could be addressing:

  • ensuring work is adequately scoped
  • ensuring benefits are adequately defined, maintained and realised
  • balancing ICT resources between development and maintenance to support short and medium-term productivity and return on investment.

In addressing these challenges, the agency should continue to explore ways to reduce the implementation timeframe for its essential Case Management program, currently scheduled for completion in five years. This will help deliver benefits earlier for this major program and reduce delivery risks posed by such a long implementation timeframe.