find the latest legal job
Corporate/Commercial Lawyers (2-5 years PAE)
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Specialist commercial law firm · Long-term career progression
View details
Graduate Lawyer / Up to 1.5 yr PAE Lawyer
Category: Personal Injury Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Mentoring Opportunity in Regional QLD · Personal Injury Law
View details
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Full time · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
WTO rolls big tobacco

WTO rolls big tobacco

Nicola Roxon

A leaked draft ruling has revealed that the World Trade Organisation is likely to uphold Australia’s plain packaging laws. Former attorney-general Nicola Roxon said the landmark decision is a win for the Australian public.

Bloomberg reported the leak on Thursday, citing two sources close to the situation. The WTO has not yet publicly announced the decision, but the sources said that the years-long legal battle has resulted in a finding that the plain packaging restrictions are a legitimate public health measure.

As attorney-general in the Gillard government, Ms Roxon was a major force behind the push for the adoption of plain packaging laws. She told Lawyers Weekly that the WTO’s decision affirmed the right of countries to take action on issues that affect the wellbeing of their citizens.

“I am absolutely thrilled with the reports that Australia has won its case in the WTO,” Ms Roxon said.

“It is consistent with what we have always known: that countries can take action in public health areas, especially battling tobacco, that help protect their citizens.

“Tobacco is a very dangerous and highly addictive product and I am extremely proud to have fought hard to limit its lethal impact on our community.”

While it is easy to appreciate the health agenda behind the decision, its implications for intellectual property law are more complex.

The WTO rejected the tobacco companies’ argument that the plain packaging laws were an infringement on their IP rights, which reflected a difficult intersection between government policy and IP, according to Gilbert + Tobin IP partner Michael Williams.

“This is a very tricky situation because it’s a collision between health objectives and IP laws,” Mr Williams said.

“From an IP point of view, the concern, leaving aside the position of the tobacco companies, is that this is one of the first examples where national laws are used to essentially extinguish or diminish IP brand rights.

“Brand owners are concerned that this might be the thin edge of the wedge.

“There are strong competing arguments on the health side to justify this result, if this is the result. But it becomes a little bit more problematic if there are other social objectives being pursued which perhaps don’t have such obvious, polarising issues like tobacco.”

According to Ms Roxon, the WTO’s decision will empower other countries to advocate against big tobacco for better health outcomes. 

“As a country we should be proud we have led the way internationally,” she said.

“This decision will give a green light to other countries who want to take action to tackle tobacco, but may have been frightened by threats of legal action and the WTO dispute that has dragged on for many years.”

Mr Williams highlighted, however, that the decision could have international implications beyond the tobacco industry.

“This [may] inspire governments around the world to perhaps pursue other policy objectives which are inconsistent with a strict interpretation of IP laws, and we could find that other aspects of IP law are watered down,” he said.

“So that’s a concern to lawyers and IP lawyers, because IP is a property right like any other property right.

“There will be a lot of people who are torn in their concerns about it: definitely legitimate concerns around the brand owners, at the same time as very legitimate concerns around health organisations, and a trade-off has to be found somewhere.”

Mr Williams predicted that IP laws will increasingly intersect with policy objectives and public opinion, necessitating a degree of give and take to reach the most favourable outcomes.

“Principle does tend, over time, to give way to particular incidences of social issues that need to be addressed,” he said.  

“So I think we’re going to see more of these intersections between different areas of law as competing policy and social objectives are being pursued by governments.”

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

WTO rolls big tobacco
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Scales of Justice
Dec 15 2017
Timing ‘critical’ in unusual contempt of court ruling
A recent case could have interesting implications for contempt of court rulings, according to a Ferr...
Dec 14 2017
International arbitration and business culture
Promoted by Maxwell Chambers. This article discusses the impact of international arbitration on t...
Papua New Guinea flag
Dec 14 2017
World-first mining case launched in PNG
Citizens of Papua New Guinea have launched landmark legal proceedings against the country’s govern...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...