The legal changes that will affect your business in 2013

feature-gavel-200There’s a whole raft of new legislation and regulations that were passed just before Christmas or during 2012 that are coming into effect early this year.

Failing to know the law is no excuse in Australia, but busy entrepreneurs don’t have time to keep abreast of every change in the law that could impact on their business. So SmartCompany has spoken to some of the top legal experts in their field to compile a list of the changes you need to know about.

Legal changes that will affect your business brand and patents

Patent, trademark and copyright law are all areas which can affect the name and branding of your business, along with any patents. These areas are all changing thanks to the “Raising the Bar” reforms to Australia’s intellectual property law which were passed last year but come into force on April 15 this year.

Richard Hoad, partner at law firm Clayton Utz, told SmartCompany the reforms raise the hurdles for obtaining a patent.

“Whether an invention claimed in a patent meets the ‘inventive step’ requirement will be assessed against the ‘common general knowledge’ throughout the world rather than just in Australia, as is presently the case,” he says.

“Businesses which have patent applications pending should obtain advice about whether they can request examination of those applications before April 15, 2013.”

Also from April 15, businesses which are concerned their activities may infringe someone else’s patent will have a more powerful right to clear a pathway by seeking an order from a court that their activities do not infringe the patent.

Hoad says the reforms also allow additional damages for trademark infringement which allow intellectual property owners to be compensated beyond actual loss suffered as a result of any infringement.

“This will be particularly useful where the trademark owner finds it difficult to prove actual loss,”  he says.

Stephen Stern, partner at law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, says the Raising the Bar reforms will “dramatically streamline” the process by which disputes can be resolved at the trademark office level.

He says at the moment the opposition process means disputes can take two or three years to resolve.

Stern says the government is also cracking down on counterfeit products, which is welcome news for legitimate importers.

“In the anti-counterfeiting area, the government is changing the laws dealing with customs making seizures of products at the border, it will make it more difficult for people to import counterfeits,” he says.

Legal changes that will affect dealing with employees

The Fair Work Act underwent a review last year and Rachel Drew, workplace relations partner at TressCox Lawyers, says there were a lot of recommendations which came out of that review.

“The most substantial recommendation put into place is the change of name of Fair Work Australia, which from January 1, 2013 is now the Fair Work Commission,” Drew says.

There was also an increase to the maximum penalty amounts for contraventions of the Fair Work Act and Fair Work Regulations and now a breach by an individual can result in a penalty of $10,200 up from $6,600.

The time limit for lodging an unfair dismissal claim has been extended from 14 to 21 days from the date the dismissal takes effect and the time limit for lodging a general protections claim based on dismissal has been reduced from 60 to 21 days.

Drew warns more changes are afoot as well under the Workplace Gender Equality Act which was passed on November 22, 2012 with the majority of changes start on April 1, 2013, and then further changes on April 1, 2014.

For the reporting period April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, employers should comply with the old reporting requirements, but must comply with the new reporting requirements from April 1, 2013.

“From March 1, 2013 there will be reporting obligations for employers with more than 100 employees, and once reports are made the authority will send back recommendations and there will be minimum standards the employer will have to meet,” Drew says.

“The standards will be things like having equity and diversity policies and having a policy of looking at female applicants.”

Finally, working dads and partners (including same-sex partners) could be entitled to Dad and Partner Pay for children born or adopted on or after January 1.

This is up to two weeks’ pay at the national minimum wage and the payments are made by the government directly.

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