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University of Sydney victorious in complex copyright case

A tale of secret recipes and corporate betrayal

Sydney law courts in queens square The Queens Square Law Courts on Macquarie Street where the dispute was heard.

After half a decade in court and over $1 million spent in legal costs, the University of Sydney has emerged victorious in its intellectual property dispute with ObjectiVision.

In a lengthy 209 page judgment handed down on Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Court vindicated the University’s position and ordered ObjectiVision to pay the University’s costs.

Legal disputes between ObjectiVision and the University first emerged in 2013 after ambitions to commercialise a new glaucoma-testing product using new scientific techniques collapsed.

The product was known as AccuMap and its associated software was patented by the University’s Save Sight Institute — a part of the Medical School — back in 1999. That year, ObjectiVision was born. Its mission: to make AccuMap a commercially viable product under an agreement with the University. To this end, the University gave ObjectiVision exclusive rights over AccuMap.

But, these lofty commercial ambitions began to falter in 2008 when ObjectiVision failed to meet performance standards and make certain payments to the University as required under the agreement. Then it ran out of funds and ceased work on AccuMap.

In response, the University — which had a 1.91% shareholding in the company — told ObjectiVision it would terminate its exclusive rights and ask another company, Visionsearch, to work on developing the technology instead.

A flurry of lawsuit threats followed before things escalated to the Federal Court, where the case quickly became a cause célèbre in the legal profession, thanks to the involvement of several heavyweight law firms.

The University lawyered up, retaining top-tier law advisors King and Wood Mallesons and a retinue of top silks. Its case alleged that ObjectiVision was infringing its patented technology and that its termination of ObjectiVision’s exclusive rights was valid.

ObjectiVision denied this and alleged that by engaging Visionsearch, the University had infringed its copyright of the AccuMap technology.

ObjectiVision also claimed that the University had plagiarised a key software code so it could produce a similar software which it then provided to Visionsearch.

The Court ultimately agreed with the University, resolving all of these claims, but not before half a decade of courtroom skirmishing took its toll. Last year, ObjectiVision paid the University $21,525 for delays that had pushed back the trial.

An official University spokesperson told Honi that it was “pleased with the outcome of the proceedings” but declined to comment further on associated costs.

The University’s expenditure on the ObjectiVision lawsuit alone surpasses its total legal costs in more than twenty cases concluded in 2018 and 2017.

Close to $326,000 was spent on legal proceedings which concluded in 2018.

Of that, up to $110,000 went to a legal matter in the Federal Circuit Court, according to data obtained by Honi under freedom of information legislation.