Australia's $5.1 billion Collins-class submarines are closer to being fully operational after the Federal Court ruled a propeller could be sent to the United States Navy for modification. The Swedish designer Kockums launched legal action to stop the Commonwealth from delivering the propeller, claiming it was in breach of its copyright and was disclosing confidential design secrets without the company's permission.
While recognising Kockums' ownership of copyright and intellectual property rights of the submarines, Justice Murray Wilcox yesterday said the experience of the US in guarding the secrecy of classified information meant there was only a "remote" possibility the company's design secrets would be leaked to potential competitors.
The propeller is due to arrive in Norfolk, Virginia, later this month, and will be returned to Australia within 12 months. The director-general of the submarines branch of the Department of Defence, Commodore Paul Greenfield, said the US Navy would repair a noise problem in the propeller - something Kockums was unable to do.
A spokeswoman for Kockums' executive vice-president of the submarine division, Mr Gunnar Ohlund, said the company was disappointed with the decision, but pleased the court had confirmed their view that they owned the intellectual property rights of the submarines.