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    When SAI Global goes private where does that leave Australian Standards?

    Nathan Johnson

    A private takeover of SAI Global could drastically affect the way our national standards for building and product compliance are published and accessed.

    Board members of the publicly-floated SAI Global recently agreed to a $1 billion takeover bid from Hong Kong’s Baring Private Equity Asia, taking away some of Standards Australia’s control over national standards in the process.

    Not-for-profit Standards Australia is responsible for the development and adoption of standards in Australia, but it hasn’t been solely responsible for publishing such standards since 2003 when it floated its commercial database arm, SAI Global on the Australian Stock Exchange.

    SAI Global still has a publishing licence agreement with Standards Australia until 2018, but the two organisations have been in a long-winded battle over the terms governing SAI Global’s right to publish national standards in digital formats.

    Standards Australia has rejected SAI Global’s claim that it has the right to publish in digital formats and says that nowhere in its licence agreement does it say it is restricted to any particular technology or publication format.

    But this isn’t to say that Standards Australia rejects the idea of providing access to digital standards. The company has been busy building a digital repository in a bid to provide a more efficient way to gather, develop and export content.

    The repository will also facilitate the exportation of content in multiple formats.

    PRIVATE TO THE RESCUE?

    The battle between SAI Global and Standards Australia has played out in the media and from last reports hasn’t come any sort of resolution, but the recent private takeover by Baring could well become the means to the end.

    “When SAI Global is under private ownership Standards Australia will have less leverage in its fight with the company,” says financial reporter Tony Boyd.

    “As long as it is a publicly-listed company the fight between the two parties has the potential to be blown out of proportion. Legal fights can hang over companies and colour the views of potential investors.”

    On the contrary, says Boyd, private equity is known to be more decisive when it comes to settling disputes.

    “Private equity is known for its patient capital. But it is also well known for its pragmatism when it comes to intractable disputes,” he says.

    THE GOOD AND THE BAD

    The relationship between Standards Australia and SAI Global has led to five separate causes for arbitration since 2007, including arguments over SAI Global’s publishing exclusivity as well as its alleged failure to pay royalties and update standards in a timely manner.

    Settling the publishing licence dispute has been publicly welcomed by both parties, but for whatever reason (by virtue of the contract between parties causes for disputes and arbitrations are confidential) they haven’t come to an agreement.

    The private takeover could put an end to the dispute but could take leverage away from Standards Australia in future disputes and reduce its ability to work in the public’s best interest. 

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