No Software Patents in New Zealand?

The revamped Patents Bill still has to pass more legislative hurdles to get through to law in New Zealand. But it has been through a very important period of review and public consultation. Parliament’s select committees are made up of MPs that represent all parties in the house. After this bill’s first reading it was the job of the Commerce Select Committee to review and consult on the proposed legislation.

They have completed that process and reported back to the house with their conclusions. This report contains several recommendations which, under normal circumstances, should make it into the legislation that is then passed into law.

A pdf version of the report is now available.

Here is how the MPs of all parties introduce their findings:

[the old act] has a low threshold for patentability compared with most other countries. This low threshold can lead to broader patent rights being granted in New Zealand than in other countries, which can disadvantage New Zealand businesses and consumers[...] This can discourage innovation and inhibit growth in productivity and exports.

Finally, some sense around the economic issues of “intellectual property”. But here is the real juice for the free and open source software community:

We recommend amending clause 15 to include computer programs mong inventions that may not be patented. We received many submissions concerning the patentability of of computer
programs. Under the Patents Act 1953 computer programs can be patented in New Zealand [...] Open source, or free, software has grown in popularity since the 1980s. Protecting software by patenting it is inconsistent with the open source model and its proponents oppose it. A number of submitters argue tha there is no “inventive step” in software development, as “new” software inevitably builds on existing software. They felt that computer software should be exluded from patent protection as software patents can stifle innovation and competition, and can be granted for trivial or existing techniques. In general we accept this position.

(My emphasis)

So, there you are. New Zealand MPs of all parties are to be congratulated on recognising, what to many, for many years, has been patently obvious. There are some members of that committee that paid particular attention to the detail of the debate, there were also lots of submissions made be patent lawyers in favour of patents. These MPs weighed up the arguments and came down against software patents. This is ground breaking and visionary. I congratulate our law makers today.

To all who took the time and effort to write submissions and who took the unique step of coming to Wellington and baking up those submissions orally…congratulations. Most of us in this community did so on our own time and covering our own expenses.

We now need to ensure that this recommendation actually makes into the redrafted legislation.

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