No software patents for New Zealand

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No software patents for New Zealand

Compromise found.

The New Zealand parliament has rejected controversial software patents in a new law aimed at modernising the country's intellectual property statutes.

First drafted in 2008, the Patents Bill passed its third reading in Parliament as the chamber voted for the new law in its current state. All in all, the new patent law has taken ten years to pass through Parliament.

The chief executive of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals, formerly the New Zealand Computer Society, Paul Matthews, told iTnews the new law had taken many turns over the years with new ministers coming in.

"In 2010, software was excluded from being patentable, but the new minister Craig Foss sought to clarify this which is why [the bill] ended up with the infamous 'as such' wording as per Europe, which has been a loophole there," Matthews said.

Matthews believes the NZ law will be closely watched by other countries considering the suitability of software patents which have led to billion dollar legal actions overseas.

"The banning of software patents is a victory for common sense," Matthews said.

The New Zealand Technology Industry Association, which represents multinationals such as Microsoft and its local partners, also welcomed the new Patents Law.

NZTIA said the new law allows NZ innovators to patent in all fields of technology without discrimination, saying it will make litigation even less likely than it is today.

However, NZTIA called the ban on software patents "a fly in the ointment". 

“There are aspects of the US patent system that we would not want here, but software patents are not the issue,” said Matt Adams of intellectual property lawyers AJ Park.

Adams said that the US has jury trials for patent disputes, triple damages for wilful infringement, and “overly strong protections for dodgy patents” once they are granted.

The chief executive of NZTIA Candace Kinser said there was no evidence to substantiate fears of wilful and frivolous court cases against New Zealand inventors.

A compromise position was found by Minister Foss, so that an invention that improves the operation of a machine could be patentable, irrespective of software being involved. However, a common business process implemented in software won't be patentable.

New Zealand's new patent law will come into effect in August 2014.

Australia has had software patents since 1991 and attempts to overturn them have so far failed.

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