In a bill passed earlier today, the Government of New Zealand announced that software in the country will no longer be patentable. New Zealand’s largest IT representative body, the Institute of IT Professionals, expressed relief and said the decision removed a major barrier to software-led innovation.
The policy was passed in a Supplementary Order Paper, which sets out proposed amendments to the existing Patents Bill. The order defines three basic principals.
(1) A computer program is not an invention and not a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act.
(2) Subsection (1) prevents anything from being an invention or a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such.
(3) A claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such if the actual contribution made by the alleged invention lies solely in it being a computer program.
In a post on The New Zealand Harald, Commerce Minister Craig Foss said that following industry consultation he had decided to remove the patentability of software from the Patents Bill, which is currently before Parliament. “These changes ensure the Bill is consistent with the intention of the Commerce Select Committee recommendation that computer programs should not be patentable,” he said.
According to Wikipedia, “Most countries place some limits on the patenting of invention involving software, but there is no legal definition of a software patent. For example, U.S. patent law excludes “abstract ideas”, and this has been used to refuse some patents involving software. In Europe, “computer programs as such” are excluded from patentability and European Patent Office policy is consequently that a program for a computer is not patentable if it does not have the potential to cause a “further technical effect” beyond the inherent technical interactions between hardware and software.”
In doing this, New Zealand is essentially taking the position that existing laws provides enough protection to software as it is; patents only serve to stifle innovation because of the ever-looming threat of being sued by so-called patent troll companies.
During its consideration of the bill, the committee received many submissions opposing the granting of patents for computer programs on the grounds it would stifle innovation and restrict competition. Internet New Zealand said Foss’ decision to amend the Patents Bill drew to a close “years of wrangling between software developers, ICT players and multinational heavyweights over the vexed issue of patentability of software”.
New Zealand’s biggest software exporter, Orion Health, also welcomed Foss’ decision. Chief executive Ian McCrae said obvious things were being patented under the current regime. “You might see a logical enhancement to your software, but you can’t do it because someone else has a patent. In general, software patents are counter-productive, often used obstructively and get in the way of innovation.”
Well done my Kiwi friends, well done indeed!