New Zealand bans software patents

New Zealand bans software patents

Summary: The passage of a new patent law marks end of years of debate and lobbying.


New Zealand has finally passed a new Patents Bill that will effectively outlaw software patents after five years of debate, delay, and intense lobbying from multinational software vendors.

Aptly named Commerce Minister Craig Foss welcomed the modernisation of the patents law, saying it marked a "significant step towards driving innovation in New Zealand".

"By clarifying the definition of what can be patented, we are giving New Zealand businesses more flexibility to adapt and improve existing inventions, while continuing to protect genuine innovations," Foss said.

The nearly unanimous passage of the Bill was also greeted by Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) chief executive Paul Matthews, who congratulated Foss for listening to the IT industry and ensuring that software patents were excluded.

Matthews said it was a breakthrough day "where old law met modern technology and came out on the side of New Zealand's software innovators".

The Patents Bill was first drafted in 2008. In 2010, the Commerce Select Committee recommended a total ban on software patents. However, that stance was overturned with the introduction of a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) in August last year, where the removal of software patents was reversed.

An IITP poll of members at the time showed that 94 percent of those with a view were in favour of banning software patents.

"The patents system doesn't work for software, because it is almost impossible for genuine technology companies to create new software without breaching some of the hundreds of thousands of software patents that exist, often for very obvious work," Matthews said.

"Today's historic legislation will support our innovative technology industry, and sends a clear message to the rest of the world that New Zealand won't tolerate the vexatious practice of 'patent trolls'."

Related stories:

Topics: Patents, Software Development, New Zealand

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  • About time.

    Unfortunately, you don't report HOW it bans software patents.
    • How?

      I can tell you: no software patents will be issued or acknowledged.
      • That isn't "how".

        That is a "what".
        • Basically the courts won't recognize any software patents

          So you can write up all the papers you want, get any organization to approve them, but if your neighbor builds the same software there's nothing you can do about it.
          A Gray
          • "...builds the same software..."

            Not quite. "The same software" could be a copyright issue. The same technique within the same or different software could be a patent issue (in some jurisdictions, and according to the traditional understanding of what a patent is for).

            Personally, I'm not opposed to all software patents -- the problem is that they were/are being issued for software that is not non-obvious. Patents can't be issued for things that are routinely done, are obvious, or are among the next clear incremental developments from prior body of knowledge. Should only be for something unique and which others would not come up with by incremental steps from current software techniques -- should be only for truly revolutionary ways of doing something or doing something completely new.
          • Everything is obvious after someone has

            invented it.
          • Silly

            The arrangement of the guide on a DVR is patented. Please explain to me how putting channels down the left and times across the top of a grid was not obvious. Please explain how reducing the number of clicks to one for buying an item is not the obvious endpoint of the simplification process.

            I did some expert witness work for software patents and it was disgusting to see what was thought to be non-obvious.

          • On Software Patents

            Nobody would honestly argue against allowing someone to have exclusive benefit of their intellectual property for a certain period of time. That's what incentivizes people to create and invent new things; which is what patent and copyright laws are all about. And patent's are for material inventions, while copyrights are for non-tangible intellectual properties; like books and movies. But while like books and movies, computer code may exist in a transcribed, written form, it's still a non-tangible property, which is why it should not be covered by patent law.

            There are certain very basic concepts in programming that are equivalent to the basics of any language; and the language itself doesn't function well without them. You can't patent the English language because it was invented and developed by everyone speaking and writing it. But if you invent a computer language, then you have a right to profit from it and from other's using it to develop applications; which is why you deserve royalties from everyone's profiting from it. Hence, copyright laws.

            If you develop an application from scratch, and you can make a profit from it, then you deserve protection of that right to profit, at least for a time. How much of that application can someone copy and rebrand as exclusively their own is where the debate lies. A single line of code? A single function? 5%, 10%, 25% of the total? How much of The Hobbit could I copy for a new novel before violating the copyright?

            If I'm writing professionally and getting paid for it, the fair use concept says that I can copy a single line, or even a paragraph or two, and as long as I properly cite those parts, I don't have to fork over a portion of my profits. So that line of code, or even a function borrowed, but noted as being built originally by someone else, even if you don't know specifically who, ought to be fair use in programming; including something as simple as, "click once".

            On the other hand, taking the entire source code of Windows XP, changing just the heading and function names to something else, and then repackaging it as My Computer Portal and claiming the work to be original would be plagarizing Microsoft Windows XP. Which means it ought to be covered by copyright law, not patent law.
          • I would agree,

            But I am not a lawyer.. which is a good thing.. the lawyers don't care about what is right anyway, they don't care if there was any intent, any real infringement, they just care that if they bring a suit against someone, they get big bucks.. Like the ads on the TV.. "if you or anyone took the drug...".. class actions are lucrative. the victims don't get crap each.. but the lawyers get 33 to 66% of the total awards.
            And you thought the Mob/Mafia/Mafioso were ever bad guys.. lawyers make them look like legitimate business men.
            So back to the topic, they will sue over copyright infringement next instead of Patent.. they still get paid.
          • On this, I can agree. I've always thought

            copyright more appropriate to software since, in its fundamentals, it's a written work.
          • I'd argue it.

            "Nobody would honestly argue against allowing someone to have exclusive benefit of their intellectual property for a certain period of time. That's what incentivizes people to create and invent new things; which is what patent and copyright laws are all about."

            I'd argue it. I make software, and I make money from it. By SELLING it, not by getting into the tangled mess of patents. I'm not convinced by the idea that the only way to be innovative is by having a temporary monopoly.
          • someone will nick it.

            Any software you develop today, or parts of it, can and probably will become constituent parts of other software tomorrow.
            Time & effort is money.
            Are you making blocks for the copycat people out there to stick together into their own profitable products that compete against your own, effectively making you their slave for no income? Or are you applying YOUR skills to develop YOUR product & YOUR future product to earn YOUR income? Slave or skilled professional?
            The temporary monopoly on your work gives you the time to re-use it, enhance it, improve it and apply it in multiple new ways. YOU get to reap the full benefit of YOUR effort, knowledge & skill.
          • But patents also protect methods

            A story, like The Hobbit, is a thing. But it doesn't *do* anything. Software takes inputs generates outputs. That is, is *does* things. These things may be intangible (but not always, software can and often does affect real world things), but they are nevertheless *real* things. If I invent a new way to take a stream of bits representing a movie file and make that stream of bits much smaller while still preserving a pleasing video, then I have done something that most people, I think, would be more deserving of patent protection than copyright protection, because it isn't really what the lines of code I wrote actually say, it is what they *do* that is the invention.
            x I'm tc
          • Counterexample

            Say I also invent a program to compress video, without referencing or copying your code in any way. A vague patent would allow you to patent exactly what you said, "a way to take a stream of bits representing a movie file and make that stream of bits much smaller while still preserving a pleasing video". That means you can sue me to block and take profits from MY original program because it does the same thing yours does. You've patented the IDEA of compressing video and no one else can do it without violating your patent. That's why the system is busted.
            Han Rasmussen
    • Definitely about time.

      A writer can't patent a series of words and sentences created to achieve a specific result, so why are programmers allowed to patent a series of variables and operations to achieve a specific result? Patenting a few lines of code is just as crazy as patenting the sentence, "The night was dark and stormy." There is often one obvious way to arrive at a specific result. Being able to prevent others with the same idea from implementing their idea is ludicrous. It's all syntax arranged according to the rules of a language. What's next, patenting variable names and words? I'd like to patent the word, "The." That doesn't mean it makes any sense to allow me to do it.

      Congratulations to the New Zealanders for having the guts to say "no" to patent trolls and "yes" to common sense. Well done!
  • Hooray for common sense

    New Zealand shows the way forward.
    Alan Smithie
    • but

      It took me a while from first being aware of software patents a few years ago, and seeing 'ban software patents' on certain web sites. When I first saw that I hadn't thought about it and wasn't sure - was totally ignorant about it. So I'm not sure its quite common sense at first. Within a few years later, after following the actions of companies like apple, microsoft and patent trolls here and there I realized absolutely should be no software patents. Hopefully the US follows suit eventually.
      • Microsoft might even be happy about this...

        no more i4i, Uniloc, IOL SciTech...oh, and don't forget Google has been trolling lately with the patent portfolio they puchased formerly known as Motorola!
        • shut it troll

          google is one of the major promoters of banning software patents. yes they are using moto's patents to 'defend' themselves from the likes of apple and ms.. that's it... you don't see Google out their suing companies left and right for no reason like apple and ms...
          • Troll you say?

            Defend Google if you want, that's fine...legislation is passed, it affects ALL parties, not just those that someone doesn't like. Deal with it...Google is also being investigated world wide, or did you not realize that, oh genius one...I bow before your utter stupidity...congratulations, here's your sign.
            ZDNet Moderator