Software Patent Exclusion to Stay

The Patent Bill currently before Parliament will implement the intent of the Commerce Select Committee by excluding software from patentable inventions. Craig Foss is reported to say "These changes ensure the Bill is consistent with the intention of the Commerce Select Committee recommendation that computer programs should not be patentable," in the NZHerald.

This new legislation will provide new certaintly for software developers, removing the risk that patent trolls will swoop in and destroy successfull IT companies. This legislation will encourage innovation within New Zealand by reducing the risks faced by software developers. It will also encourage software developers around the world to develop their software here.

The NZOSS was at the forefront of opposition to software patents, having formed in the same year that the first submissions on a review of the Patent Act were requested. Since 2003 the NZOSS has been involved in two patent oppositions involving software and XML word processing patents. The results were positive, significantly restricting the first patent and successfully opposing the second.

A significant number of submissions opposed software patents in the Patent Review, but initially the recommendation was that software patents would be permitted. The NZOSS challenged this position in 2005, giving a presentation before the Commerce Select Committee detailing its case against software patents.

We were not alone in our opposition to software patents. Major software companies such as Orion Health spoke out publically against software patents. The New Zealand Computer Society (since renamed Institute of IT Professionals) conducted a poll of members and determined that 80% of its members opposed software patents.

The Commerce Select Committee determined that there should be a exclusion of software. The Government decided to accept the decision of the Commerce Select Committee, which came as a surprise to interests who support patents. Despite lobby efforts by multinational computer companies with large patent portfolios the Government maintained its position.

Craig Foss originally accepted a new wording which added the term "as such" to the exclution. In Europe this had the effect of actually giving patent attourneys the opportunity to patent software against the intent of legislation.

Todays release clarifies the legislation to ensure that pure software inventions will be excluded, but permits the use of software in larger embedded applications such as washing machines.