Last week a new law was passed in New Zealand banning software patents. It is hoped the new law will help revive the country’s fledging technology industry, in which growth has slowed dramatically in recent years.
The legislation, which passed with a vote of 117 to 4, states in one clause that a computer program is “not an invention.” As such, software can no longer be patented under the terms of the new law.
Protecting software by patenting is inconsistent with the open source model, and its proponents oppose it. A number of submitters argued that there is no “inventive step” in software development, as “new” software invariably builds on existing software. They felt that computer software should be excluded 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.
Part of the Patents Bill, which can be read in full here.
Commerce Minister Craig Foss welcomed the new changes, saying they represented 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 new legislation, which was first drafted five years ago, has been met positively by the tech industry. Patents are widely viewed in tech as being counter-productive when concerned with software development, stifling innovation instead of promoting it. A number of bodies representing the New Zealand IT industry, including the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP), NZRise, and the New Zealand Open Source Society, have argued that it is near impossible for developers to create software without infringing on already existing software patents, and have welcomed the new legislation with open arms.
Paul Mathews, chief executive of the IITP, believes the new patent laws will help bring new developers to New Zealand, and help stimulate growth in an industry he believes was “on the brink of explosion”:
“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’.”