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The Kiwis Reject Software Patents

In New Zealand, a major battle is almost won for those who want to see an end to software patenting.  Today the NZ Commerce Minister Simon Power announced that the Patents Bill in Parliament would not be modified despite lobbying efforts from the pro-patent opposition.  This bill, if it passes, will make software unpatentable in New Zealand.

Paul Matthews of the New Zealand Computer Society seems convinced that the NZ Parliament will pass the Patents Bill into law, which would add NZ to a short list of countries that completely reject software patents.  Matthews believes that software patents represent a great risk to the innovation from smaller NZ-based software companies.  The emergence of patent trolls, particularly in the US, has had a chilling effect on worldwide programming innovation.

Two NZ-based software producing companies, Orion Healthcare and Jade Corporation, came to the defense of the Patent Bill when Simon Power's support was wavering.  Together these two companies represent about 50% of New Zealand's software exports, according to Matthews.  Jade Corporation explained why they had stopped applying for software patents years ago and Orion's Ian McCrae added: "We are a software company. Our best protection is to innovate and innovate fast."

In the US, Matthews believes there is also some progress to be seen.  The recent Supreme Court decision on the Bilski case confirmed the unpatentability of abstract ideas, which may set a precedent for extinguishing pure software patents.  Already a huge backlog of software patent applications have been rejected as a direct result of Bilski.

New Zealand's Patents Bill will not block the patenting of non-abstract inventions with a software component, so the minister has instructed the Intellectual Property Office to develop guidelines for these particular patents.  There's still work to be done by anti-software patent parties because without strong guidelines, a potential loophole may develop that allows stealth software patents.  

Matthews said, "We believe this is a win for innovative New Zealand software companies who will now have a reduced, albeit still present, risk when creating innovative software."
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