10 May 2013

Software patents are (mostly) history - in New Zealand

The New Zealand Government has passed a new amendment which will prevent software from being patentable in order to support software innovation and development. The move has been widely supported by the IT industry in NZ, as developing new software is near impossible without breaching one of the thousands of software patents awarded around the world. But the road has not been easy; developing this amendment has taken time and consideration of many different options. The US model – where there are no limits to your rights to patent just about anything – was precisely what NZ wanted to avoid, while changes to laws made by the EU have proved convoluted and are unable to affect change. Worldwide, there were no models which NZ felt completely met their needs. The model that NZ will now use is an attempt to be clear – through use of examples particularly – that software on its own will not be considered an invention, with the only exception being ‘embedded software’ – software that exists within a washing machine, for example. The key comment is that “the mere execution of a method within a computer does not allow the method to be patented.” So where does Australia weigh in on this argument, and what are our current laws? In 1991, the Federal Court granted a patent to IBM when they submitted their ‘curve generation process’ for eligibility. Software patents have been lawful and granted since this time. Although there is currently lobbying throughout the country for the laws to be changed, the Australian government has no plans to modify these laws.