New Zealand passes law banning software patents

New Zealand has taken the momentous step to ban software patents after a piece of legislation five years in the making passed a parliamentary vote.

The legislation, which passed with a vote of 117 to four, contains a clause that states a computer program is “not an invention” and that software can no longer be patented under the terms of the new legislation.

“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,” read part of the Patents Bill.

The bill was first drafted in 2008 and in 2010 the Commerce Select Committee recommended a complete ban on software patents. The Drum report that even then the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) found that 94 per cent of their members were in favour of banning software patents.

Craig Foss was one of the driving forces behind the bill and he stated that it was a “significant step towards driving innovation in New Zealand”.

IITP chief executive Paul Matthews congratulated Foss on the bill and added that it was a significant victory against patent trolls.

"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. 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’,” Matthews stated.

The new legislation only affects new patent applications being made in the country and any current software patent is still subject to previous legislation.

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