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Help Extend the Ban on Software Patents in New Zealand to Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Summary: Head of Microsoft New Zealand steps down, New Zealand permits software patenting only with the "device" trick, and Ben Sturmfels is working to marginalise software patents also in Australia

Last night we caught up with the latest news from IPONZ, the Intellectual Monopoly Office of New Zealand. Basically, software patents are not entirely dead in New Zealand, but the saga ended up a lot better than it initially appeared. And now an Australian petition has been created to replicate the achievement of software developers in New Zealand. As ITWire puts it, "FOSS dev launches petition against software patents":

Close on the heels of New Zealand declaring that software would not be patentable, a Melbourne free software advocate and developer has drafted a petition to press for the same to happen in Australia.

Melbourne developer Ben Sturmfels (below) is soliciting signatures for the petition which, he says, will be personally delivered to Senator Kim Carr, the minister for innovation, Industry, science and research in the current Labor government.

The petition has been launched at a time when the federal government is reviewing the scope of patent law and Sturmfels says it is the right time to push for abolition of software patents. It also comes at the start of a federal election campaign, with Australia going to the polls on August 21.

Last week, New Zealand announced that it would not be making any changes to its Patents Bill which is moving through parliament. Wellington has decided that inventions which have embedded software can be patented, a stance which was welcomed by the New Zealand Computer Society.

The New Zealand Computer Society (NZCS) did a fantastic job against foreign lobbyists (NZICT for example [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]). News items that we have not yet referenced in our coverage are:

i. Software patent about-face gets the thumbs-up

Commerce select committee chairwoman Lianne Dalziel has welcomed a Government change of heart on a controversial amendment to the Patents Bill.

But she warns guidelines that will be developed to accompany the bill could still frustrate the committee's recommendation on software patents.

Commerce Minister Simon Power says the bill, which says that computer programs are not a patentable invention, will proceed through Parliament unamended. The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ), part of the Economic Development Ministry, will develop guidelines to allow inventions that contain "embedded software" to be patented, in consultation with parties.

ii. Minister Announces No Software Patents

Minister of Commerce Simon Power today announced that further amendment to the Patent Bill is neither necessary nor desirable, and that the insertion of an exception for software would prevail. He has also asked IPONZ to formulate draft guidelines and seek the views of interested parties regarding patents involving embedded software.

The response to this news has been immediate. Paul Matthews of the New Zealand Computer Society writes "Despite what appears to be a big-budget lobbying effort by the pro-patent fraternity, Hon Simon Power announced today that he wouldn't be modifying the proposed Patents Bill hence software will be unpatentable once the Bill passes into law."

iii. Software Patents Bill clause will not be altered

iv. Minister announces way forward for software patent

v. Software patent guidelines on IPONZ agenda

Guidelines rather than a law change will be used to allow inventions that contain embedded software to be patented, Commerce Minister Simon Power says.

The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) would develop the guidelines once the Patents Bill passed.

Mr Power said a further amendment to that bill was not needed.

When the commerce committee reported the bill back to Parliament in March it recommended that computer programs not be a patentable invention after submitters raised concerns that would stifle innovation and restrict competition.

vi. New Zealand sticks to anti-software patent guns

vii. New Zealand says no to software patents

New Zealand has decided not to make any modifications to its patents bill and this means that software will not be patentable in the country.

viii. New Zealand law to render software 'unpatentable'

ix. New Zealand Kills Software Patents

x. New Zealand to make software unpatentable

xi. New Zealand bans software patents

New Zealand is passing a law which makes most software unpatentable. The only exception, added yesterday in an amendment, is to allow patents on inventions that contain embedded software.

xii. NZ government makes software 'unpatentable' (for now)

While mulling the bill the committee was inundated with submissions from people opposing the granting of patents for computer programs. They complained that such a move could "stifle innovation and restrict competition," said the NZ government.

xiii. New Zealand To Dump Software Patents Afterall (But Will Allow 'Embedded Software' Patents)

It looks like those reports of NZ politicians backing down may have been a bit premature. Chirag Mehta points us to the news that, despite the lobbying effort, it's been announced that the patent bill will not be changed, thus basic software will remain unpatentable. However, the details suggest that embeddable software can be patented, and there are some concerns that the "guidelines" (yet to be developed) for such embeddable software will be used by some to sneak in standard software patents.

Still, it's good to see New Zealand realizing that basic software patents can be harmful. It sounds like a big help was the fact that the two biggest New Zealand software companies both came out against software patents certainly helped. Orion Health noted that patents generally are "counter-productive" and "are often used obstructively." The company also noted that the " best protection is to innovate and innovate fast." Exactly. Meanwhile, Jade said: "We believe the patent process is onerous, not suited to the software industry, and challenges our investment in innovation."

xiv . Official: Software will be unpatentable in NZ

Yesterday Minister of Commerce Simon Power instructed the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to develop guidelines to allow inventions that contain embedded software to be patented.

xv. Software patent ban moves closer in New Zealand

It's not been a happy time for anti-software patent campaigners recently - with bad news coming in from both the United States, in the form of the Bilski...

xvi. The software patent controversy explained

New Zealand's parliamentary Commerce Committee had recommended that software not be patentable. Last week the country's Commerce Minister Simon Power announced that he'd make no further changes to the Patents Bill. That means no software patents, although inventions that contain software would still be patentable.

One can reasonably suspect that the Managing Director of Microsoft New Zealand is leaving the place partly due to backlash relating to software patents. Microsoft was part of the push for software patents in New Zealand. According to this report, there is agreement that Microsoft had issues locally (many of which we covered).

Ackhurst relinquishes from the shores following a three year period in the top position, which has witnessed some reverses for Microsoft and unsettled times for the local ICT industry as a whole.

Here is where he is heading:

Kevin Ackhurst, Managing Director of Microsoft New Zealand, will be moving to Singapore to take up the position of VP Sales and Marketing for Microsoft.

Sales and marketing. It figures. Nothing technical whatsoever, just like most software patents proponents.

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