NZCS backs software patent ban

The New Zealand Computer Society has written to the Minister of Commerce, Simon Power, in support of the planned removal of software from patentability. From the letter:

We are of the view that there are significant advantages and disadvantages to removing patentability of software, and there are a number of significant considerations and issues that need to be addressed. However on balance, the Commerce Select Committee’s recommendation is one we support.

The letter goes on to give good reasons for the position. It concludes:

NZCS represents a broad church of ICT professionals and no doubt some of our members have different views on software patents (as with all things). However … the evidence certainly appears clear that software patents are simply too potentially harmful to our sector, and in fact innovation in New Zealand, to support. … People should have the option of commercial exploitation of their creations, however we believe this protection is inherent and appropriate in Copyright.

The word “potentially” is important here. While it is easy to point to the odd success story that might be linked to a software patent, it is much harder to justify the potential harm. The NZCS can be commended for taking a balanced position on this subject. As it takes pains to point out, there certainly are some benefits in software patents, and few people would argue otherwise. However, there are greater disadvantages.

NZCS has also conducted a survey of its members, showing “around 97% support for NZCS taking a stand, and approximately 80% in favour of us supporting the Commerce Select Committee’s recommendation that software patents be removed.”

Meanwhile, another industry group NZICT has issued a press release expressing concern about the proposal. Unfortunately, the press release does not set out any evidence in support of its position. It also makes the extraordinary claim that “the software industry has not been consulted sufficiently on this change”, despite an extensive consultation process running for over eight years, including the first round of industry submissions on software patents reported in November 2002.