Software patent redux?

Reports are emerging that the proposed ban on software patents may be dropped. There are certainly a small number of organisations and lawyers who were most upset by the proposal – including NZICT, who apparently instigated the lobbying effort to reverse the change – although it appears to have received broad industry support.

It is too early to tell whether the reported comments of Ministry of Economic Development officials represent Government policy. If they do, it would represent a significant change from the Government’s earlier position as stated publicly by senior Ministers and MPs following the Select Committee report.

It would not be a major surprise, though, for the final bill to be substantially “tweaked”. The proposed exclusion came as a surprise to many, including some who had submitted in favour of it. The fact is there is not a large “anti-software patent vote”, and the Government is not going to upset too many people (relatively) over such an arcane technical issue. For those reasons, the proposal was always susceptible to lobbying.

The suggestion is that the ban might be scaled back to the lesser, “somewhat restricted” position of the European Union – the MED’s view being that if something is patentable in the EU it should be patentable here. There is merit in that suggestion, although in the US and the EU software patents are contentious and somewhat in flux themselves.

Whatever the final outcome is – banned, allowed, or restricted – it is hoped it will at least provide clarity for the market (and not just opporunities for lawyers!). Many of the alleged problems with the current system arise from uncertainty and loopholes. The new law is an opportunity to establish a clear framework for the future. It is also hoped that an explanation for any departure from the Select Committee’s unanimous report (if indeed that occurs) is provided.