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NZ government makes software 'unpatentable' (for now)

Future guidelines to address embedded code

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The New Zealand government has decided to push through the country's contentious new Patent Bill without making any amendments to it, thereby making software "unpatentable".

However, NZ's commerce minister Simon Power noted that the country's Intellectual Property Office would draft new guidelines once the Bill has passed the final stages in Parliament.

The rulebook will eventually allow inventions that contain embedded software to be patented, he said.

"IPONZ will formulate draft guidelines and seek the views of interested parties," said Power.

"My decision follows a meeting with the chair of the Commerce Committee where it was agreed that a further amendment to the bill is neither necessary nor desirable."

In March, the NZ Commerce Committee recommended that computer programs should not be a patentable invention.

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.

At the same time, it agreed with Power's office that "companies investing in inventions involving 'embedded' computer programs should be able to obtain patent protection for these inventions".

New Zealand's Computer Society (NZCS) group cautiously welcomed the move.

"We believe this is a win for innovative New Zealand software companies who will now have a reduced, albeit still present, risk when creating innovative software," said the outfit's Paul Matthews in a blog post today.

"The matter isn't over yet in New Zealand, of course. The next issue will be in ensuring that the guidelines to be developed protecting embedded systems (ie non-abstract inventions with a software component) are strong enough to remove the possibility of software patents by stealth, and NZCS will maintain a very close watching brief on this." ®

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