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New Zealand to bar software patents, again

New legislation closes loophole, makes it plain Kiwis won't patent code

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The software patentability row in New Zealand, which broke out last August over the wording of new patent legislation, seems to have been settled with the release of new legislation by the government.

In a move that's been welcomed locally by the IT industry, the government has clarified the original intention of the legislation, that software alone should not be patentable.

Last year, a revision to the wording of the proposed patent law appeared to create a gap through which software patents could slip – via the words “as such”. While software “as such” didn't qualify for patents, a patent covering an invention including software (for example an embedded system) would cover the software in it.

That's the confusion the government has now moved to eliminate. Commerce Minister Craig Foss has popped out a In a note he says is based on UK case law and which explains the bill now includes a clarification Foss says will “ensure the Bill is consistent with the intention of the Commerce Select Committee recommendation that computer programs should not be patentable”.

The amendment to the bill is available here, with the key principle set out quite clearly: “A computer program is not an invention and not a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act.”

Even New Zealand's largest software exporter, Orion Health, has backed the move, telling the New Zealand Herald that software patents are counter-productive and “get in the way of innovation”. In particular, its CEO Ian McCrae said, “obvious” activities are patented as software and used to block competitors from introducing new features to their own software. ®

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