Patent claims can’t cover computer programs “as such.”
by Joe Mullin – Aug 29 2013, 5:50am AEST – Originally published: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/08/in-historic-vote-new-zealand-bans-software-patents/#!
A major new patent bill, passed in a 117-4 vote by New Zealand’s Parliament after five years of debate, has banned software patents.
The relevant clause of the patent bill actually states that a computer program is “not an invention.” Some have suggested that was a way to get around the wording of the TRIPS intellectual property treaty, which requires patents to be “available for any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology.”
Processes will still be patentable if the computer program is merely a way of implementing a patentable process. But patent claims that cover computer programs “as such” will not be allowed.
It seems there will be some leeway for computer programs directly tied to improved hardware. The bill includes the example of a better washing machine. Even if the improvements are implemented with a computer program, “the actual contribution is a new and improved way of operating a washing machine that gets clothes cleaner and uses less electricity,” so a patent could be awarded.
One Member of Parliament who was deeply involved in the debate, Clare Curran, quoted several heads of software firms complaining about how the patenting process allowed “obvious things” to get patented and that “in general software patents are counter-productive.” Curran quoted one developer as saying, “It’s near impossible for software to be developed without breaching some of the hundreds of thousands of patents granted around the world for obvious work.”
“These are the heavyweights of the new economy in software development,” said Curran. “These are the people that needed to be listened to, and thankfully, they were.”
The head of New Zealand’s Institute of IT Professionals, Paul Matthews, celebrated the passage of the bill, tweeting: “Software patents are now disallowed in New Zealand. #Historic #Awesome #Yay.” Matthews also noted that the new law will only apply to new patent applications, so existing software patents will continue to stand in New Zealand.
It’s an open question whether other countries will take up New Zealand’s example. An outright ban on software patents in the US seems unlikely given the large corporations—in tech and other sectors—that would oppose such a move. However, this year has been one of unprecedented concern about “patent trolls,” with six bills introduced in Congress addressing that issue in the last several months.