A Patent that covers a software "invention".

An excellent example of why SoftwarePatents are bad is found in the Thoughts Are Free! document under the Patents on software are just as wrong as expanding the patent system to literature heading.

Another quote from noone other than BillGates, in his Challenges and Strategy memo from 1991:

If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.

He goes on:

The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can.

Take that as you may.

SoftwarePatents are granted in the US and the EU. They're not actually currently legal in the EU, but the European council is pushing for unlimited patentability of software. The draft of the legislation has been ratified, but has not been formally accepted.

Software Patents and New Zealand

Current Situation - The Law

The NewZealand Ministry of Economic Development has an online "info-sheet" with a summary about Patent Protection.

The following extract seems highly relevant to this discussion:

In New Zealand the two main criteria for the granting of a patent are:
  • It is new: An invention is considered to be new if a description of the invention has not been published in New Zealand before the filing date of the application. No notice is taken of information published outside New Zealand but not publicly available within New Zealand.
  • It is a "manner of new manufacture": This has been interpreted by the Courts to exclude such things as "products of nature", mathematical operations, bare principles, mathematical algorithms, schemes or plans and methods of medical treatment of humans.

On the face of it (to a layman), that seems to disallow the granting of patents for an "invention" implemented solely in software.

You can search the patent database at the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (cookies required).

Current practices/implementation

While the wording above seems to rule out software patents being awarded in New Zealand, there have been a number of patents awarded that could cause concern for software developers and users in New Zealand.

The most notable are:

Microsoft and XML

Microsoft were awarded New Zealand patent 525484, filed in April 2003. This patent appears to cover the use of an XML Schema created by Microsoft.

See and

Microsoft then offer a "royalty-free" licence for use of the patented XML format, although the licence is (perhaps deliberately) incompatible with many Free software licences.

DE Technologies

New Zealand patent number 505284 was granted in January 2002. It is entitled "Universal shopping center for international operation".

A quote under the heading "Technical Field" from the first page of the patent:

[...] In particular, the present invention is directed to the facilitation of international purchasing of goods over the internet/intranet, addressing all aspects of such transactions.

A site formed to prevent the patent from being enforced in New Zealand.

Media Coverage:

Perhaps the above examples of bad patents are just that... patents that got through because the patent examiner thought "it looked technical enough" or something. Maybe these would be invalidated by a court if contested.

See also

Part of CategoryLegalese