Ever wonder what the tech landscape might look like if companies could pursue application development without pesky patents getting in the way? Well, we may not have to wonder anymore, merely look to New Zealand as an example, since it just passed a bill giving software patents the heave-ho.
The policy was passed by the Government of New Zealand via a Supplementary Order Paper (.pdf) amending its Patents Bill. The Institute of IT Professionals, the country’s largest representative IT group, is thrilled. The organization believes the order will clear away one of software innovation’s biggest obstacles.
The bill covers three fundamental amendments:
(1) A computer program is not an invention and not a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act.
(2) Subsection (1) prevents anything from being an invention or a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such.
(3) A claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such if the actual contribution made by the alleged invention lies solely in it being a computer program.
Software patents present a sticky situation, partly because there’s no strict, universal legal definition for what constitutes software. As a result, they wind up being these hazy, amorphous entities in the eyes of patent law, which — in many places, like the U.S. — excludes “abstract ideas.” The European Patent Office’s policy states that a computer program is unpatentable unless it causes a “’further technical effect’ beyond the inherent technical interactions between hardware and software.”
In New Zealand, the new measure should help beat back patent trolls and nip lawsuits over vague concepts. This is the primary purpose of the amendment, which essentially comes out and “declare[s] that software is simply not an invention in the first place,” notes Christopher Mims at Quartz.
“Further complicating matters, New Zealand’s amended law will still allow for the patenting of software when it is part of a novel piece of hardware. So, for example, software that does nothing but process legal documents while running on “conventional” hardware is not patentable. But the software that allows a clothes washing machine to clean clothes in a new way is patentable.”
What’s your take on this? Are you in favor of software patents, or do you think the industry would benefit if they were nixed? Weigh in.