THE NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT has passed a major piece of legislation that bans software patents by a 117 to four vote, following five long years of parliamentary debate.
The language that implements the prohibition of software patents specifies that a computer program "is not an invention", and therefore software is not eligible to be patented under the Act. It further states that a patent claim "relates to a computer program as such if the actual contribution of the alleged invention lies solely in it being a computer program".
Apparently processes in general will still be patentable subject matter if they happen to meet the relevant patent criteria for processes, but computer programs that don't implement a patentable process won't be patentable "as such".
This implies that hardware will still be patentable even if it includes a computer that runs software, but the mere fact that a piece of software code runs on a general purpose computer won't be enough to see it awarded a patent.
New Zealand MP Clare Curran, who was involved in the patents debate, said that the heads of software firms complained that "obvious things" were being granted software patents and that "in general software patents are counter-productive".
Commerce minister Craig Foss hailed the passage of the bill and said it was a "significant step towards driving innovation in New Zealand".
The legislation will affect only new patent applications going forward, so existing software patents in New Zealand will remain in force. µ