02 Feb 2013
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Tim Berners-Lee sparks new thoughts on Open Standards whilst 'Anti-software patents in NZ' campaign continues

By Alistair Ross

This week saw the Inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee come to New Zealand to talk about Open Standards. His talk was streamed live throughout NZ and was seen by many influential NZ ICT mainstays which was a fortunate thing, since his speech was on one important topic: The need for a continued Open Internet.

Sir Tim, who is well-known for having one of the fastest brains in the industry talked at his usual million-mile-an-hour rate, which caused those unfamiliar to Sir Tim's public presentations to query if there was something wrong with the stream!  Never the less, Sir Tim brought the message home to NZ that 'net neutrality, open standards and data freedom are things that should be high on NZ's agenda if it is to look at leading a frontier for electronic business in the 21st century, which when asked, Sir Tim believes is a definite possibility, given New Zealand's size (allowing it the flexibility to change its posture on open standards at will).

In other related news, Dave Lane, organiser of the 'No Software Patents in NZ' petition is growing a steady following after the second reading of the NZ Patents Bill was debated in Parliament this week. Matt Adams, a partner of ANZ IP law firm, AJ Park stated:

"During the Select Committee process the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) prepared a Supplementary Report to the Commerce Select Committee on the issue of the patentability of computer programs. The report recommended an exclusion from patent protection for computer programs, "the wording of the exclusion being similar to, or the same as, the exclusion for computer programs contained in the EPC and the UK Patents Act."

This would mean that if passed at a third reading, possibly later this year, NZ would look to align its self to that of the EU. However, all is not clear: the new bill, section 10A (1) states that computer programs are exempt from being 'inventions' and thus being patented. All parties are agreed with this declaration but the following subsection (2):  'Subsection (1) prevents anything from being an invention for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such'. It is this last amendment to the wording ('as such') that grates with petitioners like Lane, who points out that this weakens the strength of the entire clause. The wording was amended in September last year by Commerce minister, Craig Foss.

Whilst it would appear that the NZ Government is making headway to modernising patent law, what started out as a clause to remedy the plight of NZ business for the good of the country, left unchanged, these two small words could quickly erode any good the reforms seek to make regarding software patents. The only potential profiteers being large corporations involved in patent litigation to stifle competition and innovation, those of which mainly exist outside of New Zealand.

Further reading: http://nzoss.org.nz/content/no-software-patents-petition

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