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Patents Bill petitioner demands action

Patents Bill may come up in the Parliament today

The movement against software patents will be ramping up its campaign, trying to encourage a more active political stance in support of the Patents Bill as it currently stands, with its clause stating simply "a computer program is not a patentable invention".

Action is urgent, says Dave Lane, organiser of the 'No Software Patents in NZ' petition. Parliament is due to start sitting on January 29 and the Bill is currently eighth on the order paper. This means that after its debate by the committee of the whole House, it could reach the third reading stage in the first week of Parliament this year.

Two Supplementary Order Papers are expected to form part of the debate, one under the name of Patents Bill sponsor Craig Foss, seeking to change the provision by inserting the much-debated phrase "as such" after "program". Opponents say this will very much weaken the provision, allowing many undesirable software patents in. The other SoP, from Clare Curran, essentially retains the uncompromising stance of the Bill as drafted by the Commerce Select Committee.

Lane doubts assurances from the government side of the House that the "as such" rewording has not been influenced by overseas interests and a need to curry favour to ensure swift signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement.

Lane says politicians and public-service officials are "not standing up for New Zealand's interests", and stronger political statements are needed to redirect them along the right path. He intends to organise an initiative to approach signatories to this end.

The petition had attracted 1194 signatures as of January 22. Many signatories have appended detailed statements in support of their position: "Software patents make it almost impossible to write software without fear of infringing someone else's patent," says Graham Harris of Telecom. "The result will be that writing software commercially will become restricted to global companies with pockets deep enough to buy off patent infringement suits."

"Any time the [phrase] 'as such' is used it is going to be left open to interpretation, and should not be used in any legal document," says Dan Barnett of PC Computer Consultants.

Ray Mihaere, board member of cloud software developer the Clear Foundation says "government support of NZ" evidenced by the stance against software patent was the reason Clear moved its headquarters to NZ. "More innovative companies will come as the financial situation and patent vultures impede their viability and growth and so NZ has the ability to attract the next emerging Silicon Valley if it plays its cards right," he writes by his signature on the petition.

The petition is still open (at http://no.softwarepatents.org.nz) says Lane.

Not everyone in the IT industry is against the new wording of the Patent Bill. NZICT has come out in support of the changes.

"The amended law is in line with the position advocated by NZICT, and will provide greater certainty and an easier path to export markets for innovators with more consistent rules and expectations around intellectual property settings," said NZICT CEO Candace Kinser in a press release in August last year.

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