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Ministry discussions stall Patents Bill

Busy legislative programme also blamed for delay in passing Patents Bill and related Supplementary Order Paper

The Patents Bill continues to languish in the lower reaches of Parliament's Order Paper.

The Bill and related Supplementary Order Papers are still under discussion with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Sponsoring minister Craig Foss and Opposition ICT spokesperson Clare Curran have put up contending SOPs on the clause relating to the patentability of software and these will be brought before the next committee stage of the Bill, which precedes its third and final reading.

"Officials are still in discussions relating to the SOP I tabled late last year," Foss says. "As you would expect," he says, those discussions involve "all interested parties". International interests keen on preserving the patentability of software are rumoured to have been involved.

The Bill, as reported back from the Select Committee last year contained the simple statement "a computer program is not a patentable invention".

Foss's current SOP adds that the exclusion applies "only to the extent that a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such." This is criticised by the Opposition as being unclear and opening a route for software patents.

Curran's SOP seeks to retain the original wording as far as possible, adding that the exclusion "does not prevent an invention that makes use of an embedded computer program from being patentable".

"The contentious 'as such' amendment is likely to be the reason for the delay in bringing the Bill back to the House," Curran says. "Labour waits with keen interest to see what the government will do. The outcome is firmly in the government's hands.

"Labour remains committed to the unanimous view of the 2010 select committee which resolve to exclude software from being patentable.

"That decision was made with the interests of New Zealand's software industry which is increasing in importance," she says. "New Zealand innovation must be encouraged and enabled if we are to grow our economy through weightless exports."

Foss blames the delay to the Bill partly on government's "busy legislative programme".

"I plan to progress this Bill as soon as possible" given the busy agenda, he says.

Dave Lane of Catalyst IT, a long-time champion of the unvarnished exclusion of software from patent law, says he has heard some MPs who previously championed Foss's line are now rethinking their position. He cites Revenue Minister Peter Dunne as one such. The question was left with Dunne's press secretary and no reply has yet been received.

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