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Software Patents

New Zealand Set To Prohibit Software Patents 90

Posted by timothy
from the panic-in-the-streets dept.
Drishmung writes "The New Zealand Commerce Minister Craig Foss today (9 May 2013) announced a significant change to the Patents Bill currently before parliament, replacing the earlier amendment with far clearer law and re-affirming that software really will be unpatentable in New Zealand. An article on the Institute of IT Professionals web site by IT Lawyer Guy Burgess looks at the the bill and what it means, with reference to the law in other parts of the world such as the USA, Europe and Britain (which is slightly different from the EU situation)."
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New Zealand Set To Prohibit Software Patents

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  • FOSS? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dantoo (176555) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:18AM (#43673631)

    The guys name is FOSS! Sorry it's late. Hehehe.

  • Ttitle is misleading (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:26AM (#43673669)

    New Zealand is only going to (try harder to) prohibit vague software patents. The language is still there to patent software.

    • by arglebargle_xiv (2212710) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:43AM (#43673751)

      New Zealand is only going to (try harder to) prohibit vague software patents. The language is still there to patent software.

      Not only that, but this hasn't made it into law yet. Expect to see intense lobbying by (mostly) US business interests to get this provision spiked before the law becomes final. It's happened before with other law changes for which the initial drafts seemed reasonable, e.g. in the field of copyright.

      • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:57AM (#43673831) Homepage

        Not only that, but this hasn't made it into law yet. Expect to see intense lobbying by (mostly) US business interests

        Actually, I'd expect the US government to become heavily involved in this. They've been pushing copyright and IP laws on trading partners via treaties under threat of sanctions.

        I just can't see the US government standing by quietly since the US has increasingly set themselves up to be an economy based on such things, and they've been using their clout to force everyone else to entrench laws to protect it.

        • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @10:47AM (#43674801)

          Actually, I'd expect the US government to become heavily involved in this. They've been pushing copyright and IP laws on trading partners via treaties under threat of sanctions.

          Yes, but the New Zealandese have already anticipated US the US moves by declaring a nuclear-weapons-free zone in and around NZ ages ago.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Ah, yes, one of the few governments who might be willing to tell the us to PFO. Cool.

        • Yes, we must have strict and harmonized copyright and patent laws around the world, otherwise everyone will simply stop producing content and things because they don't have complete control over 'their' content/thing until the end of it's predetermined lifespan.

          And naturally, these laws must be harmonized around the world based on the law from any individual country which gives the copyright/patent holder the most rights. And then whatever large multinational corporations want.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            And naturally, these laws must be harmonized around the world based on the law from any individual country which gives the copyright/patent holder the most rights

            Actually, when they've been foisting it onto other countries through threat of trade action, it's more like arm-twist another country into doing what the multinationals want, and then say domestic laws are out of step with the world and get them passed in the US.

            But, make no mistake about it, the US diplomatic stuff for issues like this is driven b

  • About time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Transfinite (1684592) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:26AM (#43673671)
    Let's hope the rest of the world will see sense and follow soon.
  • Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolus@gmaiYEATSl.com minus poet> on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:33AM (#43673709) Homepage Journal
    Recently a colleague ( also a software engineer ) told me about his trip to New Zealand. He was so impressed by the NZ levelheadedness - which might be, he mused, something close to a national characteristic - that he now considers moving there....
    • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Informative)

      by StripedCow (776465) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @08:44AM (#43673753)

      OTOH, from wikipedia:

      Anti-intellectualism
      Unlike many European countries, New Zealanders do not have a particularly high regard for intellectual activity, particularly if it is more theoretical than practical. This is linked with the idea of 'kiwi ingenuity', which supposes that all problems are better solved by seeing what works than by applying a theory.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_New_Zealand#Anti-intellectualism [wikipedia.org]

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        On the third hand, in theory theory and practice are identical, while in practice they aren't. Those kiwis might be on to something there.

        That's a different sort of anti-intellectualism than, say, active policy efforts in the United States to try to prevent kids from ever encountering scientifically proven ideas.

      • by psionski (1272720)

        A major break with this tradition came in the 1980s when the fourth Labour and fourth National governments enacted a series of reforms based on free market ideology. This reinforced many New Zealanders' distrust of intellectual theory, as many consider that the reforms increased poverty and inequality in New Zealand.

        They're just scared of what's happening to the other "intellectual" nations, that's all.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The wikipedia entry is a troll. A more accurate interpretation of it is that people who are full of themselves are especially shunned, and those who skip the self promotion and just get on and do it are idolized. Kiwis have nothing against intellectuals, only those that go around telling everyone one else how dumb they are, but that sort of stuffed shirt person isn't held in high regard anywhere. There is also a deep suspision of those that wear ties, but that doesn't make the country anti-business, just an

      • which supposes that all problems are better solved by seeing what works than by applying a theory

        How exactly is "seeing what works" supposed to differ from the scientific method?

        • by Nyder (754090)

          which supposes that all problems are better solved by seeing what works than by applying a theory

          How exactly is "seeing what works" supposed to differ from the scientific method?

          Less funding.

        • It is subjective. The scientific method requires one to not only see what works, but demonstrate objectively to others that it works. Ingenuity, as mentioned above, only requires you to find what works for yourself and implement that. They are similar but one involves far less documentation and the testing is less rigorous.
      • Well that's a load of crap. There is a degree of anti-intellectualism in N.Z, but it's nothing to do with Kiwi ingenuity.

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @09:04AM (#43673889)

    http://birds-are-nice.me/programming/asfview.shtml [birds-are-nice.me]

    Little something I wrote years ago that reads an ASF file (Or WMA, or WMV) headers and decodes them all into a human-readable dump. Handy thing if you work with media in those formats.

    Unless you're in the US. Can't use it there. That format is the subject of a patent. So I'm just going to sit here in the UK and look smug. If I were in the US, I wouldn't have been able to make that. The author of virtualdub is though, so he had to strip ASF-reading functionality out of his software when Microsoft threatened to sue.

    • and we care about ASF like we care about WMA...don't need it...move on in life.
      • It's an old program. ASF was still in very common use when I wrote it.

        ASF, WMA and WMV are actually the same format. The extension difference is only for convenience, to tell which ones have video in.

    • by jader3rd (2222716)
      Anyone in the US could use Microsoft Windows Media ASF Viewer [microsoft.com].
      • I've never tried it. I gather it does much the same thing with a snazier interface - but it didn't exist when I wrote ASFView. I wrote it a long time ago, back when I was just learning C around the time I started university. Microsoft's utility wasn't released until some time later. I only gave the program as an example of something I couldn't have created with software patents in effect.

        Besides, 'Windows Media ASF Viewer 9 Series' is a Windows-only utility. I should probably update the page to reference it

    • by Nyder (754090)

      http://birds-are-nice.me/programming/asfview.shtml [birds-are-nice.me]

      Little something I wrote years ago that reads an ASF file (Or WMA, or WMV) headers and decodes them all into a human-readable dump. Handy thing if you work with media in those formats.

      Unless you're in the US. Can't use it there. That format is the subject of a patent. So I'm just going to sit here in the UK and look smug. If I were in the US, I wouldn't have been able to make that. The author of virtualdub is though, so he had to strip ASF-reading functionality out of his software when Microsoft threatened to sue.

      http://www.afterdawn.com/software/audio_video/video_editing/virtualdub_1_3c.cfm [afterdawn.com]

      A Version of Virtualdub that works with asf. sorry to link you to afterdawn, the site blows thanks to dvdbackup23

      • The last one, yes. After the release of 1.3C, the author received a phone call from Microsoft's legal department. According to the announcement he made it all went very politely: They asserted their patent and request he ceased distributing the software, and he agreed to remove the ASF reading capability from all subsequent versions and cease distributing the versions that did have the capability. That's why you had to get it from afterdawn.

    • by Kirth (183)

      Unless you're in the US. Can't use it there. That format is the subject of a patent.

      Yes, but that patent was granted illegally. Every software patent, actually, because the US Patent Law states that mathematics can't be patented. So I wouldn't be worried to violate something that's illegal per se.

  • by gwolf (26339) <gwolf@gwo[ ]org ['lf.' in gap]> on Thursday May 09, 2013 @09:30AM (#43674067) Homepage

    The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, to which New Zealand is a signatory, is set to mandate (among many trade "enabling" issues) a strong set of intellectual property rights homologation between involved countries. We are worried (being "we" Mexicans, where software patents are strictly and explicitly off the law) that TPP pushes for software patents.
    Does anybody have an insight on what will this mean for this issue in NZ? It is *very* naïve to suppose that, as most TPP-signing countries don't recognize software patents, they will be stopped at the other signatories. Extremely naïve.

    • by Arker (91948)
      Yes, it's very naÃve. About as naÃve as me reading the linked article then closing the window and expecting to be able to reload it at will. Slashdotted now. But IIRC the reason for some of the complication of the language was because they were afraid that treaty would be used in exactly the opposite direction.
    • by manu0601 (2221348)

      The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, to which New Zealand is a signatory, is set to mandate (among many trade "enabling" issues) a strong set of intellectual property rights homologation between involved countries.

      Software is already strongly protected by copyright, hence removing software patents should not cause concerns, should it?

      • by gwolf (26339)

        It is strong, for me and for you. But patents provide a far stronger protection. Nobody can independently implement the given idea even if sharing no code in common with yours.

        • by manu0601 (2221348)
          Sure, but once the treaty is signed, if there is no judicial body to settle interpretation issues, sovereign nations are left able to interpret ambiguous sentences however they want. If the treaty requires strong protection but not explicitely requires software patent, then I see no obligation to add patents to copyright.
  • by guitardood (934630) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @09:32AM (#43674089)
    Software algorithms, especially as most programmers were taught from the same basics, can be very ubiquitous. While I think coding implementation of an alogrithm can be unique and should be copyrightable, granting patents on the algorithm is a very flawed and growth inhibiting concept. It's nice to see ANY lawmaker realizing this and trying to correct this egregious error that, IMHO, has gimped software development for the last 20 years. I wonder when the laws in the U.S. will catch up with this way of thinking and put an end to all the freaking patent trolls.
    • by kbdd (823155)
      How about DNA? How about the thought that somebody could patent my own DNA and there is nothing I can do about it? Revolting.
    • Patenting algorithms is patenting mathematics itself. That makes about as much sense as patenting biological processes.
      Oh wait. Never mind. Now I see why Monsanto will push the USA to jump all over NZ.
      • by Xtifr (1323)

        Actually, patenting biological processes, as long as they're actually inventions and not just discoveries, makes a whole lot more sense.

        • Too bad then that Monsanto hasn't been inventing biological processes, just discovering them.

          The gene to degrade the herbicide RoundUp was discovered in bacteria growing in the wastewater from a RoundUp synthesis plant.

    • Luckily, the most useful concepts on CS were created 30 to 50 years ago. Imagine a world were hash tables are patented...
    • Software algorithms, especially as most programmers were taught from the same basics, can be very ubiquitous. While I think coding implementation of an alogrithm can be unique and should be copyrightable, granting patents on the algorithm is a very flawed and growth inhibiting concept.

      But that's more of a question of whether a new algorithm is obvious in view of the basics that everyone knows. This is a separate question of whether even the most novel, nonobvious software algorithm ever invented could be patentable - something so far beyond what you can do with the basics, or even beyond imagining: should that super inventive, Nobel-prize winning, unquestioned "Most Non-obvious Program Ever" still be barred from patentability, merely because it's a program?

      Obvious programs, of course, s

      • ... should that super inventive, Nobel-prize winning, unquestioned "Most Non-obvious Program Ever" still be barred from patentability, merely because it's a program?

        Yes. Absolutely. The problem isn't obviousness, it's novelty. Math and software and physical laws are not invented, they're discovered. However non-obvious an algorithm may seem, it's not new; it's always existed, waiting for someone to ask the right question. This is distinct from what patents are meant to cover, which is specific applications of things like math and software and physical laws to the production of particular goods.

        Why should you be able to patent a circuit that takes an input, performs a function, and spits out an output, but you shouldn't be able to patent the same exact input-function-output in software?

        It's the circuit which is (presumably) novel and patentable, not the functio

  • ... because you will need it. The US of fucking A will nuke you faster then NK.

    • love you, too. You're so sweet and kind. Must be nice to be in a country that doesn't care about anything the people in the country produce and what happens to it around the world. Be glad China, Iran, North Korea or many other countries around the world are not a super-power.
      • by Red_Chaos1 (95148)

        I think you misread the intent of OPs comment. Maybe I'm being naive/altruistic, but I took it as a sincere "good luck" because as even us Americans know, "'Murica! Fuck yeah!" Corporate interests will lobby hard to fight NZ doing this. I think it's great, and I hope it paves the way for other places to admit the ridiculousness of it and strike it down as well.

  • by halfEvilTech (1171369) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @10:05AM (#43674359)

    Enough said. But I totally expect the US Government and other large multi-national corporations to heavily pressure them into ditching this idea.

  • by neghvar1 (1705616) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @10:23AM (#43674553)
    WooHoo! What I wish patent limitations here would be is 1) must be a tangible inventions (in other words, no software, business models, etc. Must have physical form) 2) Must be something that was invented and not simply discovered. ( no patenting of genes) 3) The person(s) or company that filed the patent must be a practicing entity ( R&D, manufacturing and marketing of that invention must be conducted otherwise the patent will be voided) 4) Patents must be specific to the invention (in simplest terms, meaning that invention 10 + 10 =20 would not be a violation of invention 4 * 5 =20 patent) 5) Patent refers to the specifics of the final product only( the final product of a genetically engineered seed and not just a strand of its DNA. meaning that cross-pollenization and hybridization conducted by nature that creates a new seed that contains that gene does not violate the patent. Up yours Monsanto!!)
  • I'm usually opposed to software patents because a lot of them seem trivial and focused upon anti-competitive business practices. Of course, patent trolls aren't helping matters either.

    On the other hand, I don't see why non-obvious and non-trivial innovations shouldn't be patentable. Many algorithms take a considerable amount of time and money to develop. Industry wouldn't be willing to undertake the development process unless there is an opportunity to recoup their investment.

    • by ImprovOmega (744717) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @10:42AM (#43674727)
      Because algorithms, like mathematical formulae are not so much developed as discovered. The same algorithm would've worked in caveman days on a rock-based Turing machine, it's just that we hadn't gotten around to finding it yet. It would be akin to patenting diamonds the first time they were discovered, and equally absurd. Now, you don't have to share your discovery with anyone, and you can certainly copyright your specific implementation of it, but patenting discoveries does the opposite of what the patent system was supposed to do which is to foster innovation. In point of fact the patent system fails pretty hard in fostering innovation right now, as quick as science is progressing.
      • Even more. Patents have no mechanism to account from independent re-discovery, which is everywhere in CS.
  • But the home of LOR should love patent trolls.

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