Is TPP To Blame For The Continuing Delay In Passing New Zealand's 2008 Bill That Excludes Software Patents?
from the beginning-to-look-suspicious dept
As Techdirt reported a couple of years ago, a hard-fought campaign in New Zealand to prevent software patents being granted there seemed to have paid off, with a Patents Bill explicitly excluding them that came with the following commentary:
We recommend amending clause 15 to include computer programs among inventions that may not be patented. We received many submissions concerning the patentability of computer programs. Under the Patents Act 1953 computer programs can be patented in New Zealand provided they produce a commercially useful effect. Open source, or free, software has grown in popularity since the 1980s. Protecting software by patenting is inconsistent with the open source model, and its proponents oppose it. A number of submitters argued that there is no "inventive step" in software development, as "new" software invariably builds on existing software. They felt that computer software should be excluded from patent protection as software patents can stifle innovation and competition, and can be granted for trivial or existing techniques. In general we accept this position.
But that victory may turn out to be hollow:
Despite having been in the Parliamentary process since 2008, the Patents Bill still languishes well down in the Order Paper (No 47 as at Monday April 2), and is awaiting Parliament’s consideration of the Commerce select committee’s report, followed by the Bill’s second reading.
Although New Zealand's Commerce Minister Craig Foss tried to explain this delay in terms of "the size and complexity of the Bill and the pressure of other legislation," there is a growing concern that something more sinister is happening:
there have been rumours that the Bill has been deliberately held back as potentially relevant to concessions that may be made as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
The TPP agreement is believed to require signatories to grant software patents. If the New Zealand government passed the Patents Bill in its current form, and then signed up to TPP, it would be faced with the prospect of needing to amend the legislation almost immediately -- and to justify its actions to the New Zealand public. The fear is that the current delay is so that it can sign TPP and then claim that it is "obliged" to remove the exclusion on software patents, before passing the Patents Bill.
Foss's staff passed that part of our query on to Trade Minister Tim Groser’s office. Groser did not directly address the rumour and replied simply: "Progress on the Patents Bill is dependent on the wider legislative programme."
If that happens, it would be an appalling example of how international trade agreements like TPP, drawn up behind closed doors with no input from the public, can then be used simply to override the democratic decisions arrived at through long and careful national debates.