Patent protection of software in New Zealand to end

New Zealand now has new patent legislation to replace the old Patents Act from 1953. One of the more hotly debated updates relates to the patent protection of software. Under the new law the scope for this kind of protection is much more strictly limited than it has been before.

The new legislation states simply and succinctly that a computer program is “not an invention”. There is, however, some leeway for protecting software that is implemented as part of a technical solution. In a comment to the new law, a washing machine provides an example of how this might work: if the software that operates the washing machine contributes to a new and improved method of washing, so that clothes are cleaner and the use of electricity is reduced, the possibility does exist to grant patent protection for the washing method. It would thus be possible to protect the washing machine even if the software used for this improved washing method constituted the only difference between that machine and other known washing machines. As a result of this new legislation, the status of patentable software in New Zealand will now move more into line with that in Europe, China and Japan.

The law extends only to new patent applications. The validity of existing software patents in New Zealand will not be affected.