MPs, techies to trade views on software patents

The New Zealand Open Source Society is setting up a meeting with MPs on the subject of software patents. The aim is to give interested people a steer on likely party policies for the forthcoming election and to allow developers and other in the industry to inform the parliamentarians on the issue.

The public comment period for proposed amendments to the Patents Act expired on March 11, "so a meeting is now the best way we have of communicating with the politicians and telling them what the issues are," says NZOSS president Peter Harrison.

Concern in the open source and other developer communities has been exacerbated by the aggressive use of patents to limit competition, in such cases as the DE Technologies and Amazon one-click patents and the continuing threat posed by infringement claims in respect of Linux, he says.

These causes may be some years old but none of them has been tested in court yet, Harrison points out. Developers' concern should be not only with current domestic law and its potential amendment, but with the prospect of a free trade deal with the US bringing a future drift of New Zealand patent principles in the direction of US law. Application of such principles could remove the freedom to reverse-engineer current products with a view to improvement or interoperability.

Green IT spokesman Nandor Tanczos has espoused a "liberal" position, similar to NZOSS, on software patents and championed the adoption of open source software in government. Harrison is hoping others will attend but was saying little last week.

"All I will say is that we have three MPs confirmed at this stage. One of them's obviously Nandor and another is from one of the major parties."

The meeting is also expected to touch on other aspects of the parties' ICT policies. Anyone interested in attending the meeting, provisionally set for early May in Wellington, should contact Harrison through his address through the society's website.

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