Funding patent cases a possibility -- ITANZ

Patent bullies may find New Zealand isn't quite the soft touch they thought, following a meeting in Wellington last week that discussed IT industry funding for patent cases.

Patent bullies may find New Zealand isn’t quite the soft touch they thought, following a meeting in Wellington last week that discussed IT industry funding for patent cases.

ITANZ’s executive director, Jim O’Neill, says the meeting featured “a reasonable discussion and some consensus of ideas". It resulted in an agreement in principle to fund patent activities, he says.

The meeting was attended by patent lawyers, ITANZ, and other industry groups, including the New Zealand Retailers Association, New Zealand Open Source Society, and the New Zealand Software Association.

The group is interested in the “early-warning system” being developed by the InternetNZ’s patent advisory group. “We’ll be working with that group to find out if there’s the ability to provide various sectors of the IT industry [information] how various patents might affect them,” says O’Neill.

The meeting also decided to work together in lobbying the government, presenting a united case, he says. “There are already groups that are approaching government. What we agreed to do was just to co-ordinate better.”

Associate commerce minister David Cunliffe says that although his “doors are open” for discussions with industry representatives, the government has only limited powers to intervene in the patent process.

Cunliffe told Computerworld he was pleased with the “positive response” of the IT industry, including the creation of the patent advisory group and ITANZ’s attempt to gather industry resources to appeal against patents.

“Any action that might be taken by government will depend upon what the litigants choose to do, or not to do, but it would be unwise to speculate or engage in hypothetical discussion around what the government might do in any given circumstances,” he says.

O’Neill welcomed the government’s interest. “That’s got to be good,” he says.

“I think it’s good for the government to be involved, particularly as it relates to industry growth and economic growth, but we’re not looking for the government to take a stance outside its international agreements or anything like that. We’re not looking for legislation.”

In the meantime, ITANZ will continue with its legal appeal against Amazon.com’s controversial “one-click” patent application and applications for an extension to delay the sealing of a patent sought by local e-commerce company E-mmediate.

In August, the government announced it would introduce new patent legislation to Parliament early next year. Cunliffe says the legislation will result in closer examination to patent applications, and simplify the process of challenging a patent once it has been granted.

“The problems encountered with these patents are not unique to New Zealand — they have also been encountered in other jurisdictions such as the US, Australia, Canada and the UK,” he says. “A number of countries, including New Zealand, are looking at the issues surrounding this type of patent.”

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