APEC is planning a common system of patent licensing, according to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, which would mean a patent granted in any one of the 21 Asia-Pacific states would be valid in all of them.
Prime Minister Helen Clark is due to attend this year's APEC summit next Monday and Tuesday in Bangkok.
Just how an APEC-wide patent licensing system would work remains to be seen. The US, which is a member of APEC, has been criticised in some quarters for its liberal patent regime. The US, for instance, allows software and internet business methods to be patented, which is not permitted or only now being considered in some other countries.
In August 2000 the New Zealand government began a three-stage review of the 1953 Patents Act "to take account of the social and technological changes since the act was passed". The first two stages have been completed and in August Judith Tizard, the associate minister of commerce, issued a statement saying that, along with changes to trademarks, plant varieties and copyright, an "up-to-date patent system is an essential part of the government's Growth and Innovation Framework". Stage three of the patent law review considers issues including the act’s definition of invention and its ability to deal with new technologies, and the ethical and cultural considerations surrounding the patenting of inventions involving living organisms, genetic material and traditional knowledge. Under the current act, patent examiners must rely largely on "prior art" and not base their approval on an application's obviousness or true invention.
The government plans to introduce new patent legislation early next year.