Amazon patent deadline extended amid dithering

As the deadline for challenging Amazon.com's New Zealand one-click patent application loomed last week, IT industry bodies were yet to finalise an effort to form a united front on software patents.

As the deadline for challenging Amazon.com’s New Zealand one-click patent application loomed last week, IT industry bodies were yet to finalise an effort to form a united front on software patents. Momentum is growing for creation of a cross-industry patent watchdog. But as Friday's deadline for formally objecting to the Amazon patent passed, objectors -- led by Auckland IT consultant and New Zealand Computer Society activist Ian Mitchell -- obtained a 30-day extension within which to respond.

Intellectual property lawyer John Terry was poised to act on the Amazon application, but had heard of no firm commitment to the industry patent watchdog proposal.

The suggestion was made at a seminar on software patents last month that the New Zealand IT industry delegate a body to keep an eye out for worrisome patents being registered here and overseas. The issue has come to the fore because of the e-commerce patent granted to DE Technologies, which the North Amercian company has begun to assert.

Terry suggested that an early warning system could reduce future problems for local developers and the companies employing them. The function, IP lawyers suggested, could be most efficiently delegated to an existing IT industry body such as the NZ Computer Society, ITANZ, InternetNZ or the NZSA. Such a delegated function would avoid duplication of effort by individual organisations that may be affected.

Computerworld understands that the Computer Society has expressed preliminary interest in providing such a service, but no confirmation had been made.

“Someone has to make up their mind and come up with some money,” said Mitchell, an NZCS fellow.

InternetNZ, however, isn’t waiting. It’s going to set up an advisory group after the organisers of the www.fightthepatent.co.nz site asked for its help. InternetNZ, which has already shared its legal advice from AJ Park with the website organisers, is to set up a group led by Jim Higgins, from the Association of Local Government Information Managers. Also in the group are representatives of Webfoot Publications, Webfarm and e-Media. The group won’t undertake legal action itself, so has a standard committee budget of $3000. Its aim is to share information amongst affected internet users and organisations concerning the DET patent, to investigate other overly wide and/or obvious patent applications pending and to consider law reform and policy issues.

A general IT industry monitor would clearly not give absolute insurance of non-infringement, Terry says, particularly if a company’s business was in a specialist niche. Terry noted that a one-month extension could be allowed to the end of the deadline for a small fee.

At the seminar, Terry took the audience through the basics of patent law and the impact of changes currently being put through by government. These amendments, one of the law drafters at the event confirmed, are likely to include a broadening of the search for “prior art” internationally, and a defence that a patented invention is obvious to anyone with reasonable knowledge of the field. This ground has hitherto not been incorporated in New Zealand law, though a number of other countries have it.

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