A recent Australian Federal Court decision protecting the patent rights of the business methods of a technology company could sway local courts to stand up for the rights of New Zealand firms.
The Australian patent, owned by French firm Welcome Real-Time SA, pertained to a smart card it developed that worked with loyalty schemes from retailers.
The Federal Court found numerous Australian smart card companies had infringed Welcome’s patent, and are now required to develop their own systems without recourse to Welcome’s technology.
Welcome’s lawyer, Andrew Christie, an Australasian patent law specialist at Allens Arthur Robinson in Melbourne, says the decision is excellent news for his client.
“This decision demonstrates the commercial value that patents can have in a knowledge economy where new ideas are paramount to a successful business,” he says.
A specialist in software patents law at Auckland’s AJ Park, Ken Moon, believes it is likely local courts will find the decision persuasive, and that may lead to new attitudes to business software patents.
However, he notes the Australian Federal Court decision pertains to a particular piece of physical technology — the smartcard — and that purely software-based business method patents may yet require their own test case.
The physical component of Welcome’s patent may have swayed the Australian court, says Moon.
“I was hoping that this case involved only software,” he says.
Purely mathematical or abstract ideas are not currently patentable, and the status of business-related software is not yet fully defined legally.
“But I think this ruling is pointing the way to software patents,” says Ken Moon. “It’s certainly the way Australia is going to go,” he says. “We don’t know whether New Zealand will go the same way as Australia, but I suspect so.”
Moon says there are many business software patent applications currently pending that are due to be processed by the New Zealand patent office in the next six months.