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Tuesday, 13 September 2011 11:31

Is NZ patent bill delay tied to TPPA?


Back in July last year, New Zealand announced that it would not be making any changes to its patent laws and, therefore, software would not be patentable within the country.

Curiously, the bill to give effect to this law - which was expected to pass in October 2010 - is still awaiting its final reading. The delay may not exactly be unconnected with events elsewhere.

The US is pushing for the acceptance of a wide-ranging treaty, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; a round of negotiations has just ended in Chicago. The next round is due in Peru later this month.

All negotiations are held in secret and no government has gone on the record about what is being negotiated for fear of displeasing the US.

The New Zealand software patents bill is likely to contradict portions of the proposed IP regime of the TPPA and in this context the delay to pass the bill into law becomes understandable.

A draft of the IP portion of the treaty was leaked on the web by a group called Knowledge Ecology International six months ago.

During a round of negotiations, in Vietnam in June, a New Zealand group, NZRise, managed to organise a series of presentations to delegates, with help from InternetNZ, the New Zealand Computer Society, the New Zealand Open Source Society, the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

According to Don Christie, one of the founders of NZRise, though it meant a journey to Vietnam and a lof of hard work, the aim was achieved.

"Over 60 negotiators attended, representing all nine TPPA countries. Surprisingly this included the USA mission which has boycotted similar events in the past," he wrote in a report. "They were accompanied by Michael Layne, first secretary of the US embassy in Wellington."

Christie, who is also a director of Catalyst IT, the biggest open source firm in New Zealand, told iTWire: "We were in a unique situation where we got to present to the negotiators themselves rather than having to trombone a message from a 'stakeholders" event.

"The next round is being help in Chicago right now and the USA don't seem to be allowing anything like the same access to delegations that we had in Vietnam."

He added: "I don't think it is a big secret that most countries are very uncomfortable with the demands being made by the US. These have very little to do with free trade and a lot to do with making sure that US corporates earn top dollar from the rest of us."

In addition to the US and New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are included under the agreement. The US is apparently keen to see a framework agreement finalised by November this year and announced at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit. Accordingly, a flurry of activity is expected over the next two months.

Christie said it would be interesting to see how things were resolved with regard to the software patents bill.

New Zealand is scheduled to go to the polls in November; however, Christie said, given that the three main parties were all in agreement on the existing text of the software patents bill, it would not be an election issue.




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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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