That's right. New Zealand has just declared that software cannot be patented.
The, aptly named, “Patents Bill” – which was first introduced back in 2008 – now effectively makes it so that any piece of “pure software” is not actually an invention. And, therefore, it cannot be patented. If the software is intrinsically tied to, say, a piece of hardware (software that runs part of a new, fancier toaster, for example) then that can be patented.
Here's an example to make that a bit more clear: Google's search engine code: Not patentable.A car with built-in software to regulate speed: Patentable.
How many times have we all read stories about the latest lawsuit that Apple or Microsoft has started against another company because they make software that utilizes concepts like “file systems”, “multi-tasking” or “clicking a button”? How wonderful would it be if those patents simply... went away?
Pretty doggone awesome if you ask me. To see more countries follow New Zealand's actions would be truly fantastic. The current intellectual property laws in the United States (and many other nations) present a huge road-block for small companies looking to build something new. It's hard to be innovative if you're afraid that someone is going to sue you because you, for instance, have software that can do more than one thing at a time.
There was a time when I was on the fence about software patents. Having spent a large portion of my adult life developing software, I like the notion that I can protect the works that I create. But, clearly, patents are not the way to protect one's software creations.
Software, in many ways, is similar to a book. And, if you write a great novel, you can't patent it. Because it's not an invention, per se. Sure, it's a creation (because you created it). But it's not a new way of doing something – such as a toaster that can fly. Copyright? Sure, makes sense. But patents? Not really logical.
As a side note: The Commerce Minister in charge of the “Patents Bill”... his name is Craig Foss.
I'm absolutely not making that up. Which means the phrase “Foss kills software patents in New Zealand” is absolutely true.
Also I want to give everyone who voted for this bill a major high-five. Now to convince the rest of the world to pass similar laws...