I am one of those people that tends to take people and their statements at face value. Mostly.
So I’m interested to know whether this government stands by its claims to be transparent. Or whether it becomes captive to industry lobbying and backroom deals. If you believe what’s being reported today, you’d think there was a major backflip on the cards.
I’m prepared to give the government and the Commerce Minister the benefit of the doubt.
When Simon Power appeared before the Commerce Select Committee a couple of weeks ago I asked him whether he stood by his previous statement that software would be excluded from the government ‘s new Patent Bill.
He firmly stated “yes”. But added that there would be an SOP (Supplementary Order Paper) to “clarify the government’s intent”.
This is quite a big deal. I’m sure most of your eyes would glaze over if I explained the ins and outs. Here’s some background for the dedicated.
The point is that Simon Power, Minister of Commerce, has twice publicly said the government backs exclusion of software from the Patent Bill. The select committee recommended software exclusion because it said it will allow more innovation to our local software industry.
Why? Because computer software is like books, movies or music, based on a concept and should not be patentable. It would be like preventing anyone from using certain musical notes, or words, because they have a patent. Instead software should receive, as it already does, protection under copyright. That was the select committee’s recommendation.
Today it’s being reported that backroom lobbying by the organisation that includes major software patenters has resulted in the Ministry of Economic Development backing away from the Commerce Committee’s recommendation and instead redrafting the Bill along the lines of the European Convention.
The European Patent Convention on the face of it excludes software patents, but the European Patent Office has been granting them.
The purported flip flop has been revealed on an American blog post (fixed the link) which reproduces an email from industry lobbyist NZICT Group CEO Brett O’Riley.
Neither NZICT nor Microsoft, one of it’s major members, put in a submission on this Bill at the select committee stage. The allegation is that they were unhappy with the committee recommendation and have “gone around” it to try to undo it.
Do I sense another Section 92A situation brewing?
And more importantly, just how does policy and legislation get made? Do we do it after an open and transparent process via the select committee? Or are powerful interests able to sway the government’s mind afterwards?
Every organisation has the right to push its view. But this goes to heart of how laws get made. In the open or behind a closed door?
I reckon Simon Power’s word is pretty good.