Australia: Software patents in New Zealand: you'll know one when you see it

In? Out? Either way, talk of software patents has dominated discussion of the New Zealand Patents Bill for several years, causing unfortunate delay for a much needed update to New Zealand patent law. However, resolution may be on the horizon. Following fierce lobbying by many in the New Zealand IT sector, the Government has announced a new proposed amendment to the Bill, hailed by some as an effective end to software patents in New Zealand. The reality? Unsurprisingly perhaps, much less clear cut.

To recap, New Zealand currently has no specific exclusion for software patents and takes a similar approach to Australia, allowing a great number of software related patents to be granted. In 2010 a Select Committee recommended that a blanket exclusion for software patents be added to the Patents Bill. Leaving aside the issue as to whether this was compatible with New Zealand's TRIPs obligation not to discriminate against particular fields of technology in the patents area, the exclusion raised a myriad of questions as to when inventions partially constituted by software would be patentable. In September last year the Government proposed a further clarifying amendment to the Bill, limiting the exclusion to software "as such". In doing so, it adopted the wording of the European Patent Convention, which is generally seen to be relatively friendly to software patents, and thus angered many favouring a clear limitation on software patents.

In the latest development, the Government has proposed a new replacement provision, which keeps a prohibition on patents for computer programs "as such", but includes two further clarifying principles. Firstly, a claim in a patent (or application) relates to a computer program as such, if the actual contribution made by the alleged invention lies solely in it being a computer program. Secondly, a series of factors are set out, which must be taken into account in identifying the actual contribution made by the alleged invention. Therefore it is the nature of the "actual contribution" which the invention makes to the existing art which will be the touchstone for determining patentability. If such contribution arises solely from a computer program, it will not be patentable. If the contribution is judged to arise from another aspect of the invention, it will be patentable.

As is foreshadowed in the Explanatory Note to the amendment, the Government's approach seeks to favour English precedent, rather than the European position. Patentability of software has been a source of tension between the English Courts and the European Patent Office (EPO) for some time, the English Courts taking a stricter approach to the patentability of software, exemplified in the Aerotel decision. Certainly the new clause 10A in the Patents Bill appears derived from the Aerotel test, but whether it takes on a uniquely New Zealand flavour in its interpretation in the Courts, remains to be seen.

Regardless, one can certainly not conclude that software patents are dead in the United Kingdom following Aerotel. Only a few days before the new proposed amendment was tabled in New Zealand, the English Court of Appeal considered the issue in HTC Europe Co Ltd v Apple Inc [2013] EWCA Civ 451. The Court overturned the decision of the High Court rejecting a patent relating to the organisation and operation of touch screen devices, finding that it made a technical contribution to the art and was therefore patentable. Perhaps what we can best learn from overseas experience is, in the words of Lord Justice Jacob, that a valid software patent is "like an elephant: you know it when you see it, but you can't describe it in words". Not terribly helpful from a certainty point of view, but sometimes a reality if the law is to respond appropriately to complex questions of shades and degrees.

At a commercial level, the decision to take a significantly narrower path in New Zealand than in Australia, may have real implications for New Zealand software developers who find that software which does not infringe any New Zealand patents, may infringe Australian patents when marketed there. We may also find that over time, the much debated question of whether software patents stifle or encourage innovation, is answered by a geographical shift in the Australasian industry, one way or the other.

Whatever the answer to those questions, in the short term there is palpable relief that the deadlock is broken so that the Patents Bill can progress. Assuming that this latest amendment represents a relatively happy compromise between the interests of both sides of the software debate, the Patents Bill is generally expected to pass into law within the next few months. Of course with the pressure on to have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations concluded this year, and the possible impacts this could have on New Zealand's patent law, it would be unwise to assume anything is done and dusted yet.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Katrina Crooks
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.