NZ Software Patents; Meeting With Lianne Dalziel, Commerce Committee Chairperson & Labour MP

Today I had a long and very positive meeting about software patents and the NZ Patents Bill with Commerce Committee chairperson, Labour party's Lianne Dalziel, as well as Drupal-peers Dave Lane and Jonathan Hunt.  Dalziel, Christchurch East MP, was well-informed about the Patents Bill, the Ministry of Economic Development's Patent Review and the insufficient attention paid to software patents (thanks to our emails and exchange of documents beforehand).  She was not so well-informed about software patents and the harm that they cause – as would be expected given the complexity and obscurity of these issues for those who do not work in the software development.

Lianne was quick to point out an oversight in my research of the MED's review;  A section from 2004, early in stage 3 of the review, that comprehensively summarises the issues of software patents.  Nevertheless she agreed that the attention given to software patents in the review is out-dated and/or insufficient.

She listened to and understood our arguments against software patents and noted that the following are strong arguments for an oral submission to the commerce committee;

  1. Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft Corp (and CEO at the time), wrote against software patents, but Microsoft owns one of the largest software patent portfolios.  Microsoft (and other software corporations) do not use the patents to make innovation possible (which is the purpose of a patent), but to create fear about open source software and the GNU/Linux operating system, prohibit competitors from entering a market Microsoft monopolizes or wants to monopolize, create licensing deals with other companies, and many other "bullying" and anti-competitive tactics.
  2. Moore's law shows that the processing-power per dollar increases 4-fold every 1.5 years, and software from 20 years ago (or even 10 or 5 years ago) holds no usefulness (or even relevance in many cases) today.  Thus granting a monopoly right to a software manufacturer for 20 years is ridiculous.
  3. Given the rapid rate of change of the software industry the submissions and review work done 5 to 8 years ago is no longer very relevant or even accurate.
  4. Websites of the Beehive, Labour, Act and Green parties, and many other government agencies and other organisations are powered by Drupal, GNU/Linux and other software that almost certainly infringes multiple patents in NZ and overseas.  However it is not possible to know what patents, nor even challenge those patents if it were known, due to the overwhelming legal costs and community approach to development of free and open source software.  Further, a patent-holder could charge the users of such patent-infringing software an arbitrary licence fee for software the patent-holder has not invested effort in manufacturing, thus adding a price to software that otherwise has no licencing cost.

Dalziel strongly suggested we (and/or encourage others to) meet and discuss software patents with Simon Power (National MP, Rangitikei, Minister of Commerce) and deputy chairperson of the Commerce Committee Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga (National Party MP, Maungakiekie), who will also be similarly unaware of the harm of software patents and the neglect in the MED's Patent Review.

Our conversation also ventured into discussions of section 92a copyright amendments, the Internet Blackout, Lawrence Lessig, his TED talk and Creative Commons (a client of CivicActions), possible FTA agreement between NZ and the USA, Richard Stallman, the Free Software movement, the GNU General Public License, it's 4 freedoms, Drupal, blogging and Facebook.  She was also keen to keep in touch about technology and software issues and was very sorry to have missed Lessig's recent visit to NZ.