New Copyright and Patent Laws To Be Passed

The Government is proceeding with plans to amend copyright and patent laws.

It is also pushing through changes to a range of other intellectual property laws.

The Intellectual Property Law Reform Bill had its first reading in Parliament last night. The legislation is being pushed through under urgency, and is expected to have its second and final readings today.

The proposed law, which will come into effect on 1 October this year, will increase the threshold for copyright infringement from the current 12.5% level to 15%.

Penalties for some software patent offences wil also be increased under the proposed law changes.

The law presently allows people who want to copy someone else’s work to copy up to 12.5% of that work without infringing the owner’s copyright.

The law was introduced in 1985, although the threshold was originally set at 10%. It was increased to 12.5% in 1988.

The Government has been signalling for some time that it wanted to streamline the intellectual property system, to eliminate anomalies and reduce the incentives for people to cheat the system.

Commerce Minister Simon Power said that the copyright infringement threshold increase would allow more copying of original works. The effects of this change would be offset by proposed changes to the copyright file-sharing provisions of the Copyright Act 1994, which will introduce a “three strikes” system for copyright infringement.

Mr Power said that the overall effect of the changes would be “legally neutral” for most copyright owners.

The reform package includes a number of changes to patent laws.

The maximum penalty for possession of a software patent will increase to three years’ imprisonment.

The maximum penalty for possession of a software patent for the purposes of supplying litigation is also increasing, to nine years’ imprisonment.

Mr Power said that the Government was committed to winning the war against software patents, and that these measures showed it was serious about eliminating the scourge of software patent litigation.

“This is an epidemic,” said Mr Power. “It’s in our communities, in our schools and on our streets. In some parts of Auckland you can’t walk down the street without a patent attorney bailing you up and offering to supply you with a cease and desist letter.

“And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The serious patent dealers will supply actual patent specifications.”

Mr Power said software patents were responsible for much of the conflict in the legal community.

“We have seen an escalation in conflict between gangs of patent attorneys and IP lawyers. These gangs seem to hang out in small groups around the courthouses, and at the Intellectual Property Office. Disputes can quickly escalate, and they will often end up attacking each other with whatever is at hand: motions, submissions, applications and appeals.”

Sensible Patenting Trust spokesperson Jon Pope said his organisation supported the move to get tough on software patents.

“This is long overdue. For decades successive governments have done nothing to stem the flow of intellectual property into this country. We say enough is enough.”

But a spokesperson for the National Organisation for the Reform of Patent Laws (NORPL), Jill Smithereen, said that proposed patent law changes were an enormous overreaction to a non-existent problem.

“There’s no software patent crisis. There’s almost no litigation on software patents in this country. Where’s the crisis?

“These moves will only result in patentees going underground, and filing their applications in other countries.

“This is yet another example of the Government only having ears for the anti-patent ‘hang-em high’ crowd.”

The reform package includes a number of other measures.

  • Trade marks that have sat idle for more than twelve months will be required to complete a work assessment. Those that are fit but make no attempt to make themselves useful will be removed from the register.
  • The defence of “claim of right” will be abolished, to ensure patentees cannot exercise any rights under patent laws.
  • Patent attorneys will be assessed for reading, writing and language comprehension skills under a new set of national standards to be introduced.
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