As Parliament debates a new law that will prohibit certain types of anti-social behaviour, experts are concerned about the increasing opprobrium being heaped upon those the proposed law is intended to target.
Few of the people affected by the bill before Parliament are prepared to comment publicly on the proposed law change, for fear of being outed.
But mental health experts have expressed concern that the law change will drive some to engage in even more destructive behaviour.
The public attitude is typified by George Freech, a 52 year old IT systems manager from Warkworth.
“They make me sick,” said Mr Freech. “I think it’s outrageous and immoral, and when I see one of them walking down the street I want to puke. Death’s too good for the bastards.”
It is this attitude that leads many people currently engaged in the controversial practice to keep a low profile.
For the vast majority every day brings the threat of public exposure. Their situation will usually be known by a few trusted advisers, but they live in fear of being exposed to the wider community. The names of these people are available on a public register, and the threat of some vigilant citizen researching their activities is ever-present.
But not everyone who has filed a software patent application is prepared to stay silent.
Patent attorneys have been active in encouraging people to engage in software patent activities, but they fear the proposed law change will drive those activities underground.
“History tells us that prohibition doesn’t work,” said Desmond Deprez, managing partner of Masterton’s second-largest patent attorney firm, Deprez Himshank Horsewing.
“If they think changing the law will stop people from patenting software, they’re deluding themselves. You can’t legislate against human nature. People will just find loopholes around the prohibition wording.”
Norman Zimmler, a Christchurch patent attorney, is proud of his record of filing patent applications for both software and business methods.
“I don’t care what they think,” said Mr Zimmler. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”
Mr Zimmler has admitted, though, that he tries not to talk about what he does for a living whenever he is at a dinner party.
“I usually tell people I’m an architect or interior designer,” said Mr Zimmler. “It seems better than having the inevitable heated discussions about internal fair basis requirements or Japanese patent examination rules.
“And the moment I mention software patents the entire table goes silent, and you can hear a pin drop. So, no, I’m not ashamed of what I do, but sometimes it’s better to keep mum.”
The official statistics suggest that almost every town will have at least one software patentee.
“Many of them are living within our communities,” explained anti-patent activist Bruno Zanslide, and Chairperson of the Eden/Roskill Citizens Coalition Against Software Patents.
“They may be on your sports teams, or their children may go to your kids’ school. Some of them may even be working in the same building as you.
“We’re not safe from these people. The sooner the Patents Bill passes into law the better.”
But for every enraged community group, there is a personal story of despair and hopelessness.
Gerald Huascar, retired of Taupo, thought his portfolio of software patents would go unnoticed, but on 29 November last year a large and angry mob of local people stormed his property and set fire to his house.
“I have spent much of my life on the run,” said Mr Huascar,”always trying to keep one step ahead of the anti-patent people.
“I thought I’d found a quiet spot where I could live out days in peace and quiet, but they flushed me out in the end,” said Mr Huascar.
“I suppose it’s fair enough,” he said. “I’m not proud of my actions, but still to see it all be destroyed like this…” Mr Huascar broke down in tears. “I can’t go on. I feel so worthless.”
Brian Graveslout of Timaru, 24, has lived with the burden of being a software patentee since he filed his first application as a teenager.
“I started with a basic mechanical patent, because all my mates were into it. At first I thought I was in control, but after I had filed a few applications I realised I was hooked.
Then I discovered you could patent software, so I tried my hand at patenting a software algorithm. It was the ultimate thrill. When the patent office confirmed my patent had been granted it was like the biggest buzz ever.
“I want to stop, because I know that a software developer dies somewhere in the world every time I file a patent application. But I just can’t live without those patent specifications or examination reports.”
Mt Graveslout admitted he keeps a stash of patent specifications under his bed, and his addiction means he spends most days in front of a computer screen, trawling through patent databases.
“He’s sick,” said his mother Norma. “When he started acting all peculiar I thought ‘oh he’s probably just turning gay like they all do nowadays’. But it was much worse. I never imagined I’d have a software patentee in the family.
“Still, you don’t stop loving your son just because he’s turned into some kind of twisted depraved monster.”