The lack of software patents in New Zealand is a great thing

I read this article by Bruce Arnold on The Conversation, and I found myself disagreing with Mr Arnold’s position which seems to be that abolishing software patents is a bad idea, and New Zealand should fall in line with its trading partners and resurrect them.

Below is what I wrote in a comment on this article.

​​As a software developer in New Zealand, I wholeheartedly supported the removal of software patents, so I found Mr Arnold’s position in this article very strange.

It’s great when somebody takes a step forward, and I really hope New Zealand doesn’t undo this just to be in line with Australia.

I’d much rather not have a constant concern whether I’ve violated some obscure and possibly obvious patent, or whether I’m going to be attacked by a troll without even violating anything.

Sure, it generates less work for lawyers but it makes sense for developers. Other than the lawyers, possibly left unhappy are companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google etc. which have amassed thousands of patents. But do giant corporations really need any extra support?

More generally, I think software patents are clearly detrimental to the progress of the industry. There are 3 reasons for this I can see.

One, the pace of change is too fast for patent protection to make sense. What proportion of code is used unchanged for 20 years? And of that, how much is in the public domain or open source anyway? The vast majority of software written today doesn’t have a long shelf life, and doesn’t take years of R&D.

Two, there are plenty of examples in the US of egregious misuse of the software patents where obvious things are patented and are used for litigation. So there is clear evidence of the damage.

Three, the competitive advantage is hardly ever in inventing a magical secret “algorithm”. It can be in being the first to market, in network effects, in providing compelling platforms and so on. None of this requires software patents. But even if it IS a secret algorithm, it probably didn’t take billions of dollars to develop, so what’s the benefit of patent protection (to the society)?

As a side note, I find that politicians and lawyers rarely have any understanding of software or the IT industry in general. Things also tend to change very quickly. As a result, the laws and policies we have are often outdated and inadequate. Patent systems are one example.