Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Patents Bill - good things take time

Windy road aheadYesterday I came across an article telling me that patent law reform in New Zealand has stalled. The author says that:
'Patent law reforms that have been stalled in Parliament since their introduction by the last Labour government are finally back on the agenda, with passage into law expected by the end of the year'.
With respect to the author, patent law reform in New Zealand has been underway in a real sense since 1992. Law reform of the New Zealand Patents Act 1953 has outlived not one but two of the government departments responsible for it. I don't think patent law reform has stalled. It is just taking a while.

My fellow blogger Doug Calhoun sets out a good potted history:
"The Patents Act 1953 was virtually a carbon copy of the 1949 British Patent Act ... In the early 1980s the government appointed a committee (IPAC) that looked at some aspects of patent law on an ad hoc basis. In 1989 the Law Commission had a brief look at patent law, but gave it over when the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) took on the task.

In 1992 MOC produced a set of “proposed recommendations” that almost led to a rewrite of the patent law. But in 1994, in anticipation of the formation of the WTO with its minimum IP standards, the [existing Patents Act 1953] was tweaked. The 1994 changes resulted in the Wai 262 claimants protesting that all IP law reform should halt until their treaty claim was settled. It did. The Wai 262 report was finally released in mid-2011".
In August 2000 a three-stage review of the Patents Act commenced. Each stage was to deal with a specific topic of patent law reform. In December 2004 a Draft Patents Bill was released for public consultation. In July 2008 the Patents Bill was introduced to Parliament. It had its First Reading in Parliament and was referred to the Commerce Select Committee for public submissions. A Revised Patents Bill, containing amendments recommended by the Commerce Select Committee, has been awaiting a Second Reading since March 2010.

Patent law reform is a difficult one to get the mainstream public excited about. It doesn't attract the same level of interest as gay marriage, sale of state-owned assets, or even local government reform. If there is no interest in it then there are no votes in it. If there are no votes in it then it is dealt with according to 'legislative priority'.

What the current government has manged to do is slip the reforms into something the public can get excited about, or at least interested. The New Zealand Patents Bill appears to now form part of the Government's economic policy agenda, "arranged around exports, innovation, workplace skills and safety, capital markets, natural resources and infrastructure".

It seems to be working. Today's Parliamentary Order Paper lists the Patent Bill as number 17 in a list of 60 Government Orders of the Day. Maybe we will have the new law in by Christmas. This Christmas.

Photo courtesy of author Dawn Loh under Creative Commons licence.

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