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The beginning of the end of software patents?

Last week, the country of New Zealand (or “Middle Earth” for Lord of the Rings fans like me) joined the EU in passing legislation banning software patents. They did this because it’s becoming impossible for software developers to innovate without finding themselves violating someone’s patent. This drives up the cost of software development and drives down innovation.

Why do patents exist at all? They make sense when you have to pour huge amounts of resources into developing something you are bringing to market like a smartphone or a new cancer drug. Innovations like these might not exist without inventors having some kind of protection so that they can enjoy exclusivity for a period of time to recoup their investment. I know first hand the cost of developing software and while it’s not cheap, it’s nothing like creating smartphones and cancer drugs.

Software patents can increase the value of a company. Some companies are acquired for their patent portfolios alone. So many software companies (mine included) patent their technology because it’s part of the reality of the software business today. I personally see them as a necessary evil, one I’d like to see extinguished.

It took years, but I applaud New Zealand for taking the long view when it comes to software innovation by banning software patents. It certainly makes New Zealand a more attractive place in which to develop software. It is my hope that more countries will draw inspiration from New Zealand’s bold move. Perhaps New Zealand’s banning of software patents, to quote Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, “will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche…”