Software prices and patents

I met with Craig Foss late last week. Foss is Minister for Consumer Affairs and I wanted to talk to him about the price of software in New Zealand.

At least one TUANZ member regularly buys all his company’s software through a US subsidiary because it saves money. Not a small amount of money – currently software licences in New Zealand are double the price for exactly the same licences in the US, something that is extraordinary when you consider the cost of shipping for said software is now being borne by the customer, not the retailer.

In Australia, the federal government has launched an inquiry and the headlines around the public meetings make for shocking reading. While Apple explained its global pricing policy (and to be fair once you take into account price points and exchange rates, the cost of Apple software and content is about the same in New Zealand as it is in the US)
and acquitted itself well, Adobe seems to have caused more harm than good in an Adidas jersey kind of way and Microsoft was little better. Needless to say software prices in Australia have tumbled and that triggered my interest in getting in to see Foss about doing something similar in New Zealand.

However, Foss has not been idle and has already been in touch with his Australian counterparts, suggesting that New Zealand officials would be keen to work with Australian officials over exactly these issues.

As he points out, most multinational software companies don’t have New Zealand pricing, they have Australasian pricing, so if it’s good enough for them across the ditch, it’s good enough for us.

No word yet on whether the Aussie government will play ball but well done to the Minister for front footing it, and hopefully we’ll see similar price movement here in the near future.

Foss has also done well on another issue close to our hearts – software patents.

You’ll remember the noise about patentability of software coming to the fore last year. Foss had introduced a supplementary order paper to the Patents Bill that appeared to reverse the select committee’s preferred path. The committee, and indeed almost every submitter on the matter, had recommended making sure software could not be patented. Internationally there have been all manner of attempts to make software patentable to varying degrees and it’s led to such nonsense as Amazon’s “one click shopping” patent (that’s right, clicking the mouse has been patented). There’s no way that’s a unique invention that needed protection and even if it were, there’s no way Amazon should have been able to claim that it invented it (I’ve been clicking my mouse for many years now) yet that’s the stupidity of the patent world and we’re better off without it.

Now Foss has introduced a new SOP that clarifies exactly what the law should do with regard to software and rather than repeat Guy Burgess’s fine work at explaining it, I’ll simply link to his piece instead. Needless to say, we’re delighted with the result, so this is a rare double bouquet/no brickbats for a Minister of the Crown.