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Innovation and Technology (and a little on patents)

Paul Matthews, NZCS Chief Executive. 10 June 2011, 6:33 pm
Innovation and Technology (and a little on patents)

Innovation and Technology - the two go hand in hand. In fact I'd go one further and say that these days, it's near impossible to have one without the other.

Contrary to what some may think however, innovation doesn't "just happen". Politicians like to talk about it a great deal and most businesses understand the need for it but in only a small number of organisations does this translate into actual action.

But boy, do those that invest in innovation get results!

Let's talk innovation

I thought I'd use this column to highlight two upcoming events in the innovation space, perfect for those wanting to take the concept of innovation seriously.

Auckland Innovation and Technology Summit

The first is a major summit event bringing together the wider sector in Auckland to discuss how opportunities around the Ultra-fast Broadband Project, the new Auckland Super City and other activities can be leveraged to make Auckland the hub of innovation and technology in the south-pacific region (and then the world!).

From the event notice:

Auckland is now a new city. There are plenty of opportunities but for our city to take advantage of these we need action. The purpose of this Summit is to discuss how the ICT community can shape the future of innovation in Auckland and help get things on track to make New Zealand's largest city the innovation and technology hub of the south pacific. 

This is your chance to hear from some of the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs in New Zealand. More importantly, it is a chance to put across your ideas and provide input into the future of our great city. And best of all, it's free!

Panelists include:

  • Julia Raue, CIO of Air New Zealand
  • Rod Drury, CEO of Xero
  • Ian McCrae, CEO of Orion Health
  • Roanne Parker, Owner of Jericho (digital marketing)
  • Michael Whitehead, Owner of WhereScape
  • Prof John Hosking, Director of Centre for Software Innovation (Auckland University)
  • Rohan MacMahon, Strategy Director at Crown Fibre
  • And many others - further announcements soon

The event and discussion will be facilitated by the new NZCS Auckland Branch Chair Brett Roberts.

However bring your thinking hats too - this isn't just a sit and listen session. You'll have the opportunity to participate directly in discussion and present your own ideas about making Auckland and New Zealand thrive. Outcomes of this Summit will feed directly into both local and central Government and industry.

This event is free for everyone and is in partnership with Crown Fibre Holdings, Lloyd Executive Recruitment, and the awesome NetHui Conference on at the same time. So if you're in Auckland (or up in Auckland for NetHui) come along! But beware - places are limited and will fill fast - you'll need to register early or miss out.

More info and register here - it's free, but places are limited.


Innovation Workshops

The second is more about turning your company into an innovation powerhouse. Lots of people talk about it, but often companies, especially startups, simply don't know how to take a product to fruition, market and especially, compete successfully overseas.

If you're involved in a startup or early-stage company or product (or want to be) or are starting to look at exporting, you really should be at this workshop.

From the Innovation Workshop notice:

We've built something. Now what?

How do you commercialise a concept or product and take it off-shore? Or qualify the potential of your idea?

The need to innovate to stay ahead is a theme across government and businesses of all sizes in New Zealand. Large organisations often struggle with the chasm between coming up with an idea and getting it into delivery mode. Smaller companies are generally more nimble with getting their ideas from concept to concrete - but stall at the point of go to market.

There are a wide range of reasons many of our innovations don't make it as far as the global stage.

In some cases they don't pass the Google test: has it been done before? In other cases the market speaks: "we don't need it or we cannot buy it if you haven't told us about it".

In general it usually boils down to a clear view of your product's value proposition, market opportunity, target customer and market segment, and path to market.

The seminar is intended to give you an idea of what areas you need to focus on in your business planning and capability development, and it's likely not what you think.

These workshops operate in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin this year and are heavily subsidised.

Check out more and register here.


Software Patents

Submissions on guidelines for the operation of the proposed new Patents Act (making software unpatentable) were released this week.

NZCS didn't make a submission on the guidelines as we had already expressed our views via correspondence with the Minister and elsewhere and the law these guidelines are based on (excluding "computer programs" from patentability) is clear.

It's interesting to see who DID put in a submission though.

They generally fell into these categories:

  • Patents lawyers generally against removal of software patents (turkeys don't vote for Christmas either - you can completely understand them trying to protect their business). This made up the bulk of submissions
  • Overseas (primarily US-based) corporates still trying to argue against New Zealand taking a stand against software patents
  • Representative groups for generally similar corporates (such as the Business Software Alliance - the group of US-based corporates who sue people for pirating software, and other groups in NZ and overseas) pushing, as always, for tighter IP laws
  • New Zealand companies such as Fisher and Paykel seeking greater clarity about the exclusion of embedded systems
  • a relatively small number of NZ-based technology companies, some for and some against

Most of those that have repeatedly spoken out against Software Patents chose not to make a submission on the guidelines having previously made their positions clear, hence it's fair to say most of the small number responding this time were against the change.

I think it's fair to say that the very small number of NZ-based software companies submitting against the proposed changes really puts to bed claims by some that the tech sector is against software being unpatentable. This also matches the strong support we've continued to receive for our position (with 4 out of 5 NZCS members and IT professionals supporting our view that software should be excluded from patentability - which is about the level of support we've continued to receive).

Fact is, the Bill in its current form states computer programs will be unpatentable. With the exception of lawyers and a handful of overseas corporates and their representatives, only a very small number of companies appear to have an issue with that.

Patent Ruling 

In other patent news, it was announced today that Microsoft have lost their appeal of a patent decision against Microsoft Word by i4i, costing them over $350 million ($USD 290M) and being the largest amount ever awarded on appeal for breach of software patents. Ouch.

In the appeal Microsoft called for a tightening up of evidentiary requirement for alleged patent infringement, a call that very few legitimate technologist would argue against. The fact is, software patents can be hugely damaging to innovation. Some say they can be tidied up to keep the good parts (protection of legitimate IP) but lose the abuse. We've been watching this space very closely and it's fair to say we still haven't seen any proposal that would actually achieve this, meaning the only answer is to come to the same conclusion as the Commerce Select Committee and remove patentability of software.

Software companies moving to New Zealand 

And lastly, a little closer to home I see that the Clear Foundation (the people responsible for ClearOS) are moving their foundation to New Zealand because of the favourable environment here: (HT Jaco van der Merwe via NZOSS)

"New Zealand has a stable economy and open Intellectual Property laws that provide fertile grounds for enabling ClearFoundation to grow. Though other jurisdictions offer similar benefits, there were some patently clear reasons to set up in New Zealand." (pun intended)

New Zealand really does have a great opportunity with the passing of this law and I'd imagine we're going to see many more head to our shores as a consequence. This really is good for New Zealand's reputation as a great technology location.

Anyway, I'm sure this will be debated strongly by both sides at the upcoming Innovation and Technology Summit. Hope to see you there!

Paul Matthews is Chief Executive of NZCS, the professional body of the ICT sector.


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