The term “patent” ordinarily refers to letters patent, issued in the name of the Queen, granting an inventor a monopoly of his invention for 16 years from the date when the full description of the invention (called the complete specification) is filed in the Patent Office, subject to payment of the prescribed renewal fees. As a monopoly, a patent entitles its proprietor to prevent the use of the invention, even by an independent prior discoverer. Priority rights in New Zealand are based broadly on order of application and not on the date of the actual invention. Applications for a patent must be accompanied by either a provisional or a complete specification. If a provisional specification is filed, a complete specification must be filed within a year, extendible to 15 months. Filing a provisional specification fixes the priority date and allows the applicant to publish or use the invention without losing his right to a patent. A patent is invalid if before the priority date the applicant or indeed anyone else uses or publishes the invention.
The law governing patents in New Zealand is contained in the Patents Act of 1953. It differs little from the United Kingdom law and no special account of it appears called for.
New Zealand is a party to the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, covering patents, trademarks, and industrial designs. The applicable text is the 1934 London revision. This country has not yet acceded to the 1958 Lisbon revision. Where a patent application is first made in another country which is a party to the Convention, a New Zealand application within a year in respect of the same invention enjoys for priority purposes the date of the overseas application. New Zealand inventors have corresponding privileges in other member countries.
About 2,800 patent applications are made in New Zealand annually. Some 30 per cent are by New Zealand individuals and companies, but most of the applications are by subsidiaries of overseas companies. Of patents granted only a small proportion originates in New Zealand. This reflects the small population and the lack of industrialisation and of advanced research, except in the field of agriculture.
by Bruce James Cameron, B.A., LL.M., Legal Adviser, Department of Justice, Wellington.