Since 1992 New Zealand has been a member of the Patent Co-operation Treaty, an international treaty covering most countries in the world. This makes it possible to apply in New Zealand for patents covering all the other countries which are members of the treaty.
In 1994 the term of a New Zealand patent was extended from 16 to 20 years, in line with the requirements of the World Trade Organization, of which New Zealand is a member.
Patents Bill 2008
The Patents Bill 2008 was introduced to replace the Patents Act 1953. When enacted, this bill will remove the right to patent on the grounds of ‘local novelty’, which meant that an invention used elsewhere could be patented for use in New Zealand. The availability of information on the internet made local novelty difficult to enforce, and many countries no longer recognise this type of patent. The bill also proposes to ban methods for the surgical treatment of humans, or therapy and methods of diagnosis practised on humans, from being patented.
Recognising Māori values
The Patents Bill has special features recognising the place of Māori as indigenous people. Any application to register a trademark using Māori text or imagery may be referred to a Māori advisory committee, which advises on whether the proposed trademark is offensive to Māori. The Māori advisory committee may also advise on whether an invention claimed in a patent application is derived from Māori traditional knowledge or from indigenous plants or animals. The committee may then advise whether the commercial exploitation of that invention is likely to be contrary to Māori values.
The Patents Bill 2008 will remove the right to patent a new plant variety. A separate law, the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987, currently provides exclusive rights to produce and sell a new plant variety. Among the new plant varieties protected under this act are Jazz apples, a cross between two other New Zealand varieties, Gala and Braeburn.
James Dyson Award
The most prestigious award for inventors in New Zealand is the national stage of the international James Dyson Award. This award, set up by the British inventor James Dyson, designer of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, is open to students and graduates of design and engineering in 21 countries.
In 2009 the New Zealand award went to 22-year-old Christchurch designer Tim Cox for the Tretech, an ultrasound device for measuring the size and quality of growing trees before felling. Another invention to make the finals was a plastic blanket to reduce moisture loss in stranded whales. Rotorua-born designer Jamaine Fraser said his invention would allow rescuers to spend more time comforting the whales instead of hurrying to pour water over them.