Focus on dairy trade obscures dangers

Paul Brislen.
Paul Brislen.
The focus on obtaining access for New Zealand dairy products in the trade negotiations this week obscures the dangers for the IT industry, IT and communications commentator Paul Brislen says.

Twelve trade ministers and advisers meet in Hawaii this week for the endgame of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in which New Zealand has to fight for access for its dairy products.

Two years ago, Mr Brislen was party of a delegation which flew to Vietnam to lobby the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations about the dangers to copyright, patent law and intellectual property (IP) in general from the proposed trade deal.

He told the Otago Daily Times yesterday nothing much had changed.

The negotiations had been conducted in secret and the New Zealand IT industry was concerned.

One of the biggest issues for New Zealand was the country's patent law and the issues for copyright.

Parliament passed a new law about two years ago because the previous patent legislation did not cover software and IP, Mr Brislen said.

The legislation was held up for a long time while the Government debated how to respond to lobbying to introduce a law which would devalue patents.

The industry lobbied the Government to say software should not be subject to a patent.

''It's like trying to copyright a sheet of music. Sheet music is a set of instructions on how to play the music. Software is a set of instructions for the machine to operate.''

Some American technology giants had patented simply operating systems, stopping others from using them.

In New Zealand, they could trademark the name but not copyright the software, he said.

That was proving a major obstacle for the US.

The US also had copyright legislation which was at odds with most other countries in the world.

New Zealand argued schools and educational institutes would benefit if some copyright material was made public, Mr Brislen said.

''The US rules on content are propping up a bad business model. People are running away from the American business model and they don't like it. If America gets its way, you can say goodbye to the internet as you know it.''

If the American model was adopted by New Zealand through the trade negotiations, an internet service provider (ISP) could offer a customer an internet connection but then decide what the customer could see, he said.

Parallel importing was also a concern, not only for Pharmac but also for retail outlets like The Warehouse Group.

Currently, New Zealanders almost had carte blanche to buy what they liked off the internet.

That access could be blocked by the trade deal, Mr Brislen said.

New Zealanders, like Australians, were often being charged ''over the odds'' for computer programs for the privilege of not living in the US.

''We have a problem with the negotiations. We don't know where the negotiations are up to and who's winning. Somewhere along the line, dairy access will take priority and IP may be taken off the table because `we were never sure about it anyway','' he said.

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