All intellectual property laws are predominantly territorial. Broadly, that means that a registered right (such as a patent or trade mark) is only good in the country or territory where it is registered. Copyright is not registered but it too is territorial and the rules differ between countries. The international agreements on intellectual property require some commonalities between countries’ laws (called minimum standards) but those agreements also allow for some differences between countries’ laws.
Where it came from
New Zealand’s intellectual property law was adopted from British law. The colony’s first copyright law was one of the earliest European laws of the land. The 13th Ordinance of New Zealand (1842) was made to protect as copyright A grammar of the New Zealand language, a book compiled by the Reverend Robert Maunsell.
The first patent in New Zealand (issued in 1861) related to harakeke (New Zealand flax). The patent was granted for an invention for the preparation of Phormium tenax (flax) fibre and other plant fibres for manufacturing purposes.
Protecting health; protecting profit
In 19th-century New Zealand the phrase ‘patent medicine’ was a standard way of describing the potions that claimed to cure every known ill. Rival producers battled for possession of successful names or recipes.
Intellectual property laws have evolved to fit local needs. In copyright, for example, New Zealand has developed its own approach to making the law more relevant in a digital environment.
In 2008 the Copyright Act 1994 was amended to give copyright owners greater protection when their works are online. A copyright holder’s right to communicate had previously been a right to broadcast. Under the new law the copyright owner’s right to broadcast is a general right to communicate, including via the internet.
Copyright owners sometimes build technological protection mechanisms (TPMs) and digital rights management into their work to control uses of the material. Bypassing TPMs for commercial gain became a criminal act, as did removal or alteration of digital-rights-management information.
The new law also included many new exceptions to make sure permitted acts with copyright works, such as fair dealing for research and private study, were still possible online.
There are important flexibilities in New Zealand’s law, such as allowing for parallel imports. Parallel imports are copies of goods that were imported into New Zealand when they were first placed on the market overseas. The legitimacy of parallel imports cannot be defeated by TPMs. So, for example, region coding on the original copyright work does not limit a parallel imported copy.
Māori intellectual property
In the 2000s two of New Zealand’s unique intellectual property law features relate to Māori and the protection of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge).
The Trade Marks Act 2002 and the Patents Act 2013 each require a Māori advisory committee. These committees can let the Commissioner of Patents, Trade Marks and Designs know if Māori interests are affected by a trademark or patent application.
The trademark committee has the power to recommend that a trademark should not be registered. The committee also provides guidelines about the use of well-known Māori symbols such as koru and the word ‘kiwi’. The patent committee was new in the early 2000s.
The committees are unique in the world. In 2011 the Waitangi Tribunal in the Wai 262 claim recommended that the committees be given decision-making powers.