Patent deadline runs out

The deadline for New Zealand e-commerce businesses to respond to North American company DE Technologies’ claims of patent infringement has passed, and both sides of the Tasman are waiting for DET’s next move.

Lawyers acting for New Zealand businesses which received infringement notices were tight-lipped yesterday on how their clients had responded to DET. The company recently included Australian businesses in its claims.

However, New Zealand's informal Fight The Patent group is continuing to prepare for a possible legal battle. Richard Shearer, head of software developer WebFarm, says DET will face stiff opposition if it decides to take further action but he hopes things won’t escalate.

“No one knows its intentions, but you can only assume it's aware of the uproar it caused,” he says. “The best thing that could happen now is that DET rolls over and goes back to trying something useful, and something that really is unique.”

Shearer says the search for prior art — examples of similar systems that predate the patent and might be used to challenge it — has turned up some useful information. “I think there’s prior art out there,” he says. “The focus now is on sorting the wheat from the chaff.

“We have a couple of gems among the many submissions of prior art.”

DET, however, has signalled that it believes New Zealand e-tailers are infringing its patent and should pay for the privilege. One retailer told a mailing list yesterday that she had replied to DET’s New Zealand lawyer, James & Wells, claiming not to be infringing the patent. James & Wells had responded requesting “detailed reasons” why her website did not infringe the patent, “including details of the system and process your website utilises”, she said.

James & Wells declined to comment yesterday.

Shearer says DET has “underestimated” the local e-commerce industry. “Most of us in the industry know everyone else,” he says. “I think it’s a positive sign in the industry that we can collaborate on issues like this.

“Some of its press releases seem to suggest that there wasn’t any e-commerce in New Zealand in 1997,” he says.

Shearer says the DET case has warned people of the potential of patents to affect their businesses. “In future, patent applications will possibly become more of a topic of interest to companies like ourselves and other industry players.”

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