Confusion Over IP Guidelines

The recently released policy on the treatment of intellectual property rights within government ICT contracts may open up downstream opportunities for New Zealand companies who provide software and services to public sector agencies. But industry commentators cannot seem to agree on whether or not it is a good thing.

A few years back a lobby group called ICTX pressed government to change the rules around onselling of intellectual property arising from publicly funded I.T. projects. ICTX cited replication of effort and confusion over copyright as barriers to further commercialisation of such technology. But now that the rules have been clarified, former ICTX members still appear disgruntled.

Others view the new guidelines as an opportunity because it opens the door to vendors retaining ownership of the technology. Under this scenario the developer effectively gets their R&D funded by a government contract, licences out the application and then has the option of pursuing further commercialisation where a wider market exists. That seems like a win-win situation.

But the State Services Commission (SSC) makes it clear that the guidelines are just that. Government agencies still get the final say on what goes into the contract. That’s fair enough, especially in the case where the technology relates to a sensitive area such as Defence, Customs or Police for example.

It is unsurprising that a diversity of views exist on this topic. The ICT sector has still not managed to solve the representation problem, with a myriad of bodies still claiming to speak on its behalf. Now that the SSC has finally responded to industry feedback it seems a little unreasonable to criticise.

Perhaps the best way to resolve the debate is to test the guidelines. Are there any technology applications currently in the pipeline that can be taken down a commercialisation pathway? Having a successful reference site already operating within a government agency is a great selling point after all.

One thought on “Confusion Over IP Guidelines

  1. When Webstruxure delivers a service to govt agencies, we don’t care to own the client’s data, or the unique customisations that have been necessary to integrate the service with the client’s environment or systems, or the visual presentation layer that the public sees.

    What we do care about is the underlying system and principles used for data management and use. This is our IP – we arrive at each project with it already in place, and expect to extend and refine it during the course of the project. And we expect to walk away with full, unfettered ownership.

    So, we’ve always taken the contractual position outlined in the policy – we distinguish between ‘our stuff’ and ‘their stuff’ (usually on the basis of exclusivity of application) and grant the client a royalty-free license to use our stuff for the purposes of the contract.

    So, for instance, the methodologies and system that underlies data delivery for the and sites, and also the mandatory fuel labeling initiative announced on the news last night, will remain ours. All the rest of it – data, integration functionality, presentation – is owned by the agencies.

    Whenever the IP devoted to solving a particular set of problems requires fairly constant research and development, we’ve never understood how any other arrangement than vendor ownership makes commercial sense. There’s little point in doing the R&D (and even less in trying to widely commercialise it) if the results are fettered by third-party rights claims.

    And we definitely plan to commercialise our IP to a wider market – although with nothing like the appearance it has in projects like fuelsaver, rightcar and fuel labeling. So while the value of those projects as ‘reference sites’ isn’t great, the value of them as building blocks is tremendous.

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