In a major decision which will have a far reaching impact in the Indian software and programming industry, India’s main patent office has said no to software patents in India.
Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks issued fresh guidelines for Computer Related Inventions (CRI) which was published on February 19th, in which they have put on hold the modifications which were announced in August last year.
In that modifications announced in August, software and business methods were made patentable in India; we had reported how it can stifle innovation and harm the small time, independent software innovator.
Thus, the status quo on this matter is now maintained. Patents are covered under Section 3(k) of the Patents Act, 1970, which states, “A mathematical or business method or a computer programme per se or algorithms are not patentable.”
Why This Is A Good Decision?
Keeping in mind the fact that only large MNCs, having deep pockets to file for patent and then protect its infringement can afford this whole mess, Patent office of India has made the decision to stop the patents all together.
Besides, the August update related to patents was highly ambiguous in nature, as the guidelines only stated that those software and business method which ‘demonstrated technical advancement’. This confused technical experts and software developers, and they shared their concerns that such loopholes can be exploited by experienced patent lawyers and it can kill innovation.
Last year, Micromax was dragged to court by Ericsson due to some patent infringement of Ericsson’s Intellectual Properties pertaining to manufacturing of phones. In case software patents were allowed in India, such ugly patent fight would become the norm, and innovation would be destroyed.
Thankfully, Indian Govt. has now made sure that no frivolous patent claims can be made.
Interestingly, in 2004, a similar amendment was introduced in the Parliament, which was rejected by both Houses, as the participating members alleged that such patents for software and algorithm will only benefit the rich and powerful MNCs.
Software Evangelists Rejoice; Industry Is Elated
Surprisingly, there has been a mixed reaction from the industry veterans and associations, with both positive and negative sentiments emerging.
Indian Software Product Industry Round Table (iSPIRT), an influential lobby of software makers have termed this a victory for small startups and independent developers, as MNCs cannot poach on their creations.
Venkatesh Hariharan, member of iSPIRT’s expert group on software patents said, “It is estimated that the US has around 4,000 patents on e-commerce and around 11,000 patents on online shopping. This is a minefield for start-ups who cannot afford the cost of litigation.”
As per him, the actual Software is anyways protected by copyrights and trade secrets and thus, keeping patent system out will benefit the whole industry.
Some experts have even compared this recent update with TRAI banning differential pricing in data packs.
Prasanth Sugathan, counsel at the Software Freedom Law Centre, a think tank said, “The legislature by limiting the scope of patentable subject matter in the field of software wanted our software professionals and industry to innovate and not be stifled by companies holding a stockpile of patents,”
Mishi Choudhary, technology lawyer and executive director, Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) India, said, “The (February) Guidelines are in line with the Indian Patents Act and provide clarity for the examiners. This means that the Indian software industry continues to enjoy the freedom to innovate and is not shackled by irregular patents granted in the area of software,”
Going by the reaction and feedback received, it seems that Indian Govt. has done the right thing by stopping software patents in the country. This will certainly help and encourage developers, programmers and innovators to try out new inventions, without any fear of being attacked by patent trolls."India Will Not Allow Software Patents, And that’s Great!",