Open Letter to Prime Minister Modi

Posted by Rohini Lakshané at Feb 10, 2015 05:45 AM |
After the government introduced the "Make in India" and "Digital India" programmes, the air is thick with the promise of reduced imports, new jobs, and goods for the domestic market. In light of the patent wars in India, the government can ill-afford to overlook the patent implications in indigenously manufactured mobile phones. CIS proposes that the Government of India initiate the formation of a patent pool of critical mobile technologies and a five percent compulsory license.

The blog post was re-published by Medianama on March 24, 2015.


Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi,

We at the Centre for Internet and Society support the "Make in India" and "Digital India" initiatives of the Indian government and share your vision of a digitally empowered India where “1.2 billion connected Indians drive innovation”, where “access to information knows no barriers”, and where knowledge is the citizens’ power. The government’s plan of incentivising the manufacturing of electronics hardware, including that of mobile phones in the 2015 Union Budget is equally encouraging. Towards this important goal of nation building, the Centre for Internet and Society is researching the patent and copyright implications of Internet-enabled mobile devices that are sold in the Indian market for Rs 6,000 or less.

Bolstered by Make in India, several mobile phone manufacturers have started or ramped up their manufacturing facilities in India. Homegrown brands — such as Spice, Maxx Mobile and Lava — and foreign manufacturers alike are making humongous investments in mobile phone plants. Chip manufacturer Mediatek; one of the newest entrants in the Indian smartphone market, Xiaomi; and telecom company Huawei, all different links in the mobile phone manufacturing chain, are setting up research and development units in India having recognised its potential as a significant market. These developments promise to cut or substitute imports, cater to the domestic market, create millions of jobs, and stem the outflow of money from India.

However, mobile phone manufacturers, big and small, have also been embroiled in litigation in India for the past few years over patents pertaining to crucial technologies. Micromax, one of the several Indian mobile phone manufacturers with original equipment manufacturers in China was ordered by the Delhi High Court late last year to pay a substantial 1.25 to 2 per cent of the selling price of its devices to Ericsson, which has claimed infringement of eight of its standard essential patents. Intex and Lava, two members of Micromax’s ilk, have been similarly sued and claim to have received the short end of the stick in the form of unreasonable and exorbitant compensations and royalty rates. Chinese budget phone manufacturers operating in India — Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Gionee — also have come under the sledgehammer of sudden suspension of the sale of their devices. The bigger companies such as Asus, Samsung and ZTE have faced the heat of patent litigation as well.

The fear of litigation over patent infringement could thwart local innovation. Additionally, the expenses incurred due to litigation and compensation could lead to the smaller manufacturers shutting shop or passing on their losses to their consumers, and in turn, driving the price points of Internet-enabled mobile devices out of the reach of many. It could also become a stumbling block to the success of ambitious plans of the government, such as the one to provide free WiFi in 2,500 cities and towns across India.

We propose that the Government of India initiate the formation of a patent pool of critical mobile technologies and mandate a five percent compulsory license. Such a pool would possibly avert patent disputes by ensuring that the owners' rights are not infringed on, that budget manufacturers are not put out of business owing to patent feuds, and that consumers continue to get access to inexpensive mobile devices. Several countries including the United States regularly issue compulsory licenses on patents in the pharmaceutical, medical, defence, software, and engineering domains for reasons of public policy, or to thwart or correct anti-competitive practices.[1] [2] Unfortunately, we did not receive a response from the previous government to our suggestion of establishing such a patent pool. We believe that our proposal falls in line with your ambitious programmes designed to work towards your vision of India, and we hope that you would consider it.

Yours truly,
Rohini Lakshané,
Programme Officer,
The Centre for Internet and Society

Copies to:

  1. Shri Arun Jaitley, Minister for Finance
  2. Shri Rajiv Mehrishi, Secretary to Ministry of Finance
  3. Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister for Human Resource Development
  4. Shri Satyanarayan Mohanty, Secretary to Ministry of Human Resources Development
  5. Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister for Commerce and Industry
  6. Shri Amitabh Kant, Secretary to Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion
  7. Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Communication and Information Technology
  8. Shri Rakesh Garg, Secretary to Department of Telecommunications
  9. Shri R. S. Sharma, Secretary for Department of Electronics and Information Technology

 

Also read: FAQ: CIS' Proposal for Compulsory Licensing of Critical Mobile Technologies


[1]. James Love, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) written comments and notice of intent to testify at the Special 301 Public Hearing, Page 6, "US use of compulsory licensing",http://keionline.org/sites/default/files/KEI_2014_Special301_7Feb20014_FRComments.pdf, February 7, 2014, Last accessed February 10, 2015.

[2]. Colleen Chien, Cheap Drugs at What Price to Innovation, Does the Compulsory Licensing of Pharmaceuticals Hurt Innovation, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Volume 18, Issue 3, Article 3, Page 862, "Compulsory licensing in the United States", http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1429&context=btlj, June 2003, Last accessed February 10, 2015.

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Rohini Lakshané

Rohini Lakshané is a technologist by training, a public policy researcher and a Wikimedian. She has worked on several research and advocacy projects on the intersection of technology, policy, and civil liberties. Her body of work encompasses diverse territories such as the application of technology and policy to solve issues of gender inequity, violence and discrimination; access to knowledge; openness; patent reform; making tech spaces diverse and inclusive; and the cross-hairs of gender, sexuality and the Internet. In 2014 and 2015, Rohini served on the jury of The Best of Blogs, an international award honouring excellence in online activism, instituted by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. In a previous avatar, Rohini worked as a technology journalist and editor in the print and web domains, ferreting out stories on human interest and online civil liberties. Rohini tweets @aldebaran14.