Report: Global Intellectual Property Convention 2015

Posted by Rohini Lakshané at May 22, 2015 03:20 AM |
The Global Intellectual Property Convention was held in January 2015 in Mumbai. Interns Anna Liz Thomas and Nayana Dasgupta assisted with the making of this report.

Conference Schedule [PDF]

National IPR Policy Recommendations [PDF]

Harshvardhan Lale, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC)

Digital piracy in India

Special 301 Report:

India is second among 10 countries on the Priority Watch List of the United States Trade Representatives (USTR), according to the Special 301 Report published in May 2014. Once every two years, the US, through its trade representatives releases the Special 301 Report, which deals with piracy across the globe, especially in the places where US business interests lie. Though the police conduct at least 25 raids every week across India, it has made no difference to the rate of piracy in the country. When a couple of software publishers entered India, they were very confident that none of their products, in any shape and form, could be pirated in India. I took one of the heads of Compliance to the [pirated goods] market where we got a product worth Rs. 5 crores for Rs. 100.

The Special 301 Report also suggests that none of the previous governments or government bodies in India have taken any initiative whatsoever to ensure that even the products used in the government offices are not pirated. According to US government agencies (2013), there were serious difficulties in attaining constructive engagement on IPR issues with the UPA government.

Video piracy:

India is rated as one of the countries with the highest incidence of video piracy by MPDA, well above Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Greece, and Peru. We [supporters of stricter IP] are now trying to get the digital rights management provision in the [Indian] Copyright Law [redacted], but that is still in the future.

Broadcast piracy:

A few Indian television channels are facing this problem because of demand [to view their content] from Indians living abroad.

Online piracy:

The Internet has been an enabler for the movie and music industry. Many cinema and music publishers have their own channels, say, on YouTube. Although content cannot be directly downloaded from YouTube, "YouTube grabber" software enables piracy.

Surreptitious recording of public performances on mobile phones and recording of cinema screenings using camcorders are other instances of piracy. These recordings are later circulated on the Internet.

Software piracy:

Recently, one automobile manufacturer had to recall a set of its vehicles from the Indian market. Investigations revealed that one of the automobile components, which was procured from a supplier, was created using pirated software. There is a fair chance that a pirated product won't provide all the functionalities that you might otherwise get, or that some APIs (Application Programming Interface) may be missing, which may lead to erroneous or inaccurate design.

Counterfeiting, online piracy, end user piracy, client overuse, and hard disk loadings [sideloading] amount to most of the software piracy in India. One of the software companies for whom we [PWC] are doing an audit - it happens to be one of the leading information technology companies in India - we identified a gap of 20 million [US] dollars for one software publisher in their India operations. Whether this was deliberate or not can be debated, but it is a serious problem.

A survey on software piracy conducted across the globe by Business Software Alliance indicates that India has improved from bring ranked tenth to twelveth. Estimated use of unlicensed software stands at 43% globally; India is at 60% [as per the latest figures]. In 2010, India was at 64%, in 2011 at 63%. There is a recent case of a patent getting rejected because the organisation that had applied for it had used unlicensed software for designing the product. Another serious impact with regard to RnD and patents is on privacy. [Pirated software could contain] malware with the potential of stealing information].

Some of the major problems are that organisations are not aware of the implications of using pirated software and media, leading to potential non-compliances. [Owing to] lack of knowledge of licensing, the different software licenses, software publishers not using a standard format of licensing, the end consumer does not understand what licensing is. In the license terms, there is a "Right to Audit", which gives every software publisher the right to evaluate your organisation at any time.

Corporates are trying to align themselves with consultants like us [PWC] to support the industry in curbing piracy. The Make in India program has a dedicated section on intellectual property (IP). There is a special focus on intellectual property rights (IPR) for the manufacturing sector, which is directly affected by digitalisation. We hope that with the new government, some change will happen in the software piracy space.

Omesh Puri, Senior Associate, LexOrbis

Effective Copyright Enforcement in the Digital Era: Relevance of John Doe Orders

Copyright enforcement challenges in the digital world:

Rapid growth in digital technology presents enormous opportunities for copyright owners as it expands their customer base, reduces distribution costs, and makes territorial boundaries almost a nullity. The disadvantage is that, unless regulated properly, it exposes copyrighted work to threat of blatant infringement spread across different media including the Internet. The main problem before copyright owners is ever-growing online piracy. The Internet grants anonymity to copyright infringers. There can be a number of occasions where copyright owners are not able to ascertain the infringer's identity even after spending considerable time or money. In such cases, a John Doe order comes as an effective enforcement tool.

The name John Doe is used to identify unknown and nameless infringers or defendants who have allegedly committed some wrong, but whose identity is unknown to the plaintiff. To avoid delay and injustice, the court names the defendant John Doe, until such time as the defendant is identified. The orders passed by courts in such cases are known as John Doe orders, and is an internationally accepted practice to enforce IPR, especially with respect to copyright and trademark. This is prevalent in various jurisdictions including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This order has also been formalised in the statutory provision of these countries. It is an ex-parte interim injunction with the added benefit that the plaintiff is given the liberty to add to the array of parties who would be identified after the filing of the suit. These orders are an exception to the general rule which requires the defendant to be identified prior to the filing of the suit. The ex-parte interim injunction then applies even against the later defendants. It is also against the defendants whose identities are unknown during the filing of the suit. The orders enjoin unknown defendants from engaging in any infringing activity.

Why are John Doe orders so popular?

These orders allow for immediate action in case any instance of infringement comes to light. As the copyright owners only need to serve a copy of the order to the erring parties instead of filing of a new suit. By filing a single action, and after obtaining a single John Doe order, the plaintiff would be able to cover all alleged and even potential infringements and violators, which would ultimately save a lot of time and costs. The plaintiff would not be required to file separate court actions before different courts in India. Once they obtain this order, it will block all unknown defendants and infringers. It is also able to reduce online piracy by mandating that internet service providers block access to infringing websites.

Some of the important John Does copyright injunctions passed in India:

The first John Doe order was passed in the famous case of Ten Sports entitled Taj Television v. Rajan Mandal. The plaintiff, Taj Television, a Dubai-based company, owned and operated an exclusive sports channel by the name Ten Sports. They had acquired the exclusive rights to broadcast the 2002 FIFA World Cup. They entered into agreements with various cable operators for transmission of the channel. However, many unlicensed cable operators started displaying Ten Sports without any permission or authorisation from Taj Television, which then instituted a suit against named and unnamed cable operators. In 2002, the Delhi High Court passed a pathbreaking order which stopped the unauthorised broadcast of FIFA World Cup matches.

The Indian Court has specifically held that such orders may be enforced against persons whose identities are unknown at the time of instituting the suit.

Whose identities fall within the scope of action?

So long as the litigating finger is directed at an unknown person, the inability to identify him by name is a mere misnomer. The principle of litigating finger was affirmed in this case. After this there have been a series of John Doe orders. However it is only in recent times that the Indian Judiciary has started granting these orders on a regular basis, especially for blocking websites. In another case in 2014, Star India Pvt. Ltd. vs. Haneeth Ujwal, the plaintiff was one of the leading broadcasters in India. They had acquired the exclusive broadcasting rights, which includes television, mobile, Internet or on-demand rights with respect to the 2014 India vs. England Test Series. Star India filed the suit against websites, many of which were unidentifiable in nature or the owners could not be located. They were showing these cricket matches live without the permission of Star India. The websites' viewers could either view the ad-supported free version or the video-on-demand or pay-per-view subscription-enabled version. The availability of this content is supported by advertisements found on these websites.

How could the exclusive rights of the plaintiff be protected, and what can be the appropriate remedy?

Should the websites be blocked completely or only the specific URL providing access to the infringing content? The court held that both known and unknown defendants were liable for infringement as there was no remedy available to the plaintiff other than blocking the entire website. Blocking URLs was considered to be insufficient remedy by the court because, in its opinion, the website owners could easily change the specified URL by merely one character to circumvent the John Doe order passed by the Court.

Challenges:

While it has become routine to seek John Doe copyright injunctions before every big movie release or any major sporting event, many claim that they have largely remained unsuccessful in checking and controlling small street pirates. Lack of police cooperation may also render these orders unenforceable. There is another dispute going on whether these orders should be limited to entire websites or specific URLs. The Delhi HC has previously granted orders to extend the inclusion of these orders on the entire website. However, there is another opinion by Madras HC which said that these orders would be limited to specific URLs. In the absence of specific judicial guidelines, there is no clarity on the scope of these orders or under what circumstances these may be granted. There is a risk of misuse and improper implementation of these orders.


James Martin, Director, Fieldfisher

Online Infringement In the European Union

(Recent Court Rulings in the European Union Regarding Online Copyright Infringement and Database Rights)

The Svensson case:

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the owner of a website may use hyperlinks to redirect Internet users to protected works available on other websites without the authorisation of the copyright holder of the linked website, provided that the linked website is freely available, that is, it can be accessed by anyone on the Internet.

The Retriever Sverige website operated to provide clickable links to articles published by other websites on the internet. The claimants were journalists who wrote articles for the Goteborgs-Posten website, and those articles were being linked by the Retriever Sverige website. The claimants argued that the Retriever Sverige hyperlink constituted an infringement of the claimant's copyright by making a communication to the public without the author's permission and they alleged that this was contrary to Article 3 of the Information Society Services Directive, commonly known as the InfoSoc Directive, which is the European Directive that harmonises copyrights across the 28 member states of the EU within the Information Society. The case made its way to the Swedish Court of Appeal which stayed the proceedings pending references to four questions to the CJEU.

1. If anyone other than the holder of copyright in a certain work supplies a clickable link to the work on his website, does that constitute communication to the public within the meaning of Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive?

2. Is the assessment under Q1 affected if the work which the link refers is on a website on the Internet, which can be accessed by anyone without restrictions or if access is restricted in some way?

3. When making the assessment under Q1, should any distinction be drawn between a case where the work, after the user has clicked on the link, is shown on another website and one where the work, after the user has clicked on the link, is shown in such a way as to give the impression that the content is appearing on the same website, in other words, framing the content.

4. Is is possible for a [an EU] Member State to give wider protection to the author's exclusive rights by enabling communication to the public to cover a greater range of acts than provided for in Art. 3(1) of the Info Soc Directive?

In answer to the first question, the Court of Justice determined that "communication to the public " requires both a "communication" and a "public". The hyperlinks were determined to be making available, and therefore, they were an act of communication. However, there is a sting in the tail, because the Court of Justice held that the public must be a new public, and the communication must be directed to a new public. A public that wasn't taken into account by the copyright holders when they first authorised their initial communication to the public. In the second stanza for Svensson, the public targeted by the journalists' original articles consisted of all potential visitors to the Goteborgs-Posten website, which was unrestricted. Therefore they could be freely used and read by any Internet user. Consequently the links provided by the Retriever Sverige website were not to a new public and there was no need to obtain the author's consent.

In response to the second question, the situation would be different if the link allowed users to bypass restrictions designed to limit access to the public such as a paywall as can be found on The Times London websites, the Wall Street Journal websites and many others. Such users were not taken into account by the original copyright holders when the initial communication was authorised. So those people would constitute a new public.

Regarding the third question, the framing, the Court of Justice unusually held that it was irrelevant. The Internet user who clicks on a hyperlink is given the impression that the link is appearing on the site that contains the link, in other words, framing somebody else's content that is already freely available on the internet on your own website is absolutely fine, and there are obviously issues that arise out of that concerning advertising revenue streams that some people have on their websites where they are effectively making money by putting content freely on the internet by having advertising revenue surrounding their content. But of course if somebody can freely embed that content on their website, those adverts aren't necessarily seen. But as far as the European Court of Justice is concerned in the context of copyright, this is perfectly acceptable, and this applies across all 28 EU Member States.

In answering the fourth question, the CJEU held that member states do not have the right to give wider protection to copyright holders by widening the concept of "communication to the public" from that which is given in the InfoSoc Directive, as this would otherwise give rise to legislative differences between member states contrary to the purposes of the directive.

Bestwater ruling:

The Bestwater case reconfirmed the liberal approach that the Court of Justice takes towards embedding copyright material on a third party website. The judgement has been stayed pending the outcome of the decision handed down in the Svensonn case. And the CJEU has ruled that unless an original publisher uses technical access restrictions, then embedded content does not reach a new public. The effect of this judgement, combined with the Svensonn judgement is likely to lead to more restrictive publishing practices within the EU. Copyright holders will seek to avoid free riders taking advantage of the loophole that the court seems to have legitimised. So to provide background,

The Bestwater case was referred to the Court of Justice by the German Federal Court of Justice. It deals with a promotional video about water pollution that was produced by Bestwater International, a company that makes water filters. The film was originally published by Bestwater on its own company website and later uploaded to YouTube, allegedly without the permission or knowledge of Bestwater. The defendants were competitors of Bestwater, and they embedded the video on their websites, with the frames pointing to the YouTube copy. Now Bestwater objected to this use and sought an injunction against the two representatives of the rival company from the German Court. Bestwater's position was that the video was protected by copyright and that the exclusive rights to use the film belonged to Bestwater. So the German court referred the case to the CJEU asking whether the embedding of content of a third-party website on one's own website constitutes a communication to the public within the meaning of Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive.

After the Svensonn decision, the Court of Justice felt that it had already put an end to the debate regarding content on the Internet and it reverted to the German Court suggesting that the latter should withdraw its submission. In other words, saying that they did not want give an answer, saying that they had already answered it. The German Court insisted on a decision, one of the main reasons apparently being that in the Bestwater case, the YouTube video which the defendants were linking to and embedding on their website was itself a copyright violation. Nevertheless, in delivering its decision the CJEU followed the same rationale as in Svensonn and held that embedding content from another website does not amount to communication to the public if the uploader did not restrict access to the content and communicated it to the entire web community. There was no new public accessing the Bestwater video when it was embedded on the defendant's website, because when the video was uploaded on YouTube, whether lawfully or unlawfully, it was intended to be accessed by all who have access to the Internet. So this ruling somewhat cast doubt on the technical and economic understanding of modern media publication because the CJEU's position seems to be that the Internet is a medium rather than a mere technology. In other words, by analogy, a website does not compare to a particular magazine, newspaper, or a particular TV channel, but print media, TV in general, i.e, the relevant audience being all those who have access to magazines and newspapers rather than access to a particular newspaper, and all those who have access to TVs rather than a specific channel. So from a purely economic perspective these decisions raise concerns as they open up numerous possibilities to take advantage of copyright holders and content of other parties on the Internet. Based on these decisions, it's now possible to use written content, images or other videos that are hosted on another website for one's own website simply by embedding them. Apart from using somebody else's Internet bandwidth (which wasn't addressed by the CJEU at all), the CJEU in these copyright cases haven't taken account that the embedded content is actually taken out of its original context, and the advertisements displayed on the original website alongside the uploaded content may not appear on the embedded website, and the embedder may therefore spoil an important source of revenue for the copyright owner and use third-party copyright content for its own economic benefit. The most obvious response to these decisions will be that copyright owners will need to protect their content by implementing paywalls or other restrictive measures from the outset.

Another decision that the ECJ handed down involved the low-cost European Airline, RyanAir. This has been a long running dispute with various third parties, but one third party in particular, which accessed content on the RyanAir website to enable the sale of RyanAir flights and details about RyanAir time tables and schedules available on that third-party website, and interestingly, one thing that the Court of Justice raised in that decision is that it may be possible for owners of content to bind third parties in contract, but obviously you need to ensure that you are binding that third party in contract by accessing the website so that even if you cannot sue them for copyright infringement, you may be able to sue them for breach of contract for accessing your content and placing it on their website.

Database rights (AutoTrack v. GasPedaal)

The Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the use of a meta-search engine can, in certain circumstances, constitute re-utilisation of the contents of the database in the meaning of Article 7(2)(b) of the Database Directive.

Database rights is an unusual concept, very newly come into the EU, and they provide protection above and beyond copyright protection. You don't necessarily need to have original content in a database, it's really protecting the investment an individual makes in actually producing the database, and that investment can be assessed on a qualitative or quantitative basis.

The Database Directive introduced the bespoke new form of legal protection. It is commonly referred to as the sui generis right . Article 7(1) in particular provides a "right for the maker of a database which shows that there has been qualitatively and/ or quantitatively a substantial investment in either obtaining, verification or presentation of the content to prevent extraction and/or re-utilisation of the whole or of a substantial part, evaluated quantitatively and/or qualitatively, of the contents of that database". Now for this purpose, Article 7(2)(b) provides that "re-utilisation means any form of making available to the public of all or a substantial part of the contents of a database by the distribution of copies, by renting, by online, or other forms of transmission". Article 7(5) provides that "the repeated and systematic extraction and/or re-utilisation of insubstantial parts of the contents of the database implying acts which conflict with a normal exploitation of that database or which unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the maker of the database shall not be permitted."

The recitals to the Directive also back this up. So recital 42 of the Directive provides for "The right to prevent extraction and/or re-utilization related to acts by the user which go beyond his legitimate rights and thereby harm the investment". "The right to prohibit extraction and or re-utilization of all or a substantial part of the contents of a database relates not only to the manufacture of a parasitical competing product but also to any user who, through his acts, causes significant qualitative or quantitative detriment to the investment".

Turning to the facts of this case, Wegener operated a website called AutoTrack which carried car sale advertisements updated daily of to a 190,000 to 200,000 second hand cars of which around 40,000 were to be found on the AutoTrack website. Now Innoweb operated an online car advertisement website called GasPedaal. Rather than having its own database, it used a dedicated meta-search engine which then searched third party websites including AutoTrack's, using those websites to obtain results. So when a user typed in search terms on the GasPedaal website, the site's search engine would translate the relevant command into a language that could be understood by the AutoTrack web search engine. The AutoTrack search engine would then find any relevant advertisements and make them available on the GasPedaal search engine, which would then sort and collate those results from other dedicated search engines on other websites as well. The GasPedaal search engine would then note where more than one site produced the same advertisement and then made a single search result of those, presenting the user with links to the multiple sources. For each search performed, the GasPedaal search engine only returned results representing a small number of the advertisements on the AutoTrack site, but that is because it was only returning results that matched the relevant search terms given by the Internet user. Now Wegener successfully sued Innoweb for infringement of its database right. Innoweb appealed and the Hague Court of Appeal stayed the proceedings pending reference to the CJEU for a ruling on nine questions. The Court of Justice did not consider it necessary to consider all the nine questions. It ruled that it would be an infringement to the database right to use the meta-search engine in circumstances such as that involved in such proceedings. Under Article 7(1), an operator who makes available on the internet a dedicated meta-search engine such as GasPedaal re-utilises the whole or substantial part of the contents of a protected database, when that database's meta-search engine:

1) provides the end user with a search form which essentially offers the same range of functionality as the search form on the original database site.

2) where it translates queries from end users into the search engine for the database site in real time so that all the information on that database is searched through.

3) where it presents the results to the end user using a format of the website grouping duplications together into a single block item in an order that reflects the criteria comparable to those used by the search engine of the database site concerned for presenting results.

A dedicated meta-search engine is different from a general search engine based on an algorithm (like Google), primarily because a meta-search engine does not have its own data itself. It makes use of search engines of third party websites by transferring the queries from its users to the other search engines having first translated them into the relevant format required. It therefore offers the public a service where it searches the entire contents of the third-party databases or part of them in real time.

So Article 7(2)(b) has been broadly drafted to include "any other form of making available". The EUCJ attributed a broad meaning to the concept of reutilisation in its case law focusing on the objective of the database right which is to stimulate investment in data storage and processing systems. So in light of this objective, the re-utilisation has been construed as referring to any unauthorised act of making available to the public the results of the database maker's investment. Accordingly, in this case, it included any distribution to the public of the contents of the database regardless of the nature and form of the process used. When a website operator makes a dedicated meta-search engine available on the Internet, it does more than just point out the third-party databases that exist that a user can go to and consult. It gives the end user the means of searching all that data in most third-party databases without even visiting those third party databases' websites and akin to the Svensson and Bestwater case, this might mean that advertisers might stop advertising on the original third-party's site and might start placing advertisements on the meta-search engine's site. Now in this case we are looking at database rights, the EUCJ considered this dedicated meta-search engine to be close to a parasitical competing product. But it made a reference to the fact that this wording exists in Recital 42 of the Preamble of the Database Directive. The legislation is different, so this is why it has reached a different result, but still, it leads to a conflicting approach. So the Court of Justice held that the meta-search engine sites are close to being parasitical competing products and they've gone on to explain the fact that they resemble databases even though they themselves do not contain databases. And therefore in this case, and in similar cases, operators of such search engines would be making available to contents of third party websites within the meaning of Article 7(2)(b).

What are the effects of this judgement?

By bypassing the homepage and most other pages of the site that actually contain the database, meta-search engines can divert hits, and potentially advertising revenues. Operators of websites that scrape data from third parties and enable those third party sites to be searched, and by doing so thereby risks diverting advertising revenue may therefore need to review their technical business model in light of this judgement.

 

Chaitanya Prasad, Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks, India

In India, patents, trademarks, designs, and geographical indications are administered by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks. We have offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. We have a Geographical Indications Registry located in Chennai as well as an Institute of Intellectual Property Management in Nagpur.

There are other IPR laws administered by different ministries. The Ministry of Human Resource Development looks after the Copyright laws. The Department of Information Technology looks after the Semiconductors, Integrated Circuits, and Layouts and Designs Act.

The number of patents in force in India in 2013 was 41,103 out of which 82 per cent were owned by non-resident Indians. The average age of patents in force in India is around 11.6 years, incidentally the second- highest in the world. The reason could be that India is a large market and companies want to exploit these patents and keep them in force.

National IP Trends

The filing of patents in India has gone up from around 35,000 to around 43,000 from 2007 to 2014, and the resident filing has gone up from 17% to 25%. In the year 2011-12, 11,000 patent applications were examined while in 2013-14, the number was 18,000. On a comparative basis, in India one patent examiner examined 140 patent applications in 2014 against 50 and 70 in the US and EU respectively. Therefore, it is the lack of human resources that is creating a backlog in the processing of patents in India vis-a-vis other countries.

Initiatives of the Indian Patent Office aimed at creating easy access to patents offices, and at Improving Its Quality and Services:

Comprehensive e-filing has been introduced where every document and form can be filed online, with regard to patent and trademarks. A payment gateway was launched in 2014, wherein Internet banking facilities of more than 70 banks can be used in addition to debit cards and credit cards for filing any patent or trademark. There is complete electronic processing in the patent and trademark office. Every paper that comes in is scanned, digitised and uploaded. Every paper that is issued from or received by the office is made available on the website.

An entry in the national phase can be done by filing Form 1 and the last page of the specification as we are directly streaming specifications from the WIPO patents scope. Incentives are being given for online filing. There is a 10% cost differential between online and offline filing since February 2014. One month after the incentive was introduced, online filing went up from 30% to 75%.

A new category has been introduced for Medium and Small Enterprises (MSMEs) in patents and designs. MSMEs get 50% discount for filing.

Quality management teams have been hired and skill development of personnel has been undertaken. Measures to introduce more transparency have been sought and efforts have been made to disseminate information with regard to IPRs. Real-time status of IP applications is available within tier file wrappers and e-registers.

The Indian Patent Office does weekly publication of online journals. We have a free public search facility. We have started instant email communications to applicants in trademarks specifically for filing purposes. We have started QR-coded communications for smartphones.

We have introduced a number of dynamic utilities where one can avail of information in real-time. Using the "stock and flow utility" one can find the stock of applications as well as the flow of applications from one process to another. From this, one can drill down to the office, the field, and the application itself and go to the file in the file wrapper and see the entire office thrown open to the world. One of the utilities counts and publicly displays the number of lapsed and expired patents in real-time. Because the patents have either lapsed or expired, these can be searched through fields of technology through any patent application that was not renewed or has expired. These applications are available on the website with the specification and search facility on a real-time basis. A number of other dynamic utilities for examinations, show-cause hearings, publications, registrations, et cetera have been made available online in real-time. We have started working as an international searching authority and have started giving high quality reports. These are currently available to all Indians.

We are shortly going to provide a searchable patent database. We are also bringing in an integrated search engine and are augmenting our human resources. The new government has approved 1,033 new posts in the patent and trademark offices, and with the training and skill of the increased human resources, we will stand on par with the best in the world with regard to the examination and disposal of both patent and trademark applications. We are completely overhauling our hardware and processing software. We will soon introduce new guidelines - one on computer-related inventions and another on search and examination generally.


Dr. Stefan V. Steinbrener, Consultant, Bardehle Pagenberg

Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions at the EPO

"Computer-implemented invention" (CII) is defined in the guidelines of the European Patents Office as an expression intended to cover claims which involve computers, computer networks, or other programmable apparatus, whereby prima facie one or more of the features of the claimed invention are realised by means of a programme or programs. Such a claim directed at computer-implemented inventions may take the form of a method of implementing said apparatus, apparatus set up to execute the method, or following the computer programme itself or as well as the physical media carrying the programme, computer programme product claims such as data carrier, storage medium, computer readable medium, or signal.

One can assume that an important part of all applications will fall under this definition. In 2010, the EPO granted 60,000 patents out of which 20,000 were covered by the said definition.

The core regulation is Article 52 of the EPC: European patents shall be granted for inventions in all fields of technology provided that they involve an inventive step and are susceptible for industrial application. Further, there is a list of non-inventions which include discoveries, scientific theories, mathematical methods, schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games, doing business, programmes for computers, and presentations for information. This will include or exclude patentability only to the extent to which the European patent application or patent related to such subject matter or activity.

The nature and language of such a regulation mandate the identification of a criterion delimiting excluded items from non-excluded ones. On the one hand, we have no definition of statutory subject matter apart from stipulation that inventions arise from all fields of technology. On the other hand we have a definition of a non-exhaustive list of exceptions, which are not patentable or have non-patentable subject matter. This regulation is, however, contrasting with respect to US regulations. In paragraph 101 in the US, the definitions of statutory subject matter can be found and the non-patentable subject matter is determined through findings of the Supreme Court, abstract ideas, laws of nature and natural phenomena.

Thus from a legal aspect, there are two hurdles for patent eligibility. The first is the patent eligibility of the subject matter. If this is in the affirmative, then the next hurdle is whether the elements of a patent are satisfied, namely, novelty, innovativeness, and industrial applicability.

According to European standards, an invention may not be innovative but may be patent eligible so long as the subject matter is patentable. The judicial issues that are to be addressed are the development of a coherent method of identifying the patentability of a subject matter and subsequently dealing with the grey areas in technicality by sifting through individual cases in order to arrive at certain guidelines for approaching individual cases of patent eligibility.

The finding of the case law upon the first issue is that an invention is such if the claimed subject matter has some technical matter. A subject matter is said to have technical character if it relates to a technical device, product or relates to technical means. "Technical means" has been liberally construed such that in a particular matter a method of storing information using paper and a pencil is patent eligible subject matter because the method employs technical means such as paper and pencil. However, the same would not be patented as the implementation of the same is trivial. The answer to the same question of patentability would be no if it is among the excluded subject matter or is similar to another invention. The barrier to patent eligibility will not disappear but the threshold is much lower. It is only when a subject matter is completely devoid of technical means can it be not called can invention. Barriers also come into play when the idea is abstract or even if there is a possibility of the use of technical means to some extent but claims for the same are not made.

Are computer-implemented innovations patent eligible under the EPC?

The answer would be yes, if explicitly tied to technical means.

When determining whether the invention has the required qualities of a patent, the answer would be in the affirmative if those of the technical features that contribute to the technical character are noble, inventive and industrially applicable. Thus only features of a technical character are taken into consideration while the others making no such contribution are ignored. For example, there have been a lot of patent applications for business methods from the United States, after the State's Street Bank Decision. These applications may have about forty pages of description of the business innovation with a disclaimer note at the end stating that the implementation of the same can be achieved through basic hardware that are already in use. Such applications lack an inventive step and can therefore cannot be patented. Thus, the basic test of patent eligibility with regard to the definition of an invention is the determination of whether there is a technical solution to a technical problem.

Some of the excluded subject matter may contribute towards technical character. Mathematical methods, for example, in the case of cryptography, wherein a mathematical algorithm may assist in the implementation of the same; then such a mathematical method may be patentable.

Further, "technical" should be understood to mean technological. But generally, it is difficult to define the term "technical", even through case laws. The meaning of the same in the core area is however undisputed while the semantics which lack definition are only at the fringes which may be identified in individual cases. We thus work with a dynamic concept of technology.


Ravi Bhola, Partner, KnS Partners

Patent Valuation and its Interplay with FRAND Terms

There are two broad methodologies for the valuation of patents. One is quantitative valuation by taking into consideration the income, the cost, and the market. However, the more relevant method is the qualitative analysis wherein one can look into the scope of the claims, geographical coverage, et cetera. Patent valuation is sometimes speculative. However, in an observation made by a court in the Federal Circuit, a judge directed a re-trial stating that in the study by the patentee, which was an SEP holder, the damages were predicted on speculation and unrealistic assertions. Thus one can ponder about whether there is a requirement to take into consideration a greater number of tools, software, or parameters for the valuation of intellectual property.

In order to strike a balance with society, SEP holders are obligated to licence their patents on FRAND terms to interested parties. The observed trend is that because SEPs are more important, they are valued higher than regular patents. Therefore, the question arises: Are SEPs are over- valued? For this purpose, reference must be made to four ongoing cases concerning SEPs.

Ericsson v. Micromax:

While the adjudication had commenced, it was observed that Ericsson has prior license agreements on FRAND terms of its 8 SEPs (under litigation in this case) with players in the West and other parts of the world. The court thus called forth these agreements for perusal.

Therefore, the first contentious concern is the manner or methodology adopted by the courts to arrive at the unrealistic rates of royalties. However, it is evident in this case that the court, by referring to prior agreements with the same set of SEPs, are trying to bring down the rates of royalty to more realistic values, even at the interim stage.

A similar situation has been observed in the case between Ericsson and Xiaomi, which is pending in the Delhi High Court. Here the court arrived at the amount of Rs. 100 as an interim arrangement, till the adjudication of the matter has been completed. It was again speculated here as to whether the amount was inflated.

The trend observed in the patent litigation at the Delhi High Court where most of such matters are adjudicated, is that unlike the pharmaceuticals sphere, there is a greater tendency in the telecommunication patent litigation to grant a temporary injunction, modify or even vacate the same while determining royalties payable, even at this stage.

How has the West handled these matters with regard to SEP valuation?

Motorola sued Microsoft in the US over the infringement of some of its SEPs. The former sought 2.25% royalty, but the court set a lower rate, such that the royalty amount fell from 4 million USD to about 1.8 million USD. The question which arises is with regard to the manner of determination of such royalties and whether sufficient parameters are in existence [to determine royalties].

Another example is of a European case wherein Apple was found to be infringing SEPS owned by Motorola Mobility. Apple's claim before the European Commission was that as an interested and willing licensee, it had made efforts to obtain a license for the said patents under FRAND terms which Motorola Mobility deterred vehemently. The European Commission upon investigation found that Motorola was exploiting its dominant position in the market and it intentionally sought to oust Apple from the usage of technology protected by means of the SEPs. Damages were accordingly awarded in this case.

Therefore, there is uniformity in the notion that there is an obligation on SEP holders to license their patents to interested licensees on FRAND terms.

What constitutes reasonableness?

The presumption with subjective issues such as these is that the courts will define the same through case laws. While FRAND terms have been dealt with by the courts and even the European Commission, it is pertinent to note whether there have been any anti-trust or competition matters pertaining to the ongoing litigation in telecommunication patent infringement. The Competition law comes into picture while determining the checks and balances to ensure that the SEP holder acts in a reasonable manner.

In Micromax v. Ericsson and Intex v. Ericsson placed before the Competition Commission of India (CCI), Micromax and Ericsson claimed that they had approached Ericsson as licensees but the immense royalty rates put forth by Ericsson deterred them. The CCI after investigation affirmed the claims of Micromax and Intex, with the finding that Ericsson has indeed abused its dominant position. However, the Delhi High Court has directed the CCI to abstain from passing the final order as long as the case is sub-judice.


Daniel R. Bereskin , Q.C. Founding Partner, Bereskin & Parr LLP

Patents as Catalysts to Economic Growth

The more I studied WIPO data and other sources, the more I came to the conclusion that patent numbers, whether in terms of filing or grants are a pretty poor indicator of the level of innovation in a country. Many commentators have taken the view that the patent system throughout the world is in crisis and there are many reasons for this. Far too many patents are granted for very trivial innovative steps, if they are even innovative at all. They are tiny sideways steps, even backwards steps.

When I started in 1965, in order to get a patent, you had to have an invention that was new, "unobvious" and useful. Now we see many thousands of patents granted annually for inventions that are of very dubious merit. Not only does this not encourage economic growth, it tends to retard economic growth. Think of small and medium-sized enterprises, for example. When they are confronted with many thousands of patents that are far too expensive for them to properly evaluate, covering very trivial or insignificant steps.

It is really up to the government to a large extent to encourage innovation and they do that in many countries in different ways such as through research and development tax incentives. The trouble is that if a government spends money in encouraging research and development, it tends to be invisible to the ordinary member of the public whereas building roads and doing other things that are much more concrete in nature are easier and better from the short-term political view. At the same time, if a country is to grow economically, and to prosper in the future, it is absolutely crucial that governments make an investment. I think a rough rule of thumb is for governments to devote up to about 2% of their GDP to encouraging R&D, and that money is significant, but it has to be spent wisely.

Now India has come up for criticism by the US Chamber of Commerce for not adequately protecting IP rights. The International Trade Commission is conducting a survey right now of US firms to understand how the policies of India discriminate against US exports and investment. Canada is also on the watch-list, although it is the US's greatest trading partner and is in close proximity to the US. I find these comments to be very ironic because the US has a history of discriminating against foreigners when it comes to protecting its own citizens. In fact Prof. Jane Ginsburg who is a prominent teacher and writer called the US in the 19th century a pirate nation, and the reason why she said that is because the US refused to grant copyright to works of foreign authors and that did not change till 1891. The reason for that was that Americans liked to read British authors in preference to the works of American authors. So the solution was to not give copyrights to British authors. When they finally, grudgingly, granted copyright protection, it was on the condition that the books of foreign authors had to be manufactured in the United States. This manufacturing clause was not repealed until fairly recently and that was done only because by then the US realized that the US had become a big exporter of books by authors. So we have to take with a grain of salt the comments we get about IP policies in every country. It is very important to take a realistic view of what is really going on.

China has grown steadily in the past eight years to the point where the growth is now over nine trillion dollars. The growth in filing patents in China is incredible. It is going up exponentially and shows no signs of abating. In 2012, WIPO showed that Chinese nationals were responsible for almost 150,000 granted Chinese patents and the number of issued patents to foreigners was roughly 75,000. The problem with China is that there is no way of knowing what the mix is between patents of invention and utility models. Given the enormous disparity between the number of applications filed by the Chinese people in China compared with those filed by them abroad, most of the inventions that are utility models, or patents that are of very dubious economic value. My feeling is that these huge numbers are due to government policy in dictating to Chinese companies that they have to file a lot of patent applications, because it is easy for a government to say, "Look at how impressive our filing statistics are". You have to dig deeper to try to find out what the value is of the innovations that are represented by these patents. My feeling is that since such a small number, roughly 4% of all applications filed by the Chinese in China were filed abroad, that is an indication that the vast majority of these huge Chinese filings are not of any great economic importance.

India's GDP is over 1.3 trillion dollars. Economists predict that in 15 years, the Indian economy is expected to rival that of the US. Of course, India has a population of over 1.3 billion. The US has, maybe, a quarter of that. So you cannot exactly compare them.

Patent applications in Indiai show a somewhat disturbing trend. Although there is some growth in the patent filings by resident applicants, non-residents' filings swamp [outnumber] those of the residents. The number of applications filed abroad by companies and individuals of Indian origin is less than 10,000, which is a very small number given the size of the Indian economy.

There has been a very sharp decline in the past four years in the number of patents that are actually granted to individuals or companies where the inventors are of Indian origin. In 2014, less than 600 patents were granted to Indian nationals [WIPO statistics]. The number of patents granted to foreign applications is likewise declining and it is surprising. It could mean that the Indian Patent Office is getting tougher on "unobviousness". Nevertheless, the numbers are still pretty low.

Korea is a real success story. Their GDP is not yet at the level of India or China, but it is at 1.3 trillion dollars, which is not insignificant. But take a look at their patent application filings. Korean inventors were responsible for almost 150,000 filings in 2012. Koreans filed more than 50,000 applications abroad in the same year. These grants are substantial compared with [erstwhile] figures for India and China.

The US GDP is close to 17 trillion dollars and the economy seems to be continuing to grow. Right now the US economy is about 27% of the worldwide GDP. It is reasonable to conclude that the US has a very strong and vested interest in trying to ensure that IP rights are protected outside of the US because their continued growth depends on the protection of their homegrown IP.


Questions-Answers

How do you compare and contrast recent litigation in pharma versus litigation in the high-tech space, especially Ericsson and Vringo?

Pravin Anand (Managing Partner, Anand & Anand): In the Francis Xavier case in New Delhi, a division bench of the Delhi High Court said that an ex-parte injunction must not be granted in patent cases. The law, however, changed subsequently. The first evidence is of a DCJI clearance required when an application was moved by a pharma company and the news reached the patent owner by means of a right-to-information (RTI) request and private investigation. The patent owner then approached the court in order to prevent to the marketing of the product. Thus, before the launch of the product, the patent holder obtained a status quo. The rules of the division bench did not apply because balance of convenience was observed in maintaining the status quo. But that order essentially acted as an ex-parte injunction in a patent matter. This was phase one. Phase two saw the grant of injunction as the number of status quo order had exceeded twenty five in litigation against well known companies such as Pfeizer and Bristol Meyers. These orders were converted to injunctions by the judges.

The third phase was brought on by the Ericsson, Vringo, and other electronics companies, which albeit through lesser litigations, were able to create quite a stir. Ex-parte injunctions were granted in these cases. However, the judges felt the need to arrive at interim arrangements in lieu of the injunctions. Earlier, pending trial, these arrangements involved the payment of money and royalty by the defendants through their sales, directly to the plaintiff.

Therefore, the present stance is that both status quo orders and temporary injunctions are in use in pharma litigation before the launch of the product. Subsequently, the grant of such orders is rare. The impediment after launch is that the price difference between the plaintiff's and the defendant's product are evident to the question. Prior to the launch, only the plaintiff's product exists in the market. Hence, the grant of such orders is said to be in favour of balance of convenience. The mobile phone patent litigation cases, however, are witnessing the grant of interim orders, rather, arrangements.

Why is it that the Courts cannot wait another day to hear both the parties before granting the ad interim injunction?

Abhay Pandey, Partner, LexOrbis: The main issue that is going to come up in electronic product litigation is the pleading which contains the product mapping. In the Ericsson cases, there is an indirect reference made to the infringements, i.e., the devices are following the standards and not the readings to the claims. Therefore, the issue of injunctions will arrive only once the product is broken down into the claims.

D.P. Vaidya (Lakshmikumaran Sreedharan)

Computer Related Inventions and Indian Patent Law

Section 2 of the Indian Patent Act defines “invention” as any new process or new product which has or which involves an inventive step and is capable of industrial applications. “Inventive step” as well as “capable of industrial application” are defined in the Act. Section 3 defines what are not inventions. With respect to computer related inventions (CRIs), section 3(k) is worded differently than the provision for CRIs in the European Patent Convention (EPC). In Indian law, mathematical methods, algorithms, and business methods are not considered “inventions”, irrespective of whether they are “as such”. Computer programs are qualified with the phrase “per se” instead. The only common thing between EPC  and Indian patent law is that “computer programs per se” or “computer programs as such” are not inventions. So programs that do not quality “per se” or “as such” could be patentable.

What are CRIs?

CRIs can be classified as: CRIs related to general purpose computers and CRIs implemented by specific computers (and not special purpose computers). General purpose computers are inventions that work towards different types of solutions. The solutions could be purely mathematical calculations or technical problems.

The term “business method” is not precisely defined in law as much as the abstract idea is. Generally speaking, any commercial transaction will qualify as a “business method” going by my observations from various decisions in the US, UK, and Europe.

Example technical problem: What is the point of presence (PoP) for designing network topology or network architecture?

Based on rules and various parameters defined for the topology or architecture, a schematic is drawn up. It shows the locations where the PoPs should be placed to minimise the cost of operations and the investment. This is also an application that can be implemented over a general purpose computer.

Would it fall under the definition of an “algorithm”? The definition of “algorithm” in the guidelines is very broad. Whether or not it is implemented on a [general purpose] computer, it will be treated as a “computer” because there is no qualifier as “per se” or “as such”. If it is an algorithm, it is not patentable.

Then, what is not an “algorithm”? It could be argued that all methods will fall under the definition of “algorithm”. The IEEE definition of a “solution to a problem” is that it is a finite set of well-defined rules in a finite number of steps. For example, a complete specification for a sequence of arithmetic operations for evaluating the value of sin “x” for a given precision. When the aim is mainly to determine a certain value or function for optimisation or for arithmetic calculations, the method or process can be treated as an “algorithm”. From a legal point of view, methods are patentable, but paradoxically, algorithms are not considered inventions.

Then next level of general-purpose computer-implemented inventions (CII) are those that make changes in the operating systems [instead of sitting on top of the operating system]. By making changes in the operating system, the CII is changing the character of the computer. It is improving the computer, and therefore it is patentable. Also, a general purpose computer operating a machine or a technical process is patentable.

Embedded Computer-Implemented Inventions:

Wherever there is embedded software, the patent controllers generally do not have any issues related to patentability. They may have issues related to inventive step.

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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.