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Standard Essential Patents on Low-Cost Mobile Phones in India: A Case to Strengthen Competition Regulation?

Posted by Nehaa Chaudhari at Feb 25, 2016 02:35 AM |
The realization of the promise of the sub hundred dollar mobile device as a facilitator of access to knowledge is contingent inter alia on its availability in the market place. In turn, the market availability of the sub hundred dollar mobile device is influenced by the existence of an enabling environment for producers to produce, and consumers to consume. From a regulatory perspective, the enabling environment itself is a function of existing laws and policies, and the ‘developmental effects’ of certain laws and policies (Saraswati, 2012).

This article seeks to examine one such legal and policy lever and the role of a regulator in the development of an enabling environment for access to sub hundred dollar mobile devices. This paper is founded on four assumptions: first, that access to sub hundred dollar mobile devices is influenced by their price; second, that the question of access necessitates conversation between the intellectual property regime and several other actors, sites and tools; third, that one of the fundamental goals of regulatory reform is the creation of a ‘stable, open and future- proof environment’ (Guermazi and Satola, 2005) that encourages access to these devices; and fourth, that there exist public law implications of intellectual property that justify the involvement of State actors and regulators in matters that may arise out of private transactions.

This article will examine whether there is a role to be played by competition law in this narrative of innovation, intellectual property and access to sub hundred dollar mobile devices.  In light of increasing litigation around standard essential patents, and the inability of FRAND and International Standard Setting Organizations to find a comprehensive solution, this paper will question the efficacy of competition law as an ex post solution to a problem that might be better addressed by ex ante regulation from a specialized body.

In an attempt to address these questions, this article will examine the role of the Competition Commission of India and the Indian Judiciary. Orders of the Competition Commission will be studied from its inception till March, 2015, in order to draw conclusions about the role that the Commission identifies for itself and the nature of disputes it adjudicates. This article will also examine the role of similarly placed institutions in the United States of America as well as some member states of the European Union.

It will be argued that while Competition Law might address some of the issues arising out of litigation around standard essential patents, and might be a tool to increase access to sub hundred dollar mobile devices, its efficacy as a long term solution in light of its nature as an ex post solution, is questionable. Consequently, it might be prudent to have a conversation leaning towards exante regulation of the market place by a specialized regulator.


The paper was published by Socio Legal Review (National Law School of India University). Download the PDF here.

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