Seminar on Software Patent and the Commons

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Sep 02, 2010 01:55 PM |
A pre-grant opposition has been filed against a software patent application filed in the patent office by Certicom, a wholly owned subsidiary of Research in Motion (RIM), manufacturers of Blackberry. The opposition was filed on August 31, 2010 by the Software Freedom Law Centre which has recently expanded its operations to India. This exciting development was announced by Mishi Choudhary from SFLC on the lines of the seminar on “Software Patents and the Commons” organised on 1 September 2010 in Delhi jointly by SFLC, the Centre for Internet and Society, the Society for Knowledge Commons and Red Hat. Filing more such oppositions to software patents in India was in the pipeline and this is just the beginning of a movement to take on monopolisation of knowledge and ideas through patenting software, the organisers said.

Software patent opposition is still in its nascent stage in India while several oppositions have been filed against software patents in the US and the EU. The harmful effects of software patents are little known to the Indian public, especially from the context of its danger to development in small and medium size enterprises, as pointed out by Pranesh Prakash from the Centre for Internet and Society who spoke about why software patents are bad for innovation and development in society and also in the software industry, in particular.

In the same context, Venkatesh Hariharan from Red Hat as also Mr. T.C. James, Director of the National Intellectual Property Organisation spoke about the growing importance of free and open source software in education, governmental agencies and as a key agent in information technology policy making in India. “Out of 500 super computers in the world, 446 are running on Linux”, he said, talking about how open source software makes computing highly accessible and affordable while allowing for improvements to be made to the software by any user and releasing it back to benefit the whole community. Dr. Anshu Bhardwaj involved in the Open Source Drug Discovery project undertaken by CSIR, spoke at length about the project as a live demonstration of the power of open source software in impacting drug access and development and health care reform across communities at highly economical rates.

Prof. Eben Moglen, Executive Director of Software Freedom Law Centre in New York who was the keynote speaker at the conference spoke about the growth of the free software and open source movement based on the principle of equating knowledge with commons – that is, a good to be commonly shared by all members of the public – resulting in access to and sharing of knowledge and distribution of information in society for greater innovation, creation of new ideas, communication and development. Dr. Abhijit Sen, member of the Planning Commission was the other keynote speaker who stressed on the role of the government and the policy making bodies to ensure that knowledge and education is accessible and shared without restrictions in such a way that it is not misused by the members of the society.

Other notable speakers in the event included Prabir Purkayastha from the Society for Knowledge Commons, Pradyut Bora, Chief Convenor of BJP's information and technology cell, Jaijit Bhattacharjee from Hewlett Packard and Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Professor, National University of Juridical Sciences. The event also witnessed the participants discuss the various strategies to be used from the perspective of legal analysis as well as policy reform, for opposing software patents filed or granted in India. Indian patent law clearly declares computer programmes per se or software patents to be unpatentable. Prabir Purkayastha pointed out that the most important and major scientific discoveries in history have not been patented and that this has, in no way prevented new ideas from being created and has in fact fostered such innovation. In spite of such a clear legal restriction on grant of software patents, around 1000 software patents have been filed in the patent offices in India in the last year. This trend is extremely disturbing since it poses a serious threat to access to knowledge and distribution of information in society in addition to stifling innovation and development in the software industry.

The seminar was attended by people from diverse backgrounds including the IT industry, civil society organisations, and groups working in pharma patent advocacy, media persons and government officials.