Deepa Kurup

Meeting discusses recent modification to patent manual

BANGALORE: Living up to its status as the country’s Information Technology (IT) capital, Bangalore played host to a different kind of “software lobby” here on Saturday.

Unlike most lobbies, this one had no vested interests and no hard-line agenda. In a bid to raise awareness about software patenting and generate a debate among stakeholders, the Free Software community from across the country participated in a national-level meeting against software patents.

Public hearings

This open meeting comes in the wake of the public hearings being conducted by the Indian Patent Office to discuss the recently formulated patent manual. The office has shelved all discussion on software patents and promised an exclusive meeting with stakeholders. Nearly 20 organisations and various stakeholders who participated in the hearing threw up issues ranging from patent laws and principles in general, to specific issues of the “software per se” clause in the patent manual. Submissions made by many stakeholders to the patent office were also discussed.

The meeting was held to discuss the recent modification to the manual, which is being interpreted as a move to make “software in combination with hardware” patentable. As of now, software comes under the copyright law.

This move is significant because a similar ordinance was scrapped by the Parliament in 2005. The Free Software community feels that the clause panders to the powerful IT and multi-national companies lobby that has been rooting for this legislation.

Copyright

Speaking at the meeting, Venkatesh Hariharan of Red Hat said that software was protected by copyright and additional protection was more harmful for the industry and the consumer as a whole.

“Patent is a state-granted monopoly, but copyright protects the expression of an idea and a code is safe as long as one can prove that he has arrived at it independently,” he said.

As a sole representative of any government body, Joseph Mathew, Special IT advisor to the Government of Kerala, made a presentation of his government’s stand on software patents.

“The manual should not have brought this up again, considering Parliament scrapped it in 2005. We hope it is a clerical error and the Kerala Government will consider writing to the Union Government and the patent office informing them of our opposition to this issue,” Mr. Mathew said.

Small and medium enterprises which use Free Software such as Zyxware from Trivandrum, Deep Root Linux and Turtle Linux from Bangalore, among others made presentations at the meeting. Several research and advocacy organisations such as the Centre for Internet and Society and the Delhi Science Forum put forth various facets of this debate.

Lack of clarity

“The lack of clarity in the Patent Act results is being wrestled aggressively and effectively by corporate interests, patent attorneys and the patent office in favour of granting software patents. This meeting helped bring together the counter-opinions in this matter, and we will go ahead and participate in any meeting that will be called for by the authorities,” said Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society.

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