Startups and big cos spar over software patents
The technology industry in the country is divided over the issue of allowing the patenting of software. While the service-focused traditional IT industry wants laws that allow software patents to protect intellectual property, the new age product oriented startups fear that such laws could stifle innovation. The face-off was evident in a meeting organised by the Department of Electronics and IT (Deity) last week.
According to the Indian Patent Office, software patent refers to the patenting of a "computer programme per se". Indian Patent laws do not grant patents to software; however, software is protected by Copyright Law just like literary and aesthetic works. According to Section 3(k) of the Indian Patent Act, mathematical or business methods, computer programmes and algorithms are not inventions.
While some countries such as Japan, South Korea, the US, etc. allow for software patenting, others such as Russia, South Africa, India, Germany, etc. do not grant patents to software.
The Indian Patent Office had in Aug'15 released a set of guidelines that interpreted the patent laws to grant patents to software. According to the guidelines, software can be granted patents if they fulfill certain criteria such as industrial application, novelty, and inventiveness. However, the move was opposed by software product companies and activists as it would increase litigations and hinder new products.
Moreover, the guidelines had ambiguity which left room for misinterpretation. For instance, the terms such as software, hardware, Computer-Related Inventions (CRI), etc. were not defined.
After receiving severe criticism for its guidelines on Computer-Related Inventions (CRIs) in India, released in Aug'15, the Indian Patent Office (IPO) had put the guidelines on hold. According to experts, the boundaries of software patents are muzzy and can increase litigations. Already many companies from countries such as the US are trying hard for implementation of software patenting in India.
The Indian Patent Office rolled back the guidelines for software patents which was seen as a major relief by startups. Software patenting would have entangled the startups in a web of litigations as innovations are often incremental and are built upon other programmes. Now, the decision will help promote the government's initiatives such as Digital India, Startup India, Make in India, etc.
The Confederation of Indian Industries, however, supports stringent patenting regime for CRIs. It feels that many Indian companies have invested in developing Intellectual Property(IP) in software and if it is not protected then the companies could apply for patents outside the country. Moreover, many in the IT industry feel that it could lead to a loss of IP and ultimately investments from the country.