Readers may recall several posts that have been put up by SpicyIP relating to the controversy that surrounds the eligibility of Software Patents under the new Draft Patent Manual. One major issue of concern was the lack of public consultation during the formation of this text. In response to this, a National Public Meeting on Software Patents is being organized in Bangalore on 4th October with several prominent speakers being invited. More details below:
The National Public Meeting on Software Patents
Ecumenical Resource Centre,
United Theological College,
Millers Road, Benson
Town. (Behind Cantonment Railway Station)
10:00 – 17:00
Saturday, October 4,2008
Software patents in India occupy a contentious and indeterminate legal space. While recent amendments to the Patent Act have sought to bring our law in conformity with WTO-mandated standards, these amendments have shied from pronouncing conclusively on the patentability of software. The result is an equivocation in the law which is being wrestled aggressively and effectively by corporate interests, patent attorneys and the Patent Office in favour of granting software patents. Unheard, and so unrepresented in this powerful triad are the interests of millions of citizen-consumers who are either presumed too ignorant to be credited with a view on the issue, or are presumed to be irrelevant to the determination of issues which are seen as purely “business” matters (as opposed to “citizen” matters).
Software is everywhere you look (and many places you never think of looking). With the explosion of low-cost computing devices (think mobile phones and iPods), software has leaked out of its traditional home – the PC – and begun infiltrating various aspects of our lives. From traffic signals to toilet commodes in some countries, refrigerators to railway tickets, vacuum cleaners and electronic voting machines, TVs, refrigerators and electronic pacemakers, inanimate objects of all sizes are humming to themselves, chattering amongst themselves in an intricate, highly complex tongue called ‘software’ that few of us can ever hope to understand. On the impulses of software, we stop or move on streets, fill up on petrol, and elect governments. Someone’s heart beats. Someone else receives land records on a village kiosk. Someone is standing by helplessly for fourteen years (the un-evergreened term of a patent) because software failed to factor in her disability.
There are big stakes involved in the control of software in an era when software is becoming increasingly central to the way we humans organize our lives and inhabit a democracy. At one level this is about preserving the right of agency and self-direction that citizens have in their own lives. At another, it is about the right not to be silenced when our long-fought democratic republic is at risk of being diminished by a few lines of software in a machine. Whether or not we are all in fact capable of deciphering software is inessential. Those of us who are ought not to be denied the freedom to interrogate, tinker and improve.
Patents have the effect of adding an additional layer of ‘protection’ to already existing copyright protection of software, while simultaneously overriding the various affordances and safeguards built into copyright law. For instance, the right of “fair dealing” under copyright law permits users to examine and modify any software in order to make it interoperable with other software. This is an extremely potent right that reasserts our right to intervene in the shaping of our surroundings. It is also one of the rights that is most imperiled by software patents.
The present “public hearing” on software patents is an invitation for dialogue on the various issue surrounding software patents. Although the Patent Office had scheduled a public consultation on its Draft Patent Manual to be held in Bangalore in August this year, that meeting was abruptly cancelled (or postponed indefinitely, or to an unannounced date‹we can’t be sure) without any reasons having been assigned by the Patent Office. This signals either of two unpleasant
scenarios: first, the Patent Office is proceeding with its consultations in an extremely mechanical fashion, not intending inputs received in the course of these consultations to qualitatively impact their functioning in any way; or secondly, perhaps the Patent Office underestimates the amount that citizens living in the IT capital of India might have to say on the subject of software patents.
It is our attempt in this public hearing to organize the kind of consultation that the Indian Patent Office ought to have conducted. We hope also hereby, to serve as a gentle but firm reminder to the Patent Office that its task is as yet undone.
Several speakers including Sudhir Krishnaswamy (NLSIU), Prabir Purkayastha (Delhi Science Forum), Nagarjuna G.(Free Software Foundation of India), Prashant Iyengar (Alternative Law Forum), Venkatesh Hariharan (Red Hat), Sunil Abraham (Centre for Internet and Society), Joseph Matthew (Special IT Adviser to the Government of Kerala), Abhas Abhinav (DeepRoot Linux, etc will be speaking at the event.
Centre for Internet and Society;
Free Software Users Group-Bangalore;
Free Software Foundation of India;
IT for Change;
Alternative Law Forum;
Swathanthra Malayalam Computing;
Servelots – Janastu;
For further details, please contact:
Pranesh Prakash ([email protected] / +91 80 40926283)