Centre for Internet & Society

On June 27, 2013, CIS sent a letter for establishment of a patent pool for low cost access devices through compulsory licenses.

M. Mangapati Pallam Raju
Minister for Human Resource Development
Shastri Bhavan
New Delhi 110 001

27 June 2013

Dear Dr. Pallam Raju,

Subject: Establishment of a Patent Pool for Low-Cost Access Devices through Compulsory Licences

We at the Centre for Internet and Society would like to commend you for the progressive stand you have adopted that while the government is committed to low-cost access devices, students should be able to decide “on which device, whether it is a mobile phone or iPad or Aakash or regular com-puter, they access the content”. It is imperative, though, that low-cost access devices (LCAD) be available to students, and thus the Mehta Committee report rightly acknowledges the importance of the Aakash project as central to the National Mission on Education through Information and Com-munications Technology (NMEICT). We propose a solution that would ensure both easy access to affordable devices for students to enable the NMEICT mission, as well as ensure that the MHRD focus more on educational content than devices.

We would urge you to enable access to LCADs by establishing a patent pool of essential technolo-gies (the ‘Aakash patent pool’) through the issue of compulsory licences. There are, at present in-ternationally, thousands of granted patents and tens of thousands of other intellectual property claims in respect of mobile and tablet technologies. The multiplicity of claims and cross-claims makes it impossible to manufacture, without exposure to adverse claims, generic and affordable tab-let devices. As you know, the assertion of multiple adverse and competing intellectual property claims is one of the main reasons that the Aakash tablet project is stalled. Already the multi-billion dollar patent wars in the US and Europe between Apple, Samsung, and other device manufacturers, are coming to India with Ericsson suing Micromax, India’s second-largest seller of phones and tab-lets, for Rs. 100 crore just a few weeks ago.

The establishment of a patent pool of essential technologies will redress this imminent failure and will enable the manufacturing of affordable tablet devices in compliance with the NMEICT. To es-tablish such a patent pool, the current patents applicable to mobile and tablet devices must be com-pulsorily licensed to a common pool and manufacturers who wish to sell their devices at an afford-able price would be allowed, at uniform terms and conditions, to utlise these patented technologies. This will simultaneously ensure that all patent-holders will benefit from royalty payments and that all manufacturers will gain access to the requisite patented technologies in a fair manner without adverse claims. The manufacturers who benefit from the pool could be required to give the Indian government credit by displaying the Aakash logo on their devices.

In order to establish such a patent pool, it is necessary to, firstly, identify the relevant technologies, and all patent-holders of such technologies, and secondly, compulsorily licence the patents in re-spect of the identified relevant technologies to the patent pool for fair and uniform consideration. Once the patent pool is established, rules may be issued to govern access to the pooled patents, regulate the manufacturing process and prevent misuse. The Patent Act, 1970 contains provisions to permit compulsory licensing of patents by the Controller of Patents on an application made in this behalf. Section 84(1)(b) read with section 84(4) of the Patents Act, 1970 enables the issue of a com-pulsory licence in respect of a patented invention if it “is not available to the public at a reasonably affordable price”.[1]

The establishment of a patent pool will directly promote public interest by advancing and deepening education in India and will also facilitate the realisation of the NMEICT.[2]

Establishing a patent pool for tablet technologies will also stimulate manufacturing in the informa-tion technology and electronics sectors in India. The National Manufacturing Policy, 2011 identifies information technology hardware and electronics and telecommunication equipment as industries of strategic significance that demand special encouragement. The Policy calls for “sector-specific pol-icy interventions” in special focus sectors where India enjoys the benefit of cost competitiveness. It is possible that, if implemented, the patent pool and the Aakash project will become global symbols of India's technological ability. While the farsightedness of the Indian Patent Act and policymakers has resulted in India becoming the “pharmacy of the world”, similar farsightedness may now result in India becoming the “electronics hub of the world”.

Forming such a patent pool for affordable access devices will prove to be a huge opportunity for education, and the credit for that would go to the Indian government and to the MHRD in particular. Further, some of the most important patent pools of the past have only come into existence after government intervention, such as the avionics patent pool proposed by the Secretary of the U.S. Navy during World War I and the radio patent pool, also created as a result of intervention by the U.S. Government. For these and other reasons, we urge you to consider establishing a patent pool for technologies relevant to the manufacture of affordable tablets and other similar devices. We will be happy to meet you, at your convenience, to talk about the legal and other issues involved in such a project.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Sunil Abraham
Executive Director

Copies to:

  1. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Hon’ble Minister of State for Human Resource Development;
  2. Shri Jitin Prasada, Hon’ble Minister of State for Human Resource Development;
  3. Shri Ashok Thakur, Secretary;
  4. Smt. Amita Sharma, Additional Secretary;
  5. Shri Amit Khare, Joint Secretary.

[1].Compulsory licensing has long been favoured in India to enable public access to essential technologies. The Report on the Revision of the Patent Law, 1959 by a Committee headed by Justice N. Rajagopala Ayyangar advocated a strong compulsory licensing regime that formed the basis for the unamended Patents Act, 1970. The recent decision of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Novartis v. Union of India (CA 2706-2716 of 2009) creates a judicially enforceable precedent in respect of enabling affordable access to patented technologies in the public interest.

[2]. In addition, the decision of the Controller of Patents, Mumbai, in NATCO Pharma and Bayer Corporation (CL Application 1 of 2011) that upheld the issue of a compulsory licence in respect of a particular pharmaceutical promotes the principle of affordable access to essential technologies. The issuance of a compulsory licence to establish a patent pool will not violate India's commitments under the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organisation.

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