Centre for Internet & Society

This document is divided into two parts - the first part lays out a series of research questions, potentially seeking to apply actor-network theory as a research methodology. The second part seeks to map literature around the Actor-Network Theory ("ANT") as a research methodology.

Part 1: Research Questions

The aim of this exercise is to delineate the contours of the paper, and provide some insight into the demarcation of the various sections.

The overall context to this paper will be determined by a globalized form of intellectual property ownership, and the various instances in which this narrative finds a place (either overtly or covertly) in the regulation of standard essential patents in India. In our paper, the globalized form of IP ownership is probably most clearly indicated in the standard setting process, where participants are International Standard Setting Organizations determining, in a manner of speaking - the rules of the game - that is - licensing on Fair Reasonable and Non Discriminatory Basis. The other important player to our understanding of global ownership would be multilateral organizations such as Ericsson, involved in many of the disputes before the Delhi High Court and the Competition Commission of India ("CCI"). Perhaps international actors/actants would also be international legal principles as well as international regulators such as the FTC or the ECC themselves. This phase of the paper will also trace India's specific location in global competition. In doing so, not only will the market positions of some of the players be examined, but also some comparisons will be made to illustrate how the relationship of international jurisdictions (mainly the USA and the EU) with international multinational corporations that are a party to litigation differs from that of India. This phase of the chapter will most likely apply the doctrinal method of research, study academic texts as sources as well as study some decisions by international regulators and courts to understand the tools and sites available for regulation as well as the nature of the regulatory process itself.

The second phase of this chapter will seek to map the overall context to specific cases - that is, pending legal processes in India. This includes both, ongoing litigation on patent infringement at the Delhi High Court as well as ongoing disputes before the CCI as well. The characters in this litigation also trace back to the broader context; some of them more directly than others. The multinational corporations are directly involved in both contexts, whereas the domestic regulators may seek to draw inferences or apply commonly understood international legal principles, thus invoking more international actants.

This phase of the chapter will study three key litigations in India - Ericsson and Micromax, Ericsson and Intex, and a third that is yet to be defined. Legal traditions and institutions in India will be used to understand what legal possibilities are available for using competition regulation to regulate SEPs. This includes specifically the levers in competition law such as abuse of dominance as well as the nature of the competition regulator and the role that it identifies for itself. One might also consider the relative 'youth' of the competition regulator as a factor in laying down legal principles, the constraints it imposes on itself as well as a tension between the market regulator and the courts. Perhaps this might also be an actant, in the context of the actor network theory. This phase of the chapter will most likely apply the doctrinal method of research, study academic texts as sources as well as study legal instruments and judicial decisions as sources.

The third phase of this chapter will now ask the question of standard essential patent (SEP) regulation, located within this broader matrix of intellectual property ownership and fluidity of actants. The specific question to be asked will be what is the competition regulation challenge for SEPs in India? This phase will attempt to distill the uniqueness of India in the narrative of global IP ownership around SEP litigation. It will be observed that the nature of the players in international litigation as well as in India is rather different. This phase will also attempt to make a case for IP regulation within India's existing culture of engaging with the public interest in intellectual property regulation.

It is in this phase that one must also examine the usefulness of the actor-network theory as a research methodology to study SEP regulation in India. It must be noted that while SEP regulation so used is used to refer to competition regulation specifically, and not to other levers, such as mechanisms within intellectual property law itself. The focus of this exercise will be competition regulation, with an engagement with other areas of the law and the judicial process only in as much as it informs our understanding of competition regulation of SEPs or impedes it. If one were to apply the actor network theory to this phase of the exercise, one would view courts, parties involved in the litigation, the CCI, international legal principles, international market regulators, international SSOs, competition law as well as issues raised in the litigation as 'actants', both human and non human, who are to be treated on par with each other, with a study of the networks that these actants create, or are a part of.

Part 2: Literature Review on the Actor-Network Theory

The aim of this exercise is to first, understand the ANT as a research methodology; second, to study its components and third, to ascertain its suitability as a research method for exploring the challenge of regulating SEP litigation through completion law mechanisms in India.

What is the Actor-Network Theory?

David Banks, in a 2011 blog post, contextualized in trying to trace a relationship between our offline and online behavior presents an overview of the ANT.[1] Banks describes ANT as an ongoing project that seeks to radically transform how social scientists talk about society's relationship to technology and other non human actors ; and identifies Bruno Latour, John Law and Michael Callon as the major authors in this space. (It is observed that there might have been additions or deletions to this core list of thinkers - not to self for further reading).

In his paper[2] reflecting on the ANT, Bruno Latour refers to himself as a 'fellow traveler' of the various network 'revolutions', and says that in the network, he has found a powerful way of rephrasing basic issues of social theory, epistemology and philosophy. Latour says that in its simplest and deepest sense, the notion of the network is of use whenever action has to be redistributed.[3] In a different paper, Latour argues that the purpose of the ANT is not to provide explanations for the behaviour and reasons of actors, but only to map procedures which enable actors to relate to each other and each others' world building capacity. My discomfort with this reading is trying to locate what these procedures would be in an SEP regulation environment.

Identifying the components of the ANT

Latour presents an actant - or an actor - as something that acts, or to which some sort of activity is assigned by others. [4] There is no special motivation of humans or human actors. "An actant," says Latour, "can literally be anything provided it is granted to be the source of the action."[5] The conception of an actant, Latour further articulates, should be not as fixed entities, but as fluid, circulating objects, whose stability and continuity depends on other actions. [6]

So what is on its agenda? The attribution of human, unhuman, nonhuman, inhuman, characteristics; the distribution of properties among these entities; the connections established between them; the circulation entailed by these attributions, distributions and connections; the transformation of those attributions, distributions and connections, of the many elements that circulates and of the few ways through which they are sent.[7]

Banks[8] identifies actants to be of two types - human and non human, further explaining that 'actors' is typically used to refer to humans. These actants have equal amounts of agency within the actor-network. Banks proceeds to demonstrate this applicability of equal agency with an illustration of getting wi-fi connectivity in Albany. In his narrative [9] (and as he notes later himself), Banks uses the same language (read as according agency to the inanimate) to describe both, the human and non human actants. Says Banks, that the actants are merely nodes that facilitate a larger functioning. It is submitted that the 'larger functioning' being referred to is probably something that would be determined on a case to case basis - depending on what was being studied.

In a 1999 paper On Recalling ANT[10], Latour articulates a problem with the usage of the word 'network' as a result of its usage having changed over time - from using it to refer to a series of transformations incapable of being captured by prevalent social theory at the time, to an unmediated access to every piece of information (to my understanding within the context of the World Wide Web). Latour explains that his new understanding is exactly the opposite of what they meant and that it ought not to be used to mean the transformations they were initially articulating.

Another of Latour's papers is helpful in arriving at an understanding of the 'network', where he argues that it would be fallacious to consider it in a technical sense, as one would a sewage, a train or a telephone network.[11] Unlike a technical network, Latour argues, an actor-network may have no compulsory paths, no nodes and might be quite local in nature. Latour further argues that thinking in terms of a network helps us overcome the tyranny of distance, citing a range of examples including standing one metre away from somebody in a telephone booth and yet being more closely connected to his mother, thousands of miles away, among others[12]. In each of his illustrations, however, Latour articulates closeness or distance in terms of geography or presence in a physical sense, which might not be entirely applicable to the research question we're seeking to study. What might be more useful perhaps, is the articulation of the network where he argues that instead of tracing an individual to the collective or the agency, one could only at the number of connections an element has and gauge the importance of the element in light of these connections . The greater the number of connections, the more important an element and vice versa. [13]

ANT Criticism and Applicability of the ANT to our research question?

Before delving into specifics of the ANT that lend themselves to a critique, I submit a broader reservation with the application of the ANT to studying legal and regulatory processes. From my reading and understanding of the ANT so far, a cornerstone appears to be the exclusion normative ideologies, with a focus on studying processes and networks as is, without formulating a value-judgment on their larger place in the society being studied. In so far as defending this claim, Latour and other supporters of this theory have relied on scientific examples (for instance, the reference to the Colombia Shuttle - NASA and its complex organizational structure)[14] or illustrations from the social sciences or social phenomena. I'm still attempting to locate a paper that utilizes the ANT to study law or regulation. Prima facie, the challenge being posed is to study inherently normative structures and processes with clear power structures.

Banks[15] describes the efficacy of the ANT in describing the processes by which inventions and technological systems come into being, or fail to do so. Perhaps in studying the legal regulation of SEP litigation in India, the efficacy of the ANT would like in describing the processes by which legal regulation and legal systems in India (specifically to regulate SEPs) come into being, or fail to do so. By extension, for our research question, non human actants as identified by Banks[16] would probably be legal institutions and the parties to the litigation themselves. What is unclear at the moment is whether policy and legal instruments or levers themselves would be actors.

Banks, in his article also articulates criticisms[17] to the ANT propounded by Sandra Harding, David Bloor and Sal Restivo, on the grounds of being blind towards other social factors such as race or patriarchy. If one were to extend this to the research question at hand, an argument could be made that the ANT seeks to equate dissimilarly situated institutions. Corollaries to race and patriarchy might be found in the market power of parties (an Ericsson v. a Micromax), or even within regulatory set up itself, where, based on the facts so far, an argument could be made out that different regulators are situated differently, where the Delhi High Court could pass an order restraining another regulator - the Competition Commission of India, from passing its own order.

A reference to the 'agency' critique of the ANT is made by Latour himself, in his 1999 paper. Latour goes on to acknowledges the critiques of the ANT, but says that most have (mistakenly) centered either around the actor or around the network; and that the idea was to never occupy a position in the agency/structure debate.[18] Later in the paper, Latour further clarifies that actants are not to be perceived as playing the role of agency, and network is not to be seen as playing the role of the structure. Instead, says he, they represent two sides of the same phenomenon. Latour further explains that the ANT merely tried to learn from the actors (what was sought to be learnt was difficult to grasp), without attempting to be an explanation of societal pressures (and the reasons for such pressures) on actors. The difficulty in reading this paper for me was that it was rather dense in many respects, with various concepts - including, for instance, the idea of the 'social', which he refers to constantly, not being clearly articulated. Further, what is uncertain to me is how this question of agency will play out if applied to a legal or regulatory context. If, for instance, a legal principle was to be a non human actant, how would this have an agency independent of the human actor (the judge) that would be the one applying the legal principle in the first place? Can we truly exclude the question of agency from the ANT if the very exclusion of agency means a recognition of the existence of agency in the first place? How does one exclude the question of agency in seemingly unequally situated actors with an inherent power dynamic? Is the ANT, then even a useful research methodology? In his 1999 paper, Latour argues that the aim of the ANT is to study actors without the imposition of an a priori definition of their world building capacities.[19] The question now arises for me, is how to divest regulators of their 'world building capacities'.

Explaining the rationale[20] for the ANT (in social science research), Latour articulates a dissatisfaction that social scientists have with both, micro (local sites) and macro levels (more abstract ideas like culture, patriarchy etc.) of research. This dissatisfaction, he argues, results in a back and forth between these sites ad infinitum. The ANT, argues Latour, is a way of tracing these dissatisfactions, not for the purposes of finding a solution, but to follow them elsewhere and explore the very conditions that make these two disappointments possible. Latour further clarifies that one must not understand 'network' in ANT to mean a larger society that would help make sense of local interactions or as an anonymous field of forces. Instead, he says, it refers to summing up various interactions through various devices, inscriptions, forms and formulae into a very local, very practical, very tiny locus. My key takeaway from this articulation was that ANT could be used to study various interactions between various key stakeholders, with a very specific research question. Given that the locus could also be tiny, perhaps if the research question was narrowed further, the key stakeholders, or the 'network' and the 'actants' would reduce as well.

Latour has also argued that the ANT makes no assumptions about how an actor should behave and assumes infinite pliability and absolute freedom of actors. [21] In itself AT is not a theory of action no more than cartography is a theory on the shape of coasts lines and deep sea ridges; it just qualify what the observer should suppose in order for the coast lines to be recorded in their fine fractal patterns. Any shape is possible provided it is obsessively coded as longitude and latitude. Similarly any association is possible provided it is obsessively coded as heterogeneous associations through translations.

there is no difficulty in seeing that AT is not about traced networks by about a network-tracing activity. As I said above there is not a net and an actor laying down the net, but there is an actor whose definition of the world outlines, traces, delineate, limn, describe, shadow forth, inscroll, file, list, record, mark, or tag a trajectory that is called a network. No net exists independently of the very act of tracing it, and no tracing is done by an actor exterior to the net. A network is not a thing but the recorded movement of a thing. The questions AT addresses have now changed. It is not longer whether a net is representation or a thing, a part of society or a part of discourse or a part of nature, but what moves and how this movement is recorded. [22]

A useful articulation of the application of ANT emerges out of Jonathan Murdoch's 1997 paper.[23]He submits that the human gaze is being increasingly considered as an unreliable source of knowledge, being in a constant state of flux. Citing the example of the environment/biosphere to demonstrate the futility of the separations we make between nature and society, Murdoch argues that any solution to the environmental crisis will involve a profound re-thinking of how we link these two domains.[24]Extending this argument to our research question, one might ponder for instance that any solution to the SEP litigation and regulation conundrum will involve a profound re-thinking of how we link the courts and the CCI. What is unclear is what method we will use to arrive at this re-thinking, or what the re-thought out version would look like.

Murdoch does, however, articulate concerns with the 'non dualistic' framework (which the ANT positions itself as) and argues, relying on others before him, that such an adoption could have far reaching consequences; that the very basis of the development of social science is such a binary division. Murdoch argues that the nature-society divide has enabled social scientists to break the hegemony of the natural scientists. Murdoch further submits his reading of Latour, where he states that the power of laboratories arises as a result of their ability to tie together actors that are beyond the lab into networks that are then used to disseminate scientific facts.[25] Murdoch's paper largely focuses on blurring the distance between 'natural' and 'social' actors, and identifies the difficulties in attempting to compare the two. Murdoch questions if natural actors whose identity emerge from nature itself are malleable as social actors, who are by definition, a product of society. What is unclear, however, is how malleable are two dissimilarly situated social actors; and whether 'social actors' is broad enough to encompass all institutions born out of or with a human/societal interaction component. Specifically, for our paper, would courts and the CCI both qualify as social actors? Would legal principles? Would the decision making process by the courts itself? Latour's very example for proposing the ANT was that of pasteurization in France. Murdoch also questions whether it's possible to in fact treat various actants as each other. In order to address another critique of ANT, that where we exclude notions of power, Mudoch says Law's articulation - of focusing on 'victims' instead of 'heroes' might prove to be useful. This has not been discussed in detail, leaving the reader to make their own inferences.

In other words, can ANT, with its seamless webs, forever crisscrossing the human-nonhuman divide, provide a secure platform for critique, for the expression of a profound dissatisfaction with the activities of powerful social actors and the attribution of responsibility to those actors? Can it, in other words, ever do anything more than describe, in a prosaic fashion, the dangerous imbroglios that enmesh us?
Does this emphasis on description necessarily represent "an insuperable obstacle to effective and convincing social criticism

[1] David Banks, A Brief Summary of Actor Network Theory, available at http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/12/02/a-brief-summary-of-actor-network-theory/ (last accessed 29 August, 2015).

[2] Bruno Latour - Networks, Societies, Spheres : Reflections of an Actor - Network Theorist, International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 796- 810, available at http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewArticle/1094 (last accessed 31 August, 2015).

[3] Id at 797.

[4] Bruno Latour - complications paper - at internal page 7.

[5] Id.

[6] Id at internal page 8.

[7] Id at internal page 7.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Bruno Latour, On Recalling ANT, available at http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-77-RECALLING-ANT-GBpdf.pdf (last accessed 28 August, 2015).

[11] Bruno Latour, On actor-network theory. A few clarifications plus more than a few complications, available at http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-67%20ACTOR-NETWORK.pdf (last accessed 30 August, 2015) at internal page 2.

[12] Id at internal page 4

[13] Id at internal page 6.i

[14] Latour, the networks, societies, spheres paper

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Latour, recalling the ANT paper.

[19] Recalling ANT paper, page 20

[20] Bruno Latour, On Recalling ANT, available at http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-77-RECALLING-ANT-GBpdf.pdf (last accessed 28 August, 2015).

[21] Latour, the complications paper, page 9.

[22] Id at 14.

[23] Jonathan Murdoch, Inhuman/nonhuman/: actor-network theory and the prospects for a nondualistic and symmetrical perspective on nature and society, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 1997, Volume 15, 731-576

[24] Murdoch at page 732.

[25] Murdoch at page 737.

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