Centre for Internet & Society

CCI Chairman Ashok Chawla is the key speaker of the conference, organised by industry chamber Assocham with Ericsson being the event partner.

The article by Dilasha Seth and Deepak Patel was published in Business Standard on August 6, 2015.

An upcoming conference on intellectual property has triggered a controversy, as a section of the civil society has urged the Competition Commission of India (CCI) not to participate in the event, sponsored by Swedish multinational Ericsson, alleging it would be a conflict of interest since the watchdog is investigating cases against the telecom company on the very same issues that will be discussed in the function.

CCI Chairman Ashok Chawla is the key speaker of the conference, organised by industry chamber Assocham with Ericsson being the event partner. The conference scheduled for Friday also has three CCI members as participants, according to the event brochure.

In a letter, signed by six civil society organisations, argued that the participation of CCI in any form in a conference organised with the financial support of Ericsson would question the integrity and independence of CCI.

On the issue, Chawla said, "I am not aware of the point raised. (I) will see and take a position."

"The participation of CCI at this conference raises serious concerns of conflict of interest. Further, CCI's sharing of platforms with private actors would compromise the credibility and independence of CCI," said the letter sent to Chawla and also marked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief Justice of India and several other ministries.

Ericsson is currently facing three CCI investigations on matters related to Standard Essential Patents and licensing of technologies on fair and equitable terms.

"Ericsson is not only an event partner but also giving a speech at the inaugural session," says the content of the letter. "We understand that the focus of the event is on two issues viz. Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) and the competition aspects of licensing agreements," the group has argued.

A CCI member on the condition of anonymity said, "As per the competition Act, 2002, it is our responsibility to raise awareness regarding competition issues. At such forums, the discussions which happen are of conceptual level only. No specific cases are ever discussed." "We have not got the letter as yet. We will take a decision as soon as we receive it," he added.

Unless there is an interaction, how can there be awareness about these issues faced by the country, asked Assocham.

D S Rawat, the chamber secretary general, said, "This is not the first time that Assocham is organising a function on the very same subject. It has in the past organised six-seven such functions, where CCI had participated."

CCI will give its view points and others including Ericsson will also give their view points, which will not have an impact on the watchdog's decisions on specific cases, he said.

"There will always be these disgruntled people who instead of contributing positively to the society, take negative stance," he added.

When contacted, an Ericsson spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.

Alternative Law Forum (Bengaluru), Centre for Internet and Society (Bengaluru), IT for Change (Bengaluru), Knowledge Commons Collective (New Delhi), National Working Group on Patent Laws (New Delhi) and Software Freedom Law Centre (New Delhi) are the six non-governmental organisations who have collectively raised the issue.

The letter argued that all the judicial or quasi judicial bodies are expected to avoid not only actual conflict of interest but also the perceived conflict of interest.

"As you know, the conflict of interest arises when there is an actual or perceived threat of the primary interest of the organisation (CCI) being influenced by the interest of another organisation/s (Ericsson)," it said.

It also pointed out that the issue of SEPs and licensing practices was an important public interest issue and the restrictive conditions and barriers to access SEPs would affect the technological and industrial development of India. Further, it would affect the consumers by creating economic barriers to access the benefits of communication technology equipment such as mobile phones.