Centre for Internet & Society

The chairperson of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and three of the six commission members are participating in a conference organised by Assocham and sponsored by private companies like Ericsson, trade associations and two legal firms specialising in intellectual property cases.

The article by Rema Nagarajan was published in the Times of India on August 6, 2015.

This, civil society organisations argue, raises issues of conflict of interest in a quasi-judicial body like CCI participating in a conference organised by private parties that have cases before the commission.

For instance, the event partner Ericsson is facing CCI investigations on matters related to standard essential patents (SEPs), one of the conference topics, and issues related to licensing of technologies on fair and equitable terms. The vice president and head of the legal section of Ericsson also has a speaking slot in the inaugural event. The brochure clearly states that the event partner on payment of Rs 5 lakh gets several privileges including a speaker's slot in the inaugural and business sections.

Several civil society organisations including Alternative Law Forum, Centre for Internet and Society and IT for Change from Bangalore, Knowledge Commons Collective, National Working Group on Patent Laws, and Software Freedom Law Centre from Delhi have written to the CCI protesting against its participation in the conference.

In their letter to CCI chairperson Ashok Chawla, they pointed out that the day-long conference titled Interface between Intellectual property (IP) and Competition Law, being held in a five star hotel on August 7, was focusing on issues being adjudicated by CCI. While Chawla is listed in the brochure as giving the inaugural address, CCI members GP Mittal and MS Sahoo are chairing two technical sessions and a third member SL Bunker is giving a special address at the valedictory function.

Other speakers include Rajiv Aggarwal, Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, representatives of Google, Intel, Microsoft, the UK IP Office, senior advocates from three Indian law firms specialising in IP and representatives of international law firms and consultancy firms.

"It is a well-set precedent that judicial and quasi-judicial bodies never directly or indirectly discuss matters pending before them. The conference is centred on discussing issues that are currently under the investigation of CCI along with commercial entities, including one which is facing the investigation," stated the letter adding that all the judicial or quasi-judicial bodies were expected to avoid not only actual conflict of interest but also perceived conflict of interest.

The civil society signatories pointed out that the event was not an academic event but a commercial one organised by a chamber of commerce along with the industry with clear commercial objectives. "The participation of CCI in the event would compromise the credibility and independence of CCI. Therefore, CCI as a guardian of public interest should not be subject to the lobbying efforts of IP owners. Providing privileged access to lobbying efforts of private enterprises like Ericsson, Qualcomm, Microsoft and Intel would cast a dark shadow on the neutrality of CCI," stated the letter requesting Chawla not to participate in the conference and to direct CCI members and CCI staff involved in investigations to avoid participation.