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Move towards patenting software draws flak

Staff Reporter

If we begin to patent ideas, we will lose out on innovation, says academic

— Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Opposition: Members of the Free Software Users Group and others staging a protest in Bangalore on Saturday.

Bangalore: While many people take the slogan “Saying no to software patents” to mean the right to usage of free Internet software, the issue of patenting is rooted in a larger milieu, affecting not only users of software, but also those who develop software and service it.

A candle-light vigil at Puttanna Chetty Town Hall organised by members of the Free Software Users Group, originally founded by Richard Stallman more than two decades ago, here on Saturday brought these issues to the fore.

Discussion

The protest was held in anticipation of the Consultation on Draft Patent Manual, being prepared by the India Patent Office, to be held in Bangalore on August 27, where the India Patent Office will hold a discussion with key players in the software industry regarding patenting of software.

Also present were students, people from the software industry and academics among others.

Renuka Prasad, professor at R.V. College of Engineering, said: “Cooking and programming are not so different. If we begin to patent ideas, we will lose out on innovation in large amounts.” A similar opinion was voiced by Sunil Abraham, Director, Policy, Centre for Internet and Society, while speaking to The Hindu.

“In India, the film industry is fortunate that films are copyrighted and not patented, or we would not have an industry to speak of,” he said.

‘It’s absurd’

“Patenting software is absurd in that sense because an entire industry — made of smaller software developers — will die down,” said Mr. Abraham, stressing that the furthering of ideas would be clamped if software was patented.

Kiran Jonnalagadda, Program Manager at COMAT Technologies Private Limited said: “We need to understand the difference between patenting the idea and the process. In the software industry, where ideas are emerging in parallel, how can one party be given the patent?”

The immediate result of patenting is, therefore, exclusive rights to a privileged few.

“As of now, the Patent Manual, the result of a three-year process between 2005 and 2008, says that software in combination with hardware can be patented. It also says that software cannot be patented ‘per se.’ and that has led to the ambiguity in understanding patent laws in India,” Mr. Abraham pointed out.

With this protest and a steady campaign in the same direction, the protestors hope to reverse the text of the manual and completely do away with the idea of patenting software in India.

Violation

They claimed that patenting software was a violation of the freedom of speech and expression under the Indian Constitution.

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