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India: The National Public Meeting on Software Patents

Bangalore, October 4, 2008

by sacw.net, 1 October 2008

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On behalf of the organizers, the Free Software users Group-Bangalore
cordially invites you to The National Public Meeting on Software Patents

==Venue==

2nd Floor, Ecumenical Resource Centre,
United Theological College,
Millers Road, Benson Town.
(Behind Cantonment Railway Station)
Bangalore-560046

==Date and Time==

10:00-17:00
- Saturday, October 4, 2008

==Background==

Software patents in India occupy a contentious and indeterminate legal space. While recent amendments to the Patent Act have sought to bring our law in conformity with WTO-mandated standards, these amendments have shied from pronouncing conclusively on the patentability of software. The result is an equivocation in the law which is being wrestled aggressively and effectively by corporate interests, patent attorneys and the Patent Office in favour of granting software patents. Unheard, and so unrepresented in this powerful triad are the interests of millions of citizen-consumers who are either presumed too ignorant to be credited with a view on the issue, or are presumed to be irrelevant to the determination of issues which are seen as purely "business" matters (as opposed to "citizen" matters).

Software is everywhere you look (and many places you never think of looking). With the explosion of low-cost computing devices (think mobile phones and iPods), software has leaked out of its traditional home-the PC-and begun infiltrating various aspects of our lives. From traffic signals to toilet commodes in some countries, refrigerators to railway tickets, vacuum cleaners and electronic voting machines, TVs, refrigerators and electronic pacemakers, inanimate objects of all sizes are humming to themselves, chattering amongst themselves in an intricate, highly complex tongue called ’software’ that few of us can ever hope to understand. On the impulses of software, we stop or move on streets, fill up on petrol, and elect governments. Someone’s heart beats. Someone else receives land records on a village kiosk. Someone is standing by helplessly for fourteen years (the un-evergreened term of a patent) because software failed to factor in her disability.

There are big stakes involved in the control of software in an era when software is becoming increasingly central to the way we humans organize our lives and inhabit a democracy. At one level this is about preserving the right of agency and self-direction that citizens have in their own lives. At another, it is about the right not to be silenced when our long-fought democratic republic is at risk of being diminished by a few lines of software in a machine. Whether or not we are all in fact capable of deciphering software is inessential. Those of us who are ought not to be denied the freedom to interrogate, tinker and improve.

Patents have the effect of adding an additional layer of ’protection’ to already existing copyright protection of software, while simultaneously overriding the various affordances and safeguards built into copyright law. For instance, the right of "fair dealing" under copyright law permits users to examine and modify any software in order to make it interoperable with other software. This is an extremely potent right that reasserts our right to intervene in the shaping of our surroundings. It is also one of the rights that is most imperiled by software patents.

The present "public hearing" on software patents is an invitation for dialogue on the various issue surrounding software patents. Although the Patent Office had scheduled a public consultation on its Draft Patent Manual to be held in Bangalore in August this year, that meeting was abruptly cancelled (or postponed indefinitely, or to an unannounced date-we can’t be sure) without any reasons having been assigned by the Patent Office. This signals either of two unpleasant scenarios: first, the Patent Office is proceeding with its consultations in an extremely mechanical fashion, not intending inputs received in the course of these consultations to qualitatively impact their functioning in any way; or secondly, perhaps the Patent Office underestimates the amount that citizens living in the IT capital of India might have to say on the subject of software patents.
It is our attempt in this public hearing to organize the kind of consultation that the Indian Patent Office ought to have conducted. We hope also hereby, to serve as a gentle but firm reminder to the Patent Office that its task is as yet undone.

==Agenda==

1000-1100
- Presentation on the principles of patent law and software patents

Sudhir Krishnaswamy
(National Law School)

Prabir Purkayastha
(Delhi Science Forum)

Nagarjuna G.
(Free Software Foundation of India)

1100-1130
- Discussion on software patents in the Indian context: Indian Patent
Act, and the draft patent manual
- Prashant Iyengar
(Alternative Law Forum)

Venkatesh Hariharan
(Red Hat)

1130-1150
- Tea break

1150-1240
- Discussion on patents and the development sector (freedom of speech, open standards, healthcare, biotech, agro-sector, etc.)
- Sunil Abraham
(Centre for Internet and Society)

Anivar Aravind
(Movingrepublic, FSUG-Bangalore)

Others

- 1240-1300
- Presentation on the software patents that have been
granted so far in India

Pranesh Prakash
(Centre for Internet and Society)

1300-1400
- Lunch break

1400-1700
- Open House

Those speaking will include:
- Joseph Matthew
(Special IT Adviser to the Government of Kerala)

T. Ramakrishna
(National Law School)

Abhas Abhinav
(DeepRoot Linux)

Sreekanth S. Rameshaiah
(Mahiti Infotech)

Vinay Sreenivasa
(IT for Change)

(And any others who wish to speak)

==Organizers==

- Centre for Internet and Society;
- Free Software Users Group-Bangalore;
- Free Software Foundation of India;
- SPACE;
- IT for Change;
- Alternative Law Forum;
- Delhi Science Forum;
- Movingrepublic;
- Sarai/CSDS;
- OpenSpace;
- Swathanthra Malayalam Computing;
- Servelots - Janastu;
- Mahiti;
- DeepRoot Linux;
- Wiki Ocean;
- Turtle Linux Lab;
- Zyxware Technologies;
- INSAF;
- Aneka