The Economic Times | 21 April 2016
RCEP talks could affect startups by allowing patenting of computer software
by Neha Alawadhi
The ongoing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade agreement being negotiated between 16 countries including India, could have an adverse impact on the startup and technology services industries, if a clause on software patents is allowed to pass.
"The proposed clause in the Free Trade Agreement being negotiated could result in floodgates being opened for patents in the field of software," Software Freedom Law Centre said in a letter to the Commerce Secretary, dated April 18.
"This will make writing code and innovating in the field of software a risky proposition akin to stepping on a minefield, with the developer unaware of when he could be accidentally infringing on a patent. This could also hinder the success of the ’Digital India’ programme and hurt the domestic software/IT industry as well as the ’Make in India’ initiative," it further adds.
Several startups and civil society members fought hard over the last year to prevent the allowing of software patents in India after the Indian Patent Office in August interpreted the law to mean that if a software had industrial applications, it could be granted a patent.
The Patent Office however, rolled back its recommendation this February, and the decision was hailed as a big win for startups. If the clause being debated in RCEP goes through, it will mean opening up a Pandora’s box of legal hassles for companies trying to innovate.
"The Indian industry was able to escape the patent wars being fought across the world in the field of software, thanks to the foresight of our legislators. The intent of the Parliament cannot be overridden by treaties like the RCEP. We as a nation should learn from the mistakes committed by other countries and keep software out of the realm of patentable subject matter," the letter added.
The RCEP is being negotiated among 16 countries including ten ASEAN members, India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Commerce Secretary Rita Teoatia said earlier this month that India is offering commitments in RCEP on goods and services, but had also said that norms in areas like IPR and labour in this agreement may pose challenges to countries including India.