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Monday, March 19, 2001

Combating piracy through IPR
By Sumesh Raizada

AS medium of communications are increasing, more and more persons are facing problem of identifying the actual owner of a particular idea or a thought. The situation has further become complex with the widespread use of the Internet in almost every segment of life. Information, data, picture or even sound gets transferred to every corner of the globe within fraction of second.

With the Internet being used for unlimited applications like online education, tele-medicine and voice communication, software companies and educational institutions are finding it extremely difficult to protect their interests. Several expensive software that were developed after spending million of dollars and would have involved several man hours are available for free download on various sites, leading to irreparable commercial damages. There are many search engines, which link to sites from where one can get access to even confidential information or data. To add salt to the wound, several mobile and pager companies are facilitating access to the Web though in a limited form. Any unauthorised person can transmit information without even getting permission from the actual owner, causing monetary losses running in billions through it. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the companies or individuals to protect their research work, developed hardware and software from getting imitated or pirated by others.


Since economic losses involved are heavy due to fierce competition in the IT field, software companies and computer institutions are now realising the importance of Intellectual Property Rights or IPR.

In countries like India, market share of unbranded or assembled computers is far more then that of branded ones. The reason being that these are not only cheaper in price but also that a buyer can get as many software as he wishes, loaded on to the computer without any extra cost. These programs are pirated version of otherwise expensive software, for which there is a heavy license fee. Computer hardware manufacturers or retailers are supposed to supply only licensed software to their customers, but as it involves additional cost, people find it easy to buy pirated versions at almost throwaway prices.

As a result companies like Microsoft, Lotus, etc suffer heavy losses due to this illegal trade. Both, Indian Government as well as trade associations has become increasingly concerned for Intellectual Property Rights and Copyright Laws in IT industry. Since Indian market for computer industry is growing at a fast pace and is spread to almost every geographical corner, the task of implementing IPR is extremely difficult for the law enforcing agencies. As a result these are assisted by associations like CII, Nasscom, which employ or hire professionals who work for ensuring the intellectual property rights of the authorised owner of any software or hardware product. Nasscom, along with business software alliance, has opened up an anti-piracy cell to counter any unauthorised business. Similarly, many legal firms, both in India and abroad, are now operating exclusively for the copyright or IPR, considering the huge business potential in computer industry. However, there are still very few experts in this otherwise highly important field and therefore vast employment opportunity exists for the trained professionals in the IPR.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is extremely important for the success of business in IT industry. They help in planning, marketing strategies, R&D, technical collaborations, exports, of software as well as hardware products. Some major aspects that are related to the IPR are copyrights, trademarks, patents and industrial design. In India, intellectual property rights for computer software are covered under the Copyright Law. Almost all aspects of modern laws related to telecommunication, computer software, hardware is included in the Copyright law. It specifies the rights of copyright owner, the one who has originally conceived the product or software and developed it. The law also mentions clearly the right of user to make backup copies, or to make commercial use of licensed software, rentals and price of software, punishment and fines that can be imposed for violation of rules.

Keeping in view the financial implications, anyone who infringes the copyright law can be tried and punished in both civil as well as criminal court. Those involved in piracy of software or violates patent laws can be sentenced to even jail term and fine to the tune of lakh of rupees. The law does not allow selling or giving on hire the copy of licensed software without prior permission of the copyright holder. Firms can protect their original software or program from getting copied, by registering with the Registrar of Copyrights. Once registered, they can display the copyright sign with the software as a warning to potential infringement. Copyright owners of any software can further assign or sell the rights either partially or fully to other party. This may be against royalty or for a mutually agreed amount.

Anti-piracy cell of Nasscom provides various services to its members as well as outsiders to ensure implementation of the IPR. It provides list of authorised retail outlets and suppliers of licensed copies of specific software, educate people on various aspects of copyright laws and utility of having licensed software. It also gathers information regarding violation of copyright laws and conveys the same to the agencies or companies concerned.

The IPR is gaining wide recognition. This can be gauged from the fact that FICCI has promoted Institute of Intellectual Property Development at Delhi, which was set up on line with similar institutes in Japan, France, and UK. The purpose is to educate and train professionals on latest technologies, research and developments, patent strategies, etc. The future as well as working executives can get awareness on various aspects of Intellectual Property rights. They are also exposed to various copyright and patent laws prevalent in India and other countries.

Keeping in view that Indian software professionals are firmly establishing themselves in the IT industry worldwide, we shall witness a number of Sabeer Bhatias in the coming times. As more R&D work is carried out in the field of hardware as well as software, need shall arise for more experts and professionals who can provide guidance and help on matters related to IPR or copyrights or patents. For becoming an IPR professional, a person need not necessarily be a law graduate. One must desirably be an engineer and should have proficiency in computer programming. However, he must be fully conversant with the rules and laws related to intellectual property rights, copyrights, patents, trademarks, industrial design, etc. The potential IPR professional should also be aware of similar laws in other countries where a product or software may be used or exported.

The IPR professionals can work in law-enforcing agencies, software and manufacturing associations like Nasscom. They also work as technical advisor or consultants to the advocates in law firms. Here, they are required to interact with client firms, which want to get their software patented and protected from various piracies. They also mediate in disputes related to copyright infringements or those related to e-commerce. The IPR professionals along with the legal experts are involved in the jobs such as protection of the Internet domain names, assisting companies in developing and implementing internet related technologies, licensing of multimedia and online publications, performing intellectual property audits for various clients, etc.

Besides having requisite qualifications, a person going in for a career in Intellectual Property Rights should have good communication skills. He should possess authority over the related subject and be able to convince others on his viewpoint. A person should also be aware of latest modifications and amendments in laws and must be a good reader of books, journals and related publications. He should also become a member of some associations and regularly attend seminars, to keep abreast in happenings.

Already, countries like the USA have a considerable demand for the IPR professionals, who are earning quite handsomely.

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