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 favor 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 affordability 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 canceled (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.

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