Getting ready for Start-up India

By now, everyone must be aware that Government of India has kick-started a #startupindia campaign to boost start-up businesses in India. With rest of the country, I’m also pleased to see the policy taking its shape.

Apart from tax benefits announced for the start-ups, intellectual property rights too has taken importance cognizance this time around. The Govt. of India has announced 80% reduction in filing fees for start-ups. Following the announcement, Indian patent office (IPO) released a scheme for facilitating Start-Ups intellectual property protection (SIPP).

First of all, I’m happy that the IPO has taken an initiative to help start-ups to file patents, trademark and design for their innovations. In the announcement, the IPO has clarified the definition of start-up. For the purpose, start-up means an entity, incorporated or registered in India not prior to five years with annual turnover not exceeding INR 25 crores in any preceding financial year. So, not only the new start-ups will be covered under the scheme, even the start-ups that began their business within the span of 5 years are eligible for reduction under the scheme. Further, the IPO has announced that they will empanel facilitators, such as patent agents, lawyers, trademark agents to help the start-ups in drafting and filing patents and trademarks for them. One surprising factor in the announcement is that the facilitator will be paid by the Central Government for their services through IPO. So, the start-ups will only have to pay the Govt. fee for filing the application and the professional fees for the facilitators will be borne by the Central Government. The fees for the professional services offered by the facilitators are fixed at INR 10,000 for filing of patent and INR 5000 for filing of Trademark. On personal note, I wonder how many patent agents will be willing to work at that cost.

Nevertheless, in the larger interest of people, the scheme announced by the IPO is very good for India and I welcome the initiatives by PM Narendra Modi and IPO to boost start-up businesses in India.

Author, Chandrasekhar is Manager and Patent Agent at IP Astra


Why accelerators should look into IP

Why accelerators should look into IP

Recent years have seen a surge of entrepreneur activity all over the world. Introduction of a number of early stage companies has spawned a number of entities which facilitate such companies, examples of such entities being venture capitalists, angel investors, incubators, and accelerators. Each type of entity caters to a different problem faced by start-up companies.

India is going through a phase where there is lot of traction and buzz on start-ups. Several multinational funding agencies have set their foot in India, let alone the scores of domestic funding agencies. One needs to be extra cautious in categorizing the domestic funding agencies as VC’s or accelerators or angel investors as the lines that differentiate them from one another are rather bleak. Added to that, India being multi-lingual and multi-cultural, regionally there exists hordes of funding agencies which are associated with various terminologies colloquially.

Venture capitalists, angel investors, and incubators are nothing new. In fact, they were in existence in one form or another as early as mankind has known to do business. However, a new breed of start-up supporting entities has been introduced in the market in the recent years: The accelerators. The accelerator, or seed accelerator as it is popularly known, is an entity that provides financial support, counselling and infrastructure for start-up companies at early stages of formation. The accelerators make significant effort to market themselves to potential candidates resulting in a large number of applicants vying for small number of seats. The accelerators not only look into the ideas; they look into the talent working in pursuit of the idea as well. The companies are chosen on the basis of both the applicability of the idea as well as the people constituting the team of the company. The funding varies, sometimes in small tranches of few thousand dollars and at times in hundreds of thousand dollars.

It is critical to understand the importance of Intellectual Property protection for start-ups by accelerators. Intellectual property protection which was considered as a nuisance in the past amongst Indian corporates has started getting attention in the last 10 years. More and more corporates have initiated several in house strategies in protecting IP. The various IP forums, associations, and conferences all add fuel to the IP eco system in India. Earlier, during an M&A deal in India, IP was associated only to brand equity and good will. Today, things have evolved and people have started recognizing IP during deals, especially patents. There are several factors that accelerators need to look into before inducing a company into their programs. Not just among the start-up companies, but in among any group of tech-based companies, the risk of patent litigation is very real. So even if the start-up does have patents, and even if you have an exit strategy in place, it is imperative for the investors to play the devil’s advocate and do a thorough prior art search to avoid any future litigation.

The trouble with the start-up companies today is that though they are encouraged by the wide array of VCs, accelerators, incubators, and such, they are also targeted. They are targeted by patent trolls who sniff out the deals occurring between start-ups companies and their funding agencies and target those start-ups for million dollar settlements. As a result, unless the start-up does find a way out of the troll litigation, it would not be viable for the accelerators to invest in such companies. Hence, it is important that accelerators ensure there is a good IP strategy in place before they invest in start-ups.

Patenting process in the wake of the Government shutdown

So the US government has partially shut down for the first time in seventeen years, in a spate of recent events regarding the Affordable Care Act. Several government funded organizations have had to cease operations because of lack of funds. These are hard times indeed for the myriad government employees who have been furloughed in the wake of the shutdown. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has confirmed its decision to function normally using reserve funds from prior fee collections.

The reserve fund shall last for another four weeks, after which a majority of USPTO workers will have to be furloughed. Even then, USPTO shall function with a skeletal staff and accept new patent filings and patent maintenance payments.

In the case of Federal Courts, Federal courts shall be up and running off reserve funds. Parties are still allowed to make electronic filing. However, the patent litigation cases might witness some rescheduling. The US Supreme Court continues to operate as normal.

The US International Trade Commission is putting all investigations on hold during the shutdown. All near-term filing deadlines, for example, deadlines to file requests for review of preliminary rulings et cetera, shall be extended by the length of the shutdown and all hearings shall be postponed.

Author, Leo Paul Johnson, is a patent  engineer at  IP ASTRA

Obama overrides I.T.C ruling

A few days back, the obama administration vetoed a ban on the import of older iPhones and iPads, imposed by the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

The move has its ghosts of familiarity. back in 1987, the US government under Ronald Reagan had overturned a similar ban involving samsung computer chips. Surprisingly, in both cases, the disappointed party was quite the same: samsung.

Sometime ago, Samsung had filed infringement charges on Apple regarding several patents. However, ITC found only one of the Samsung patent to be infringed by Apple: Patent No. 7,706,348, dubbed by Samsung as a “standard essential patent” or a basic patent. To facilitate the adoption of industry standards, standard-essential patents should be licensed at stress-free prices to anyone who wants to use them. (This is called “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory,” or FRAND, licensing.)

However, Apple decided to use the technology in the patent without licensing it. Instead of going to federal court to sue, Samsung went to the I.T.C. The I.T.C.’s most attractive offering being that it can ban infringing imports without going through a federal court’s narrow criteria. This is what Samsung wanted: it asked the I.T.C. to ban the import and sale of the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4, and older iPads entirely. For Samsung, a ban on Apple’s imports would have been far better than a one-time billion-dollar jury verdict. The ban would have derailed Apple’s current strategy of selling older models to compete with Samsung’s cheaper line of phones.

President Obama’s veto should dim the attraction of the U.S.I.T.C. as a forum for patent disputes. For the first time since 1987, we find USA bailing out its home-grown high tech champion by overriding its own IP controls. Obama has hence showcased his plans to use the Oval Office to reform the US patent system. By stifling the judicial system, the US government has shown that an american company does not have to be bound by the intellectual property framework that it expects the rest of the world to follow. Even more problematic, a subsequent ITC ruling found that Samsung infringed upon two Apple patents – and that its products could therefore be banned in the US. Will the Obama administration once again intervene against the ban?

The US government has two options: one, intervene in this ban too and reinforce its claim that the ITC rulings are more determinations of principles rather than determinations of any legal consequence. Or it can follow the easy, legal but morally reprehensible act of allowing the ban to stand, citing the importance of ITC ruling.

Author, Leo Paul Johnson, is a patent engineer working at IP ASTRA

Teens awaiting their first patent

Seeking Patent protection is not limited to giant corporates, research institutes, or companies anymore. Increasing number of youngsters seek protection for their innovation through patents. Moreover, the youngsters are coming up with great beneficial inventions.

Did you know that the technology for television was invented by a 14 year-old boy? Young people are great inventors!

The new young Patentees are finalists of this year’s Intel Science Talent Search(STS) which includes Naomi Chetan Shah, Catherine Wong, Alison Dana Bick and Pavan N.

Naomi, a 17 year old girl develops a computer program to process the indoor air and predict the health risks caused by indoor pollution. For this, Naomi collected and analysed air samples, further collected lung health data, and then the computer program formulated by her will diagnose the health risks. It was very late when she realised that her invention has to be patented to protect it from theft. Because according to US patent Law, once inventors publish, or make public, their inventions, they have to file a patent application within 12 months. Therefore, Naomi is trying to seek patent on the revised version of the computer program.

While Catherine, another 17 year old girl was quicker to apply patent for her invention on a Wireless stethoscope and a Wireless device for transmitting information about hearts electrical signals.

Using this revolutionary invention doctors could diagnose illness in faraway patients.

Alison Bick, 19 invented a way to test for bacterial contamination in drinking water using household materials like cell phones, light and a plastic bag. She was smart enough to patent the invention on her own.

At the same time, Pavan 18, during his internship at Teledyne Scientific & Imaging discovered a solution to merging two fuel cells, one microbial cell and another alcohol based fuel cell. Pavan formulated a membrane that would allow alcohol to pass from first fuel cell to the second, by blocking the unwanted byproduct and thus made a novel solution. The company patented his discovery.

There are many more such teens lined up in the path of innovation and further into acquiring patents. We need more teens to come forward with such amazing discoveries. We wish them all Goodluck in their future endeavours.

Author, Trishala Joseph, is a senior patent engineer working at IP ASTRA

Design patents in fashion enter patent war

Design Patents were thought to be weak and fluffy. Not anymore! Design Patents have hit fashion and they have entered into patent litigation as well. Lululemon Atletica Inc., the Canadian retailer filed a lawsuit accusing fashion giant Cavlin Klien of infringing patents for pant designs. Lululemon claimed that Calvin Klein was infringing on design patents for its popular $98 “Astro Pant.” Lululemon claimed Calvin Klein’s Performance pants use the same waistband design elements and overall style of its Astro line of pants, the design patents for which was filed on September 2011.

The waistband featured on Lululemon’s Astro line of pants, consists of a series of angular pieces of fabric that form a v-shaped waistline that can be rolled down to sit lower on the waist.

However, Lululemon and Calvin klien finally settled the case out of court, but details of the settlement are confidential. Generally, designers haven’t had much success in protecting designs of clothing. But Lululemon showed a new trend of design patents for clothing. And hurray to Lululemon who dared to use its design patents in yoga patents to sue those who infringed their patents. Thus comes a new dimension to patent war.


Author, Trishala Joseph, is a senior patent engineer working in IP ASTRA.