Thursday, August 7, 2008

Protecting ideas

In some sense, India of the past worked on something like the 'open source' concept; there is no single person who can be credited with inventing chess, or the concept of the 'zero', both of which are generally accepted as having originated in this country. Intellectual Property (IP) was therefore one more of those quaint concepts that the British brought to India. The first legislation to protect such property was enacted as Act VI of 1856 and granted inventors some exclusivity for a 14-year period. In the nineteenth century itself, legislators brought out 4 different Acts, protecting inventions and designs and trying to ensure that inventors got some economic gains out of their work. During the twentieth century, the laws covering IP were periodically re-written, and were mostly ignored. Even the most significant legislation in this area, the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, probably lay gathering dust.

The 1990s changed all that; the Copyright Act became the shield of choice for software companies as they sought to protect their work from being pirated. India's membership of the WTO in 1995 brought with it more seriousness about protecting IP - and also a lot of hue and cry about having to protect turmeric-based home remedies and basmati rice. With all of that, the CGPDTM - Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks - took on a more market-friendly brand of 'Intellectual Property India' and began to set up its exclusive offices in various cities. This building in Guindy houses the Chennai branches of the Patents Office and the Trade Marks Registry. It also has the only office of the Geographical Indications Registry in the country.

Apart from all of this, Chennai and IP protection in India are very closely linked. The oldest firm of IP lawyers in India, DePenning & DePenning, is headquartered in Guindy, Chennai. It was born in 1856, soon after its founder, George Alfred DePenning, was awarded India Patent No.1 for his 'Efficient Punkah Pulling Machine'!


Kris McCracken said...

Thanks for the story. The effort was well worth it, as it really brings something to the image, and I know that I appreciate it.

Shantaram said...

>> Kris>> Thank you! As you've said, without the story, it is just another building...