Tuesday, January 30, 2007

IPR Dispute and Improper conduct by Indian Government

The recent dispute between Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Nimbus a.k.a Neosports over the broadcasting rights sets a bad example - and shows India in a very negative light when it comes of protecting Intellectual Property.

As per the business contracts under the Company law of India, Nimbus had won the broadcasting rights for all cricket matches played in India for an amount of $612 million from BCCI. Now that Nimbus has won the telecasting rights, Nimbus should be allowed to do its business. But the Indian government has succumbed to playing popular politics and forcing Nimbus to share its broadcasting rights with the government broadcaster - Doordarshan for free!!

In return for sharing the broadcasting rights, Nimbus gets nothing - not even share of revenue generated by Doordarshan be selling advertisements during the cricket match. This implies that the government is stealing the IP rights of Nimbus - wherein the government of India has the moral responsibility to protect IP rights of individuals and companies. This act of stealing an IP is further justified by the courts in the name of protecting "public interest".

Some Inferences

This gross violation of intellectual property rights by the government of India shows a few interesting facets of Indian life.

  • Firstly, government and ministers do not care about WTO rules on IP protection and are willing to play with the public sentiments - to garner votes. Ministers and politicians will not protect IP if it goes against their interests.

  • Secondly, Indian public and society in general is not ready for the western kind of IP protection laws in India. The average citizen on the street was always supporting Ministry of Information & Broadcasting so that he/she can view the match for free on television - their rational is that BCCI and Indian cricket team is a government funded organization and the event is taking place in India - thus the public as tax payers have right to view the matches.

  • Thirdly, the Indian culture of protecting IP does not exist, in India, people tend to believe that an IP once created should be used for public benefit. Since BCCI is/was funded by tax payers money, the IP created by BCCI is now a public good.

  • Fourthly, BCCI which is a government funded organization - and a monopoly to represent the game of Cricket in India is not a public organization. The recent incident showed that BCCI, which is ironically led by another politician Sharad Pawar to be a money minded profit seeking organization. BCCI has done nothing wrong by selling the broadcasting rights to Nimbus. But then BCCI has done nothing to protect the IP rights of Nimbus either.
All this shows India is a very bad light when it comes to IP protection. Government of India is now violating the very laws it is supposed to protect. This case is akin to having a police force which resorts to robbing Paul to please Peter. History does show that whenever the government violates its own laws bad things happen. In the past, Indian government nationalize several industries under the leadership of Indra Gandhi - this led to two decades of slow economic growth and rapid increase in poverty. ( I guess more Indians died of poverty caused by Indra Gandhi’s government - than those killed by Pakistani soldiers in three wars with India). Both French & Russian Revolution happened when the kings violated the established laws of the country.

In this case, I guess there will be no revolutions but Indian sports will be starved of funds - as other private cable and broadcasters will now stay away from buying broadcasting rights for any sporting events in India.

Closing Thoughts

If the courts side with the Ministry if Information and Broadcasting, then the recent revival of Indian sports will be a short lived one, and Indian sports will enter a prolonged phase of decline and decay. The bigger impact of this could be that India will lose its standing in International trade and will lose face in WTO negotiations when it comes to IP protection and IP related trade issues.

Perhaps the deepest impact will be seen in Pharama and aviation sector where foreign companies are eager to invest in manufacturing and R&D centers in India. If these companies feel that India does not offer good protection to IP rights, then they may opt out of investing in India.

But in the final ray of hope, I expect the courts of India to uphold the IP rights of Nimbus and force Doordarshan to pay for sharing the broadcasting rights. Fortunately, the judiciary in India is independent of the legislature and the courts have a long history of challenging the ministers and upholding the law.

Also See:

Indian Style of Innovation
Why Invest in India: Innovation & Creativity
Knowledge Management - The blood & lifeline of any company
Creating a Culture for Innovation and Protecting Intellectual Property - Part 1
Creating a Culture for Innovation and Protecting Intellectual Property - Part 2
Protecting IP Assets of an Organization
Types of Intellectual Property
Business Creativity and Innovation

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