[TechSparks 2020] This issue even had Google in a fix for a decade, that’s why startups must pay heed

Google was not allowed to use the Gmail name in Germany for nearly 10 years.
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Internet behemoth Googlewas barred from using the name Gmail (its email portal) in Germany for nearly a decade — from its launch in 2005 until April 2014. That is because German entrepreneur Daniel Giersch had already registered the ‘G-mail’ trademark (short for Giersch mail) in Germany way back in 2000

The issue was eventually resolved, but it took Google nine years to settle the matter. This incident just goes to show that intellectual property (IP) issues can haunt anybody, irrespective of how big or small they are.

Intellectual property (IP) refers to unique, value-adding creations of the human intellect that result from human ingenuity, creativity, and inventiveness, according to Gurugram-based legal tech startup Lawyered. These include trade secrets, patents, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, layout designs, copyright, etc. 

To discuss the various contours of IP and what it means for startups and small businesses, we caught up with three experts at YourStory’s flagship event TechSparks 2020. The panel included Qualcomm Technologies Licensing’s India Engineering Lead Hemang Shah, Sagacious IP President Tarun Kumar Bansal, and IP Group Clarivate’s Head of Strategic Development Vasheharan Kanesarajah.

One of the key issues related to IP when it comes to startups is the awareness or lack thereof. Tarun believes, “The government really needs to focus on enforcement, maybe some form of incentivisation, and overall as a group, I think if we start creating those kinds of stories where it (IP) becomes glamorous and it starts generating money for people, I think it will automatically interest more people.”

Another issue revolves around the fact that a lot of startups tend to look at IP as an added cost in the books — something that can be offloaded. Hemang says, “Yes, it is a cost; it takes money when you talk about filing for IP, or working with IP firms or law firms. But at the end of the activity, what you are generating is an asset.

“Now that asset is time-bound. If a startup is launching a product today, it's not that they can wake up two years later and say, now I'm going to file for all the intellectual property rights associated with that. The nature of intellectual property is such that you have to pay for it at the appropriate time, or else your own work can end up becoming public disclosure against your future artefacts.” Thus, delaying IP filing can prove to be an expensive risk in the long run.

Vasheharan is on the same page as Tarun and Hemang and believes a top-down approach from the government will go a long way in protecting the IP rights of startups. “This has to come from top-down. It has to be a government push, and we see this in countries where there are good government incentives like China and Russia as examples where they know organisations are incentivised, or startups are incentivised to protect IP rights.

“There's a lot of value in protecting your IP rights, and I think the understanding is increasing, but there are challenges around the fact that IP is still considered a legal contract. It hasn't been seen as an asset class, and particularly among startups, there is the legal value of protecting your intellectual property, which is to prevent any competitors from moving into your space.”

However, the fact that investors have started asking startups if their ideas are IP protected at very early-stage discussions has contributed to an increased awareness within the ecosystem, according to the panel.

US President Donald Trump during his visit to India in February had said that India and the US were working on a comprehensive agreement on IP rights. The move is seen as a major development for India, which slipped to 40th spot on the US Chamber's International IP Index. 

In 2020, India dropped down from its 36th position the year before on the International Intellectual Property (IP) Index, which analyses the IP climate in 53 global economies. The annual index is put together by the US Chamber of Commerce's Global Innovation Policy Center.

In February, when the index was released, Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) Senior Vice President Patrick Kilbride had said, "Since the release of the 2016 National IPR Policy, the Government of India has made a focused effort to support investments in innovation and creativity through increasingly robust IP protection and enforcement." 

In a statement, GIPC said that the implementation of the policy has improved the speed of processing for patent and trademark applications, increased awareness of IP rights among Indian innovators and creators. While India has made significant progress towards establishing stronger IP protection, the "job is not yet done," it added.


TechSparks - YourStory Mediaannual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.

Edited by Suman Singh

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