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Towards Developing A Digitally Empowered Society And Knowledge Economy

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It is a matter of great pride that India received the G20 presidency for this year, 2023. India will work towards promoting the universal sense of one-ness and hence its vision is “One Earth, One Family, One Future” or “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. Three key topics that will be intensely deliberated under this presidency are innovation, intellectual property rights and digital transformation.

For India to emerge as the world’s innovation hub, it is important that the digital divide is bridged. Here is where the global standards ecosystem plays a key role. India’s telecom sector has currently the second largest subscriber base worldwide (1.6 billion). This is due in large part to Indian government supported campaigns aimed at transforming India into “a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy” and to build the nation . The telecom sector in India has emerged as the 3rd largest in terms of foreign direct investments, contributing to the creation of 2.2 million and 1.8 million indirect jobs. In this impressive (r)evolution of the last decade, cellular standards (2G to 5G) have enabled global connectivity among devices, facilitated consumer access to cutting-edge technologies at reasonable prices, and ensured global interoperability with enhanced efficiency amongst devices. Consequently, cellular standards promote competition and foster innovation.

How do they achieve this? Representatives of academia, research institutes, government agencies, and industry around the globe work collaboratively in 3GPP, a joint project of seven standard development organizations, including TSDSI ( Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India). To develop a standard, thousands of technical contributions are submitted, out of which only the best technologies, based on the technical merits, are selected to become part of the standard. The process to develop a standard as well as any decision related to the intellectual property (IP) policy follow six principles established by the World Trade Organization i.e., (i) transparency; (ii) openness; (iii) impartiality and consensus; (iv) effectiveness and relevance; (v) coherence; and (vi) development dimension. Moreover, access to the standardized technologies is guaranteed from day one, since cellular standards are typically available across the globe on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. FRAND balances the interests of inventors (whose breakthrough patented technologies were selected to become part of the standard) and implementers. Attempts to favor one side of the equation, by disregarding the WTO principles or by changing the value of FRAND, have been proven detrimental for innovation.

For example, in 2015 the standardization body – IEEE-SA (famously known for developing the Wi-Fi standard) adopted a new IPR policy ignoring the WTO principles it had adhered some years ago. This policy included radical changes which diminished the value of FRAND. Amongst others, the policy attempted to redefine FRAND as based on the value of the smallest component in which the technology was applied, deviating from international case law and the commercial practice of using the overall value of the technology to the end-product as base to determine FRAND. By tilting the balance towards implementers, the organization created delay and chaos (as the engineers considered the policy not enforceable or implementable), major contributors filed negative letters of assurance (not agreeing to commit to license under the new IEEE-SA IP Policy), wi-fi lost its approval as an American National Standard, and IEEE-SA was investigated by the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice since its rules may “serve to skew the bargain clearly in the direction of implementers”. Eventually, IEEE-SA was forced in 2022 to partially revert to its previous policy. However, since the revised policy from the IEEE-SA continues receiving critical opinions, it is expected that it will undergo further updates.

India can learn from this experience and promote this balance between innovators and implementers. One way to do is to promote innovative start-ups and increase their participation in global standards. To date, despite having close to 90,000 DPIIT registered Indian start-ups, the number of patent applications filed by Indian start-ups is still very low (4,720 in the past 5 years). In this context, the telecom technology development fund is a great initiative from the government, as it aims at “promoting technology ownership and indigenous manufacturing, creating a culture of technology co-innovation, reducing imports, boosting export opportunities and creation of Intellectual Property”. This is much needed, as not only Indian inventor start-ups but also Indian implementer start-ups can build their products or services on top of the standards that have been developed by other companies with investments of billions of dollars and thousands of man hours. Indigenous companies can thus avoid re-inventing the wheel and rather build terrific use cases that address global needs through wider adoption of global standards.

This approach would likely lead to avoiding duplication of work and the corresponding waste of resources, encourage foreign investment, and integrate standardized technologies in globally compliant products and devices made in India.

Global standards provide better accessibility, economic turnovers, and efficient innovation. By implementing global standards, India benefits not just by swift and efficient promotion in the country but also through economies of scale on the global market. Moreover, thanks to the WTO principles generally adopted by international standard developing bodies, Indian innovators have a real chance to develop and contribute groundbreaking technologies for a more reliable and faster connected world (enabling the internet of things, virtual reality and much more). With that, India can build a strong and competitive economy and a digitally empowered society.


Gitanjali Sharma, LLM is IPR Policy Researcher and Dr Sheetal Chopra is Director IPR Policy India, both at Ericsson. The views expressed herein are those of the authors’ alone and do not necessarily represent Ericsson’s views.


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