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Importance of patenting for internet-based services

Hi !

We are getting ready to launch a new site providing an innovative internet-based service.  We are currently looking at the patenting scenario for software/internet based inventions and we find that there are certain challenges to getting a patent for these kinds of things in India.  What do you think about the patent scenario in India vs. the US ?  Do you think we should have a similar patenting system for software as in the US ?  Is there anyone here who has experience in filing software/internet patent applications in India or the US ?

How important is patent protection in your opinion ?  What are the other measures that can be taken to protect your invention apart from patents and copyrights ? How do sites like makemytrip, redbus etc. protect themselves from competitors who may try to copy them ? 

Alok, any thoughts on the above ?




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  1. Same Issue . . The one reply you get from patent lawyers in India is ‘Software Patents are not permitted in India’.
    Would really like to know more in regards to this.

    Generally held the belief that if the business is limited only to India – don’t bother to protect software IP (else get international patents) – would appreciate help in clarifying if I’m thinking right.

  2. Well, i would say that its a tough bet.

    Lots of companies (google/facebook/yahoo/microsft etc) have patented stuff that you may not ‘know’ has been patented, because its not being used by them.

    My suggestion is:

    – Check what is known in the IP business as ‘prior art’ – its a global search that tries to uncover patents filed resembling what you are trying to patent.

    – Get a good IP lawyer to do this search – We use Nishith Desai’s associate company for this.

    – Now some Marwari advise:

    Get started. Become successful. Then you can always change the process flow of your business in some small way to claim a patent.

    Else, you will waste valuable time and money in protecting something that may never be valuable!

  3. Thanks Alok !  I especially like the Marwari advice – it appeals to the Marwari in me very much !

  4. There is an ongoing debate about the “legality” of patenting business processes.  As entrepreneurs we believe “our idea” is the first out of the gate but if we were brutally honest with ourselves it is more or less a new spin on an old tale with that one little extra ingredient which we believe to be the killer differentiator and which we want to protect.  I’ve struggled a lot palpitating over “protecting my idea” and looking at every angle to outfox the copy cats before right sense prevailed.

    Hard crash reality: nobody really cares till you are a success.  Look at the Groupon wannabees, notwithstanding the fact that Groupon is one giant ponzi scheme that is slowly lumbering its way into oblivion.  And even that magical extra special ingredient you have will not be obvious till you point it out usually.  Its all in the execution.  If your execution fails the copycats will ignore you.  If you succeed they’ll come in to copy you but will usually be never able to catch up with you because they are only seeing the ‘outward form’ of your business and not the ‘pistons which pump its engines’.  

    Alok is right.  Become a success and you’ll have the money to lawyer up and fight in the patent battlefields.  Of course I would much rather we lined up all the patent lawyers and hosed them down with a flamethrower… :))

  5. Hi Ranjan,

    I am not a lawyer or expert hence take this advice with a pinch of salt.

    The advice

    While working for a startup we tried patenting our software (a movie player) and faced several hardships doing the same. While other IP protections like TM etc are respected by multiple countries, patent is a different ball game. To summarize a long story we ended up getting TM on the brand and copy rights on the code so that no one can reverse engineer it and simply copy. During those days I did find myself reading a lot on IP and concluded for internet/software business its a futile effort.

    Ideas are not patent-able. Yes you heard it right they are not. Execution is. 

    Now that was not to sound cliched but to put a right example when you file a patent you basically show proof of the implementation (in your case the internet web app). What cant be copied is the way you have made the app. The code, the UI (may be), the process. But whats not patentable is the problem you solve… 

    Gillete holds patents on those shaving blades. Mach 3, turbo  blah blah. but without copying the design and process if you can make a different product that gives a better shave? No one on earth can sue you.

    I gave this example because on the Internet things are way different than physical products. facebook elps you connect, so does twitter, G+, LinkedIn, even Ning. The way they do it is unique.

    Anyone can solve the problem in a better way than you have. Hence in the Internet business you wont find much patents. Though technologies and some sort of software are patented

    Your idea even if patented can be copied and implemented in another way. I know I can rip web apps and still not get sued. So I would vote for the Marwadi advise from Alok! Being a Marwadi myself 😀

    The time, money and effort can be better spent on developing better products until and unless you are sure that nothing like what you have made exists.

    Further help

    Finally If you are still not convinced let me give a nice option to get you confusion ‘validated’. try reaching out to webapp creators you feel should have patented their idea. The likes of redbus, makemytrip etc. Ask them whether they did? Ask them how, why, why not etc… 

    Also meet a few lawyers who make patents for software guys. Listen to their pitch on how and why it is important to get patented. See if you get really pressing reasons.

    With all this, you would save a ton of time and money there.

    A small stake to me is always welcome 😉

    Himanshu Chanda

  6. Call it marwadi advice or common sense advice, I think it this way.

    You made this site which runs on a Linux Server with Apache Web server and some or other sort of Open Source application language (PHP etc) These are open source, so if they thought it the same way as you did, you wont have been in position to realize your website in the most cost efficient fashion that you could as of today (I know there are other options, but I am not discussing in exact details, this is generalistic opinion)

    Apply your funds where they are required the most, and keeep applying it to be market leaders and change the game by innovating rather then trying to build a patent regime (Web is built on the fundamental rule that its open and its user driven, if you try to restrict it by patent, some or other rebel would definitely try and break this regime, this is the prime driver of Open source movement worldwide)

    Try raising barriers of entry in business by innovating and capturing larger market share then the technology and patent, coz we Indians are considered very smart + copy cats too (look at flipkart, jabong, etc etc) every single thing that has worked in US n other markets are copied here, but that doesnt make them as successful as the first person doing it in US)

    Almost every new entrant trying to replicate your business would be able to do easily on technology front (and raising barriers of entry just by technology and you are wasting your precious startup money !! )

    I m talking about this since this was precisely the question that we had come across when we create English Seekho (spoken english tutor on Phone as VAS Service) this service became heavily successful coz we decided to invest in making the product excellent product (we created our own speech recognition and synthesis engine) and extend carrrier relationships which was the biggest barrier to entry in this business, and till today so many replicas came in and went, but no one else exist today primarily since they all were not able to replicate it the way we did it. 

    Finally the last thing, if your thing gets copied then be happy coz value for your idea validates and increases coz its not just you who think this will work but also others who subscribe to your idea and are trying to create differentiation.

    These are my humble comments, Patents dont guarantee you anything, however innovations do,

    Mitul Limbani
    Enterux Solutions, 

  7. Thanks for your comments Anshoo.

  8. Thanks for your comments, Abey and for sharing your experience and insight.

  9. Thanks Himanshu for your comments and insight.  It is always valuable to hear from entrepreneurs like yourself.  By the way, what do you do nowadays ?  Perhaps if it is in line with what we are trying to do we can discuss more about the “small stake” ! 🙂

  10. Thanks Himanshu for your comments and insight.  It is always valuable to hear from entrepreneurs like yourself.  By the way, what is your line of business ?

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