FOSS United’s Public Policy goals are to:
- Build a powerful voice for FOSS United in policy discussions that impact the Free and Open Source Software community in India
- Build coalitions with industry, academia and policy makers in key areas like Open Tech, Open Standards, FOSS & Software Patents, to take the FOSS movement forward
- Mentor a new generation of FOSS Policy advocates
As a new organization with limited resources, our approach to achieving our public policy goals is to partner with like minded organizations and individuals. This is also in keeping with the collaborative ethos of the FOSS community.
A quick recap of some of our policy initiatives till date is given below.
- On software patents, we met with member Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, Shri Sanjeev Sanyal and the Director General of Patents, Shri Unnat Pandit and shared with them the FOSS community’s views on software patents.
- We launched the End Software Patents (www.endsoftwarepatents.in) website with support from academia, think tanks and industry.
- Additional Secretary in the Ministry of IT, Shri Abhishek Singh spoke about Government of India’s FOSS initiatives at IndiaFOSS 2022.
- We met Tamil Nadu Member of Parliament, Dr. D Ravikumar, to initiate an engagement with TN Government.
- Reached out to NPCI to correct the usage of the term “open source.”
- We worked with the Takshashila Foundation to craft an OpenTech strategy.
- We have reached out to the Telengana Government to explore collaborations around FOSS.
- We have reached out to the Karnataka government through the Karnataka Digital Economy Mission (KDEM) to increase FOSS skills in Karnataka.
We will work on growing the FOSS community in India through outreach to the central and state governments, and collaborate wherever we have alignment of interests around growing the FOSS ecosystem. Given our limited bandwidth, we will have scope for working with one or two government agencies that recognize the value of FOSS, and take a collaborative approach to working with us. Our conversations with Telangana and Karnataka indicate that working on FOSS skill development is an area of common interest that we can work on.
While we continue working on growing the community, there is also much work to be done to defend the FOSS community. The FOSS community has been staunchly against software patents but the pro-patents lobby, consisting mostly of MNCs and their lawyers, has been diligently at work pushing the narrative that patents are good for innovation, and will help startups. An example of this thinking is the 161st Parliamentary committee on IPR and the draft National Deep Tech Policy. We are working on challenging such assumptions through our responses to such policies, by engaging directly with policy makers, and by educating opinion leaders on the implications of software patents.
We have had 40+ conversations with startups, businesses, directors of leading academic institutions, think tanks and others, and will continue this outreach. The supportive quotes that we have received from thought leaders are thanks to our proactive outreach on this subject and we will continue this effort. However, this is an uphill task due to the reasons listed below:
- Most of these policy documents follow the intellectually lazy assumption that software patents are a good proxy for innovation. There is very little first principles thinking that does a cost-benefit analysis of software patents for India, no understanding of the actual impact of software patents on startups and innovation in India, no understanding of the colorful colonial history of the patenting regime, and no situational awareness of the fact that the FOSS model of collaborative innovation is now the dominant innovation paradigm. Changing mindsets is one of the most difficult tasks in the world and we are doing that one person at a time.
- We are up against MNCs, Big Tech and their lawyers, who will earn billions of dollars in royalties and litigation fees if software patents are allowed. These companies also have highly paid, and well staffed policy teams advancing their positions. It is no coincidence that most of the consultations around the draft patent manual and Computer Related Inventions guidelines that we have attended in the past have been dominated by MNCs and their lawyers.
- Indian startups and industry have very little awareness of the negative impact of software patents. The End Software Patents website is an initiative to raise awareness but as can be seen from the quotes section, we have support from academia and think tanks but industry support is lagging behind.
History has taught us that if the pro-patents lobby becomes entrenched, it will be very difficult to dislodge. Recent developments also indicate that the FOSS community is coming up against increasing attacks from patent holders. If software patents are allowed in India, protecting the four freedoms of FOSS will become much more expensive and difficult for the FOSS community. Therefore, we expect to spend up to 80 percent of our time on defending the FOSS community against software patents.
How can you help?
If you have made it thus far, thanks for your interest in FOSS United’s Public Policy initiatives. Here are the ways in which you can help:
- If you know of academics and industry leaders who can support our End Software Patents campaign, please connect us to them. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are an engineer, or a professional with knowledge of software patents, help us review and evaluate software patents.
- Help us by writing blog posts for the End Software Patents website.