Clash Of The Titans; IPR vs. Competition Law In India’s Digital Age

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Picture a comic book showdown: Intellectual Property stands as the guardian of innovation, while Competition Law fights for a fair market. These two forces often clash yet coexist, each pulling and pushing against the other. India’s draft Digital Competition Bill 2024 mirrors this battle, much like the Indian Competition Act of 2002, which allowed IP as a defense against anti-competitive claims. But the plot thickens: when IP rights and competition law clash, which one will prevail? Both are special laws, and the answer is anything but clear. The answer still remains unclear, as Indian courts have taken varied stances over time. Therefore, this draft bill is a double-edged sword, carving out new legal landscapes and raising fresh concerns. In this article, we’ll navigate the murky waters of IP rights under the new bill and explore the legal dilemmas it introduces.

Rule Of Law

Under Chapter III of the Bill, particularly Section 7(5)(d), Systemically Significant Digital Enterprises and their Associate Digital Enterprises are required to comply with specific obligations. The law provides flexibility by allowing the Competition Commission of India to consider factors that may impede compliance, including the prevention of unlawful infringement of pre-existing IPRs. The current Competition Act of 2002 permits the use of IPR as a defense against charges of anti-competitive agreements. However, this flexibility does not extend to cases involving abuse of dominance. This means that if an agreement imposes reasonable restrictions to protect rights recognized under Section 3(5), the anti-competitive provisions of Sections 3(1) to 3(4) do not apply. But Section 4 of the Act, which addresses abuse of dominance, does not provide similar exceptions. This means that while businesses can defend against anti-competitive agreement charges using IPR, they do not have the same leeway when accused of abusing their dominant position.

Clash Of IP & Competition Law

Indian courts have swung between prioritizing IPR and enforcing competition law. In M/s HT Media Limited vs. M/s Super Cassettes Industries Ltd., the CCI asserted its jurisdiction over cases where IPR was used anti-competitively, as the Copyright Board couldn’t effectively promote competition. Additionally, in FICCI vs. United Producers/Distributors Forum, the CCI clarified that Section 3(5) of the Competition Act isn’t absolute, allowing IPR holders to impose reasonable conditions to protect their rights but not override the Act. Thus, asserting that CCI retains jurisdiction over IPR-related anti-competitive activities

However, in K Sera Digital Cinemas Limited vs. Pen India Ltd., the CCI ruled that the producers of “Kahaani 2” had the right to control the release of their film to prevent leaks, a decision protected under Section 3(5)(i)(a) of the Competition Act and deemed non-competitive. Furthermore, a recent Delhi High Court judgment in the case of Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson v. CCI established that the Patent Law should take precedence over competition law for several reasons: (a) it is considered a special law in comparison to competition law, (b) the Patents Act was enacted after the Competition Act, and (c) the Patents Act is a comprehensive code capable of addressing licensing violations. Consequently, any violations under the Patents Act are to be adjudicated by the Patent Controller. Thus, contradicting the previous precedents.

Legal Concerns Regarding IPR Under The Bill

The concerns of big tech companies regarding IPR intersect significantly with the implications of the Bill . Simultaneously, there is a broader concern about the concentration of innovation within a few dominant tech companies, due to high market entry barriers. Once entrenched, these companies solidify their market positions, making it difficult for new entrants to compete effectively. This consolidation not only limits competition but also stifles diversity in the marketplace, potentially hampering overall innovation.

A critical challenge within the Bill lies in defining which legal framework—IPR or competition law—takes precedence in specific cases. This ambiguity could complicate enforcement, opening avenues for extensive legal challenges. Big tech companies might invoke IPR defenses to justify practices that could be seen as anti-competitive, while regulators may struggle to assert competition law over stringent IPR protections. Conversely, regulators might face challenges in enforcing IPR rules if competition concerns are deemed paramount.

Navigating these intertwined concerns is crucial for fostering a competitive digital economy. It requires striking a delicate balance between enforcing robust competition laws to curb anti-competitive behaviors and safeguarding IPR to incentivize innovation. Clarifying the hierarchy of these laws and establishing clear guidelines will be essential to prevent regulatory ambiguity and ensure fair market dynamics that benefit all stakeholders in the digital ecosystem.

Conclusion

In conclusion, India’s draft Digital Competition Bill 2024 stands at the crossroads of intellectual property rights and competition law, presenting a critical juncture for shaping the future of its digital economy. The tensions and complexities highlighted by the clash between these legal frameworks underscore the necessity for a balanced approach that fosters innovation while ensuring fair market practices. The Bill’s provisions acknowledge the dual imperatives of protecting IPR and curbing anti-competitive behaviours. However, the ambiguity surrounding which framework takes precedence in specific scenarios remains a significant challenge. This ambiguity could potentially lead to prolonged legal disputes and undermine the effectiveness of regulatory enforcement efforts. To address these challenges effectively, it is imperative to establish clear guidelines that delineate the roles of IPR and competition law within the digital marketplace. Clarity in legal interpretations will provide certainty to businesses and regulators, facilitating compliance and fostering a level playing field for all market participants. Enhancing regulatory capacity and expertise is equally crucial. Ultimately, by navigating these intertwined concerns with foresight and collaboration, India can pave the way for a vibrant and competitive digital economy. The successful implementation of the Digital Competition Bill will not only safeguard intellectual property and promote innovation but also foster a marketplace that benefits consumers and businesses alike, ensuring sustainable growth and dynamism in the digital age.

Author: Muskkaan Verma

 

 


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