The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Patent rights sparked MIT-Media Lab row

New Delhi, May 18: The sudden exit of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from the Media Lab Asia project was sparked by the bickering between Indian Institute of Technology and MIT over patent rights, political pressure to develop products in quick time and the hidden hand of the swadeshi lobby.

Senior IIT professors associated with the project have been asked by the government to pick up those projects that were being jointly developed with MIT and apply for intellectual property rights (IPRs).

“The instructions came in early April and we are working on it,” says a senior professor at IIT Kanpur who was working on a Media Lab Asia project. “MIT will not be made party to the IPR since they are no longer associated with the projects. It was one of the contentious issues that plagued the project right from its inception.”

“MIT wanted a major part of the IPR rights since they claimed that the products would get commercial recognition due to the use of their brand name. However, we had pointed out to them at various meetings that the research undertaken by IITs cannot be undermined and we should retain the majority rights,” said the IIT professor who is working on projects for rural connectivity using cost effective equipment.

The swadeshi lobby also played an important role in ensuring the exit of MIT from the Media Lab Asia project.

Sources in Media Lab Asia said groups like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch had insisted that the projects should be indigenous and no foreign institute should be involved in these projects. They contended that this was important since the investment was being made by the Indian government and there had been no financial support from the MIT.

The other reason was the “unfair” provision that had been built into the agreement: while MIT would enjoy patent rights over research carried out in India for which had not paid a dime, there was no “exclusive” tag in the association — which meant that MIT was free to open a Media Lab Asia project anywhere else in Asia. At present Media Lab projects outside the US are based in Ireland and Israel.

“The projects will continue and we hope to get enhanced funds from the government. We may not be able to undertake many projects at the same time due to the lack of resources but we will be able to roll out one product every three to five years,” said a senior professor at IIT Kharagpur, which is one of the research labs for the Media Lab Asia project.

While the MIT has been upset about the cancellation of the joint venture with the Indian government, the professors at IIT Kharagpur and Kanpur feel that MIT had promised the 'moon' to the government in a shorter period without assessing the culture of Indian corporates.

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