Freedom 251 phone icons – Ring any Bells?

Indian-startups-ignorance-lawMy day in office began with the conversation on whether my colleague was lucky enough to order the Freedom 251 smart phone, supposedly the India’s first and cheapest smartphone (around USD 4) which was launched yesterday by Noida-based company Ringing Bells. While everyone is curious to see how the company is going to pull off this low cost stunt, the last thing anyone would expect them is to get into a tussle with Apple, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of smartphones.

While we both realised that we were late and the pre ordering was closed, my friend Varun Varadarajan pinged me on Facebook drawing my attention to the article written by Pranav Dixit – Hindustan Times about copyright infringement by Ringing Bells.

Interestingly when HT asked Mr. Vikas Sharma technical head at Ringing Bells about the copyright infringement his response was “We used Apple’s icons because Apple hasn’t copyrighted its designs.”

With little over a decade of practicing law with special focus on Intellectual property, not only advising clients on protecting their Intellectual Property but also on how not to infringe upon the rights of others, it is not surprising that businesses in India are not aware about the IP laws. Not to mention that our Prime Minister’s Office was in midst of a copyright infringement controversy for using a photograph allegedly without the permission of the photographer.

The concepts do get confusing and different streams of Intellectual Property protect different aspects of a given product or service but understanding them could make all the difference. While I’m not sure if Mr. Sharma sought legal advice or not, a simple Internet search would have revealed that Apple is quite serious about their IP (rightfully so) and has tried registering its icons as trademarks and has even gone to the extent of registering the layout of their showrooms.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse:

It is important to understand that India is a member of the Berne Convention and works published in any of the countries which are signatories of the Berne Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention and the WTO countries would be given the same protection as though they were published in India. So irrespective of whether any application for protecting its copyrights in its work is made or not, copyright protection starts the minute it is created and expressed in some form or the other.

It would be interesting to see how Apple Inc reacts to the infringement by Ringing Bells.

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