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Answers to PuneTech’s “Do you understand copyrights and patents?” quiz

Last year, we had run a quiz on copyrights and patents, consisting of a number of day-to-day examples where copyright or patent issues were involved. These were examples of the kind that an average PuneTech reader might run into. Interestingly, a very large fraction of those who took the quiz, got lots of answers wrong. The quiz was a big hit amongst our readers.

Unfortunately, we overlooked posting the results of the quiz.

Better late than never.

Here are the results. Before reading the answers, you might want to refresh your memory of the questions. Note: the questions and answers for part 1 have been composed by me (that is, Navin Kabra). The questions in part 2 were composed by Hemant Chaskar,

Answers to Part 1: Copyrights

Take a closer look at copyright and patent issues. Take the quiz and then see these answers. (Image credit: Control copyright icon by Xander, via mediawiki commons)

Take a closer look at copyright and patent issues. Take the quiz and then see these answers. (Image credit: Control copyright icon by Xander, via wikimedia commons)

Question: Unmesh has a great idea for an online flash game where the user is supposed to identify and shoot traffic violators. He describes the idea in great detail in an email to Navin. The email includes overall architecture, algorithms and data-structures etc. Navin loves the idea, and next day, implements the idea in python+django and puts it up on http://ShootTheTrafficViolators.com. Surprisingly, the game is a huge hit. One year later, Zapak buys the game from Navin for a large sum of money (one khoka). Navin has no intention of sharing his khoka with Unmesh. There was no agreement, neither explicit nor implicit, between Navin & Unmesh regarding the intellectual property. Legally, which of these are true? (Assume that the email between Unmesh and Navin is enough to legally prove that Navin got the idea from Unmesh.)

Answer: There’s nothing Unmesh can do. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. Zapak bought the copyrights, and those are owned by Navin since he wrote the code. (Unmesh would have a case if he had patented any idea in that game, but really, there is nothing patentable about shooting traffic violators :-)

56% of respondents got this wrong and felt that Unmesh can claim some money from either Navin or Zapak.

Question: Unmesh has another great idea – a map-based online dating service. He describes his idea in a blog post, and also attaches a zip file with the php code for the game. An year later, Navin notices this blog post, downloads the software, makes some changes, and puts it up on http://AatiKyaKhandala.com. Needless to say, BharatMatrimony is interested and pays Navin 1 khoka for the game. Which of the following is true. (As before, no agreement between Navin & Unmesh. Also, Unmesh did not attach a copyright notice in the code; nor did he register a copyright.)

Answer: Making code public does not change the fact that Unmesh owns the copyright to the code. The fact that Unmesh neither attached a copyright notice, nor did he register the copyright is irrelevant. Copyright notices and registrations are not necessary. Unmesh is legally the owner. Note also, that Navin can rewrite the program to do the same thing but using different code wrote and Unmesh would have no intellectual property claims on the new program Navin wrote.

Lot of ignorance here. A whopping 45% of the respondents felt that Unmesh had no claim on the code because he did not attach a copyright notice, and 34% felt that he had no claim because he made the code public.

Question: Navin is now a very successful and rich entrepreneur, based on the previous two exits. He now pays Unmesh to develop a new website for him – http://PhirangiMaal.com – to identify the best foreign goods available in Pune. Unmesh writes the code and in the process develops a very innovative new algorithm for automatically identifying good phirangi maal. Needless to say, this algorithm and site is a great success. eBay.in is interested. Which of the following are true. This time there was an agreement between Navin and Unmesh saying that Unmesh is developing PhirangiMaal.com for Navin for a given sum of money. Unfortunately, the agreement doesn’t say who owns the intellectual property.

Answer: In the absence of an explicit agreement, Navin owns the intellectual property because this was work done for hire. Interestingly, most people got this one right.

Question: Unmesh wrote a great program – a mobile application that can cause a mobile phone to self-destruct when it is taken outside the borders of Maharashtra. Unfortunately, he did not show the program to anybody, he did not register a copyright on it, and he did not make it public. One day, Navin happened to get access to Unmesh’s laptop, copied the program and later sold it to Raj Thakarey. Does Unmesh own the copyright on this program?

Answer: Yes, Unmesh owns the copyright. Copyright registration, copyright notice, and making public have no effect on copyright ownership. As soon as a creative work is created, the author gets the copyright. While Unmesh might have a tough time proving that Navin stole the code from him (and that is the reason why copyright registration has value), legally the ownership is clearly with Unmesh.

57% of respondents got this one wrong (most of them thinking that copyright registration is necessary).

Question: To increase traffic to his site Unmesh wants to put up a collage of beautiful/handsome people at the top of his homepage. He downloads a bunch of images from images.google.com, crops them appropriately, and creates a collage, and puts it up. Unfortunately, one of the images belongs to Reuters, who sues Unmesh for $2000 (for just that one image).

Answer: Most people got this correct. Downloading images off the web and using them on your website is a copyright violation, and the above has actually happened to a Pune startup (no, not Unmesh!!). It is worthwhile to note that you are legally liable even if you outsourced the website development to some other small company, and their designer was the one who downloaded the image and used it without checking the copyright notice.

Question: Rohit11 decides to manufacture a home security system, which is a hardware box that can be installed on people’s doors. The device runs software that is derived from the Linux OS. Since he has a large heart, Rohit11 gives this device away for free for everyone in Pune. Is he required to release the software (since Linux is GPLed)?

Answer: The correct answer is that the software must be released. It can be put up on a website – shipping with the device is not a requirement. However, shipping a 400-page book is not good enough. The software must be in machine readable form.

Question: Unmesh decides to open-source the code that runs SadakMap.com (under GPL). Navin takes that code, makes extensive changes to it to allow people to interact with the maps using SMS. He then uses the code to create http://SMSMaps.in. Now Unmesh wants to add the same facilities to sadakmap. Can Unmesh force Navin to open-source SMSMaps.in?

Answer: No! Since Navin has not “distributed” the code to anybody else, he is not forced to give out his source code by the GPL. The new Affero GPL covers this case, but a regular GPL does not. 51% got this wrong.

Question: Navin keeps taking content from Unmesh’s blog (http://sadakmap.com/blog) and republishing it on PuneTech – sometimes excerpts, sometimes full – sometimes with attribution, sometimes without. All of this is done without Unmesh’s permission. Which of the following are copyright violations:

Question: Publishing excerpts (e.g. a few lines from first paragraph), with a link to the original post

Answer: This is not a copyright violation. This is allowed under fair use (also known as fair dealing). Most people got this right.

Question: Publishing excerpts, with attribution to SadakMap, but not a link

Answer: This is legally not a violation of copyright law. But is a bad practice and is frowned upon, so you should avoid it.

Question: Publishing full article, with full attribution of source and a link to original

Answer: This is a copyright violation. Publishing a full article is not legal, irrespective of whether you link/attribute the source. 50% of respondents got this wrong.

Question: Re-use of just one image from a post, with attribution + link

Answer: This is a copyright violation. Unlike short excerpts of text (which are OK to copy), copying images, or even short excerpts of music are usually violations. Only 40% of respondents got this correct.

Question: Reuse of 20 seconds of a sound-clip from a post, with attribution+link

Answer: This is a copyright violation. You’re not allowed to copy even short clips of music. Only 29% got this right.

Question: Copying the SadakMap Logo

Answer: Thankfully, most people got this right. Copying the logo is a copyright violation except for a few exceptions (like satire, or new reporting, etc.)

Answers to Part 2: Patents

Question: Unmesh has a great idea for an online flash game where the user is supposed to identify and shoot traffic violators. He describes the idea in great detail in an email to Navin. The email includes overall architecture, algorithms and data-structures etc. But before that Unmesh files a patent on it. Navin loves the idea, and next day, implements the idea in python+django and puts it up on http://ShootTheTrafficViolators.com. Surprisingly, the game is a huge hit. One year later, Zapak buys the game from Navin for a large sum of money (one khoka). At this point, Unmesh’s patent is granted. There was no agreement, neither explicit nor implicit, between Navin & Unmesh regarding the intellectual property. Legally, which of these are true? (Note: this question is slightly different from the first question in the copyright section)

Answer: Unmesh owns the patent and hence he can legally stop Zapak from selling the game, he can legally claim money and/or royalties from Zapak or Navin. Most people got this one right.

Question: Navin works for reputed IT firm as high performance database architect. While on a trekking trip with his friends on Sunday, he conceives an idea of a new trekking shoe. Next Sunday he takes help of his friend Hemant who has knowhow of patents to file a patent on his new shoe. Later Navin leaves the IT job and toils to finally productize his shoe. Around the same time Navin’s patent on the shoe also gets granted. Few days after that the IT firm where Navin worked before becomes aware of popularity of the new trekking shoe and Navin’s patent on it. The IT firm asks Navin to transfer his patent rights on the shoe design to the IT firm.

Answer: The real answer is that it depends upon the employment contract that Navin has with the IT firm. In most of the large companies that I know of (also known as reputed IT companies), the employment contract states that all ideas that the employees get while they are employed belong to the company.

People often feel that work done in personal time, work unrelated to company business etc. are exempt, but it is not. Often entrepreneurs develop ideas while being employed before breaking up, but do not realize that they are at risk of assertion of employment agreement.

Startup founders get into trouble like this very often.

Question: Navin is settled in U.S. He comes up with an idea for software module which runs on standard PCs to increase the speed of execution. Navin files a patent on it in U.S. and gets the patent. Hemant lives in India and gets to read Navin’s patent as patent documents are publicly available on the Internet. Hemant assembles a team of programmers in India to build the software module described in Navin’s patent. Hemant then sells it to Indian PC distributors who then install it on PCs sold in India.

Answer: There is nothing Navin can do. US patents do not afford any protection against companies copying and selling the product in India. Many people got this wrong – 37% felt that Navin can take legal help in India to stop Hemant, and 33% felt that Navin can take legal help in the US to stop Hemant. Both answers are incorrect.

Question: Unmesh decides to open-source the code that runs SadakMap.com. Navin uses that code to create http://SMSMaps.in. While looking at the SadakMap code, and searching the online patent database, Navin realizes that Unmesh has a patent on a unique new algorithm of allowing users to add content to a online map – and this algorithm is at the heart of the SadakMap code. Navin realizes a unique new way to design a wrapper around the SadakMap code to allow users to add content via SMS. Navin files a patent on this idea, and the patent is granted.

Answer: Unmesh can still stop Navin from running SMSMaps.in because it is still infringing on Unmesh’s patent. The fact that Navin has his own patent doesn’t change the fact that SMSMaps.in uses Unmesh’s invention too. (Note: Navin would be granted this patent, but neither Navin nor anyone else would be able to use Navin’s invention without also getting permission from Unmesh to use his invention.)

Question: Hemant has worked for several years to build a software application that he now wants to sell on his website. Unfortunately, a friend points out that his software uses an algorithm that is patented by DadaGiri Software Pvt. Ltd. DadaGiri Software is known to be litigious and is likely to sue Hemant for infringement. What can Hemant do?

  • Investigate the possibility of getting that patent declared invalid by the courts
  • Analyze the patent claims, and check if it’s possible to re-design the application so that it doesn’t infringe the patent
  • Hemant is in ruins, since the patents granted are ‘brahmastras’
  • Explore the possibility of licensing the patent

Answer: All of the above are possibilities. It is quite possible that a patent that has been granted is not really valid, for any number of reasons, including existing prior art (i.e. this ‘invention’ had been publicly known before the patent was filed). Also, most of the time, it is possible to re-design a product so that it does not infringe existing patents.

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Comments

7 responses to Answers to PuneTech’s “Do you understand copyrights and patents?” quiz

  1. Sarang says:

    once again an excellent article. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Great insights! Thanks for preparing easy_to_understand cases.

  3. Rohan says:

    What if i sell my comp to someone? Then will i be liable to pay just the profits? Like what if i sell the comp to my brother for Rs 1?
    Or i will be charged of selling company’s property?

    • navin says:

      @Rohan, I don’t understand your question. I don’t see what connection “selling a comp” has with copyrights or patents. If you sell a computer that does not belong to you, then just regular laws are good enough to put you in jail…?

  4. Sachin says:

    Interesting post and useful information for all concerned.

    I think might also be relevant to look at the articles below which raise the questions of “Should software be patentable”

    http://news.swpat.org/2010/03/interview-brad-feld/

    http://techdirt.com/articles/20100303/1846198404.shtml?utm_medium=bt.io-twitter&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_content=backtype-tweetcount

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