Mumbai: The legal battle between South Korean electronics company Samsung and Madurai-based engineer Somasundaram Ramkumar has taken a new turn, with the latter asking authorities in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi to cancel Samsung India Pvt. Ltd’s licence to manufacture so-called dual SIM (subscriber identification module) mobile phones. Ramkumar holds the local patent for such mobiles.
According to an official at the central excise department in Noida, Ramkumar’s lawyers last week served a notice to the department to that effect. Samsung currently manufactures certain models of its dual SIM card handsets for the Indian market at its unit in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida district.
A SIM is a technology that enables and uniquely identifies a wireless phone connection. Dual-SIM mobile handsets have differing capabilities: most models do not allow users to switch between networks and automatically disconnect the first call; some, however, allow users to switch between SIMs but only if they are on the same network, while others don’t even offer this facility.
On Wednesday, the Madras high court adjourned a hearing to 27 April. In a March interim order, the court had prohibited manufacture of such handsets as it would infringe the patent. The notice to central excise comes on the heels of Samsung filing a revocation petition at the country’s patent redressal forum—Intellectual Property Appellate Board—on 9 April to re-examine the patent which was granted by the Chennai patent office in 2008.
Indian mobile phone maker Spice Mobiles Ltd has also filed a patent revocation petition with IPAB against Ramkumar’s patent, also questioning the validity of the patent grant.
At least a dozen importers and manufacturers of mobile phones with multiple SIM card facilities have objected to his claims, saying the technology is not patentable as this knowledge has been in the public domain before the patent grant.
They have been at loggerheads with Ramkumar after he registered his patent with Indian customs authorities earlier this year, enabling them to seize import consignments of all dual-SIM phones. Customs officials at various airports had earlier confirmed to Mint that imports of dual SIM card mobile phones have been under watch since Ramkumar registered his exclusivity right with them.
Pankaj Mohindroo, national president of Indian Cellular Association, an industry body that represents several mobile phone makers and importers, said that the patent has been granted on false grounds. “Many more of our members are now planning to raise similar objections to this patent at appropriate legal as well as IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) forums including IPAB,” he told Mint earlier this week.
Spice Mobile CEO Kunal Ahuja had also said earlier that the patent has to be revoked.
Mint had reported in March that Samsung’s petition had questioned the linking of patent and customs laws.
Patent experts, however, say that since the IPR (imported goods) enforcement rules doesn’t cover patents, the customs department cannot decide such actions on its own.
Also, says Shamnad Basheer, an IPR law expert and professor in IP law at the National University of Juridical Sciences at Kolkata, “It appears that the patent does not cover all dual SIM phones (as dual SIM technology itself has been around and is part of the prior art), but only those dual SIM phones that also provide for more than one headphone/earphone jack, so that two people can be on two calls at the same time via the same handset.
Hence the patentee is attempting to claim rights over technology that is part of the prior art and clearly outside the scope of his patent.”
Ramkumar’s patent application at the Chennai patent office in 2002 describes his product as “A mobile phone is to be incorporated with a provision for plurality of current SIM cards and/or modified SIM cards, a plurality of current SIM sockets and/or for accepting a plurality of current SIM cards and/or modified SIM cards, a plurality of headphone/ear phone jacks for accepting a plurality of headphone/earphone plugs and or a plurality of bluetooth devices in order to operate simultaneously the said mobile phone in said different communication networks is presented and plurality of incoming and/or outgoing calls can be communicated simultaneously with the said respective SIM cards…”
A former patent examiner in Chennai patent office who made the first report of this patent application with a number of objections, told Mint on Wednesday “It is strange that a patent has been granted on these claims despite a number of objections raised at that point of time, and also after a rejection of the same application by the “Patent Cooperative Treaty (PCT) the international patent application processing body, earlier.” The PCT had rejected Ramkumar’s patent application in 2004 on the basis of prior art.