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Fueling the Affordable Smartphone Revolution in India



Smartphones have emerged as the exemplar of mankind’s quest for shrinking technologies. They embody the realization of a simple premise – that computing devices would do more and cost less. This realization has been responsible for modern society’s profound transformations in communication, governance, and knowledge distribution.

The launch of the iPhone in 2007 is often credited with ushering in an era of smartphones. Ever since, the world’s best tech R&D has focused on increasing the capabilities of these devices. And as a result, less than a decade later, we have sub-hundred dollar smartphones. The low-cost smartphone has found an enthusiastic and insatiable market in developing countries, especially Asia. India is no exception to the Asian narrative – Micromax, Spice, and Lava (low cost smartphone manufacturers) are household names in the Indian smartphone market, which accounted for 65% of internet traffic in 2014.

The Indian Prime Minister, carrying the twin aspirations of catalyzing the growth of indigenous manufacturing and bridging the digital divide, launched the “Digital India” and “Make in India” campaigns last year. During his US visit, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook extended their support to the campaigns’ vision. The campaigns outline the government’s elaborate initiatives to bridge the digital divide and build indigenous manufacturing capacity. While all these developments bode well for the indigenous smartphone, there remain some serious concerns affecting the growth of the industry – for instance, patent infringement litigations and the absence of clear legal and regulatory solutions.

From the state of the industry and its implications, it can be concluded that: first, growing access to smartphones has been influenced by their phenomenal affordability; second, smartphones are an excellent example of technology for development and a facilitator of access to knowledge; and third, domestic smartphone production has occurred in an imprecise legal and regulatory environment.

This article attempts to build an appreciation for the role that smartphones are playing in development, specifically, by fostering Access to Knowledge. Conversations around development by public-interest groups and emerging industries often espouse Access to Knowledge to address concerns in international development, communications, technology, education, and intellectual property policy. Whereas the principle can be regarded as in-theworks, two theories inform us about the role of mobile phones in fostering Access to Knowledge. Lea Sheaver’s theory classifies mobile as an Access-toKnowledge good. Lea enumerates the five key components of a robust Access to Knowledge framework, viz., education for information literacy, access to the global knowledge commons, access to knowledge goods, an enabling legal framework, and effective innovation systems. According to her, affordability of the good is the ultimate indicator of its efficacy as an access to knowledge good. Furthermore, inventions in microchip technology, electronics manufacturing, and software need to be supported by enabling legal and policy frameworks coupled with effective innovation systems.

Yochai Benkler’s framework classifies mobile-devices as both informationembedded goods and information-embedded tools. He says, “Information-embedded goods are those goods which are ‘better, more plentiful or cheaper because of some technological advance embedded in them or associated with their production,’ such as medicines, movies, and improved crop seed. Information-embedded tools, in turn, are those technologies necessary for research, innovation, and communication of knowledge”. A smartphone qualifies as both because it can be used to obtain knowledge, and it depends on discoveries in microchip technology, electronics manufacturing, and software to function.

To date, there has been no formal, theoretical or evidentiary investigation on the emergence of smartphones as an Access-to-Knowledge good. In the following sections, I will attempt to explain the smartphone’s dependence on an enabling legal framework and effective innovation systems (Lea’s components). It must be borne in mind that globally, discussions affecting access to knowledge have aimed at creating balanced and inclusive systems related to intellectual property. Therefore, the article will focus on: first, the relationship between constituent mobile technologies and intellectual property as a function of production/deployment of smartphones in India; and second, the relationship between innovation and access.

Creating an Enabling Legal Framework to Foster Access to Knowledge

The adage “the only lesson you can learn from history is that it repeats itself” is worth bearing in our narrative. The emergence of the smartphones industry in Asia has commonalities with the flourishing Asian piracy trade – which remains an essential access solution for low-income societies constantly barraged by expensive western media goods. The prohibitive cost of acquiring brand-name devices (e.g. Apple, HTC, Samsung, Sony) drove local production to imitate and innovate cheaper substitutes. This occurred within the lenient and flexible intellectual property regimes prevalent in Asian countries, which continue to be constantly criticized for their failure to enact stricter intellectual property law. The hubs of smartphone production – China, Taiwan, and India – have flexible intellectual property protection law and lax enforcement measures.

Concerns of intellectual property center around patent and copyright legislation, which have yet to be fully developed to address intellectual property in high-tech industries (since trademark issues remain unchanged, they will not be discussed in the article.) As a result, constituent smartphone technologies have been shaped and governed by a blend of formal and informal rules and legal and illegal practices. This is why they are often referred to as “gray market” technologies. A smartphone in terms of constituent intellectual property can be broadly divided into hardware and software technologies. This piece will first deal with hardware, followed by software technologies.

Hardware Technologies and Their Relationship with IP Law

Presently, most Indian manufacturers import hardware from China and Taiwan, and assemble the phones in India. A few key Indian domestic players are Maxx Mobile, Intex, Spice, and Lava, whose dominance have not gone unnoticed by foreign manufacturers. A couple of these domestic manufacturers are now embroiled in patent litigation threats or infringement suits. And as litigation piles up in Indian courts, the judiciary is slowly waking up to mobile patent litigation, but is yet to rule comprehensively. To make matters worse, the jurisdiction of the Indian antitrust regulator remains unclear, and to a certain extent overlaps with the judiciary, adding to the ambiguity. For instance, when an appellate court ruled in favor of the Swedish tech-giant Ericsson, it ordered Micromax to pay a flat 1.25 – 2% of its devices’ selling price to Ericsson. The ruling was devoid of a more rational and reasoned approach developed by courts of other jurisdictions in similar matters, which prescribed that the infringers pay damages based on the price of the patented components only, and not the retail price of the phones. This decision risks causing a significant increase in the price of phones and potentially threatens local innovation.

The Indian government’s Make in India and Digital India campaigns aim to fulfill the vision of a digitally empowered India, and the 2015 Indian Union budget also targets boosting the electronics manufacturing industry. Despite these broad initiatives, there needs to be a more focused policy in place to ensure domestic companies do not get weighed down by patent related concerns. The root cause of litigation is the vesting of a majority of critical mobile patents (Standard Essential Patents, or SEPs) by a handful tech-giants. For instance, Qualcomm owns 5700 patents around CDMA technology ( In another instance, the DVD format constitutes 311 SEPs for DVD players and 272 SEPs for DVD recorders. Such a dense concentration of patents around SEPs creates a patent thicket and thereby compels Smartphone manufacturers to acquire multiple licenses, and to pay high transaction costs and huge royalties to the owner. To reduce conflict and protect domestic players from being arm-twisted into paying high royalties, the government can potentially identify critical technologies and initiate the formation of a patent pool of such technologies. The concept of a patent pool mandates that the patent holders issue licenses on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory basis to interested parties. However, a nuanced and cautious approach to setting up such pools is necessary.

There are interesting lessons in China’s steps to encourage local innovation of Smartphone hardware as well, specifically in the form of standardized technologies. The Chinese government has actively supported the development of indigenous standards to shield domestic manufacturers from royalty exposure. In fact, the China Blue High-definition Disc (CBHD) standard was built as an alternative to the Blu-ray disc and was duly adopted by the Chinese government, which reportedly caused the royalty rates for the Blu-ray format to dip. Much later, Warner Bros, Paramount, and other motion picture producers adopted the CBHD standard as well for distribution in China.

Software Technologies and Their Relationship with IP Law

Unlike hardware technology, where India is struggling to build manufacturing capacity, the success of the Indian software industry has already been realized. The software-as-a-service (SaAS) industry is led by Infosys, TCS, and Wipro in software exports. The prevailing trend in the industry since the 1980s was to assign ownership of their products to offshore clients. However, in the past decade, there has been a conscious shift by the Indian software development workforce to build products for Smartphone platforms. This is in response to the shift in local populations to accessing content and services online. Reports indicate that India has the second largest population of mobile applications developers (approx. 3 million) in the world, second only to the US. The Indian government has recognized the potential of mobile application-based ventures and created funds to encourage app development in India.

Intellectual property protection around software is fairly ambiguous. A piece of code is potentially capable of gaining both patent and copyright protection. In the area of mobile application development, preliminary research findings indicate that coding occurs with an agnostic attitude towards intellectual property laws. One of the reasons is ambiguity on a multitude of issues around the protection of software because Indian legislation on patent and copyright is frustratingly insufficient. There is a growing discontentment about long-term patent protection over software code, which could be detrimental to innovation – particularly, to the start-up segment of software industry. In more technologically advanced economies, software patenting has emerged as a scourge – last year, the US Supreme Court in Alice Corporation Pty Ltd v. CLS Bank International Et Al narrowed the eligibility of software inventions to gain patent protection. The activist discourse has shifted in favor of eliminating software patenting because of the incremental and obsolescent nature of a software invention. However, in a recent disappointing move, the Indian patent office widened the scope of patent-eligible subject matter for software-related inventions – a move that was decried by free software activists and industry alike. This widening of scope can only benefit tech-giants in building bigger patent portfolios, which is unnecessary and unhealthy for innovation by small and mid-tier entities.

Effective Innovation Systems

Innovation ensures fresh creation of knowledge. A society cannot premise itself on the mere importation of knowledge; it must also strive to use the knowledge to meet its own local needs and environment. Innovation depends on a variety of factors – there is no singular path or factor to build an innovative and enterprising society. The patent system is often incorrectly credited with “promoting” innovation. The discourse around innovation was extremely patent-centric until studies disproved the assumptive correlation between high patenting activity and innovation. Continuing in the same vein, Lea states, “From the A2K perspective, however, relying on patents – which represent the right to exclude others from access to the innovation – is particularly problematic. Patents likely represent the segment of innovation of least value for expanding access to knowledge: improvements in the knowledge stock whose application is limited by exclusive property rights”.

In this framework, it is also important to shed light on the growing movement of openness. Openness as a movement has been captured by various fields – Big data, software, education, media, etc. Free and Open Source Software has emerged as a key agent in information technology policy-making in India, with the Indian government adopting an open standards policy and an open software policy for its own purposes.

In the context of smartphone technologies, preliminary findings also support the shift towards openness. Industry participants have observed that openness will lead to greater benefits in private production of hardware technologies. Similarly, mobile applications developers have also voiced support of open source software.


The discussion above identified a limited set of legal and regulatory concerns affecting the state of production/deployment of smartphones in India. These issues and findings are backed by preliminary research, and purport to sustain the emergence of the smartphone as an enabler of access to knowledge. The proposed solutions direct industry and the government alike to take immediate steps to fix problems impeding pervasive access to this knowledge good.

The experience of the smartphone industry with an imprecise legal and regulatory environment, akin to piracy, has thus far been a success story of affordability, quality substitution, and innovation. However, this narrative is now threatened by messy litigation, jurisdictional uncertainties between the anti-trust regulator and judicial system, SEP licensing issues, rise of software patents. Despite these issues, the industry continues to grow. The future of access to knowledge is therefore bright, provided that stakeholders make efforts to meet the needs of this emerging industry and the public, including development and consumer interests.


About the Author

This article was written by Anubha Sinha of The Centre for Internet & Society. Anubha is a Programme Officer at CIS. As part of the Pervasive Technologies Project, she works on issues involving intellectual property law and openness. see more.


“When Adam Draper does Crypto Standup, Singapore listens”



I live and work in Singapore and Santa Monica. Yes, I am blessed. However, my life has been by design, I think of what I want and so I make my life choices and make them happen in my life. Hence the bi-continent living and that comes with bi-continent and now global community living, being and ecosystems building. So I am now never surprised when one part of my world meets another.

I went to Wavemaker Partners venture capital event this evening, keen to meet Adam Draper, who is one of the many great presenters at Crypto Invest Summit, April 30- May 2 in Los Angeles.

Since I actively support leaders who are building scalable, sustainable businesses and movements for the betterment of many; of course I am learning about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. I had been keen to report on the Crypto Invest Summit as I would be back in May to LA for my PhD programme. I was in communications with the organizers. However, I am being awarded an award at the Women Economic Forum in Delhi that same week and could not be physically present.

Still I wanted to report on the event, somehow.

I wanted to listen to the speakers and support some of the speakers who are already friends and experts I rely on for greater insights on cryptocurrency. I like learning and sharing with the greater audience, I have in Asia what I am learning from the US and vice versa. So I feel I had my chance tonight to do a bit of that.

I could not help but smile as Adam Draper shed light into his world of investing in more than 85 crypto related products because he was such a breath of fresh air to the last few Blockchain and Financial conferences I have been reporting on; especially here in Asia.

He just says it like it is.

He kept stopping the audience when they said Blockchain and he said, “You know you really mean cryptocurrency.”  He hit the nail on the head because I have seen so clearly how this phrase had been said in Singapore time and again – “I am not into cryptocurrency but I believe in Blockchain.”

When he said how there was an incongruity as he sat across bankers who personally invested in cryptocurrency and when faced with an inbound of requests from their clients on the same investment; are tied by regulations and are unable to respond.

Here’s some of his best lines. If you don’t laugh or “ah-ha” the way I did, you probably just had to be there. The truth is funny because it calls out for something we all see but sometimes just do not want to admit.

There is a growing understanding of the underlying thematics that the cryptocurrency world has been experiencing as the interface between centralize; de-centralize and personal autonomy becomes more and more apparent and lines get drawn.

Adam Says:

1) The newest phenomenon is that some of the ICO founders are now just so rich from their ICOs that they really don’t need to work on the project they asked for money for.

2) For the crypto-world, money doesn’t matter anymore!
They need talent

It’s so founder friendly now.

3) What Bitcoin made us ask is “What is money?”

The next question is “What is government and governance?”

He highlighted if an entrepreneur is looking for a problem to solve., then the entrepreneur is always looking for horrible industries with poor services and high costs. So yes – Governments are those horrible industries and they need to be disrupted.

4)  Any company who comes to an investor and leads with how much ICO has raised; is a red flag. Leave immediately and go read a Harry Potter book instead.
If they are leading with value and not the problem they are solving. Beware. (read more here

5) If you are going to invest in where the brains are. It’s in crypto.

6) Philosophically, Coinbase is against ethos of what Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement is trying to do. However to do such a move from fiat to digital currency, there would need a way to do that. So Coinbase acts like a browser does for internet. One day there will be no need to cash in or out as everyone is already there on digital. Cryptocurrency is the exchange of value. His advice and we know his bias as he is invested in  Coinhako; is to hold onto an exchange for 3-5 years since onboarding of all users to the new digital currency will take some time.

Adam met with many banks and government bodies on his trip to Singapore – I hope they got his truths.

I ended the night by thanking Adam for making me laugh. He reminded me of how much I miss LA.

Want more of this?

If you are in LA on April 30 – May 2.



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Callum Connects

Adrian Reid, Founder of Enlightened Stock Trading



Adrian Reid escaped the rat race and became a knowledgeable trader. He now shares his trading knowledge and empowers others to take control of their stocks.

What’s your story?
After working 12-16 hour days in the corporate world for many years I had a moment of realisation on the 1 hour bus ride to work. It was here at this moment in time, I realised that I felt trapped, desperate and isolated. Trapped in a job I hated, and a life I had not designed. I had long been interested in investing, but I made the decision at that point to become the best trader I could possibly be and escape the rat race.
My dream was to be free; free of the 9 to 5, the commute, the stress and the exhaustion. I threw myself into my stock trading research and study and emerged 3 months later with the trading rules that would ultimately buy me my freedom. I am now retired from the corporate world, I trade full time and share my knowledge with other aspiring traders through my online education program which puts them in control and empowers them to take control and accountability for their trading results.

What excites you most about your industry?
So many people are trapped in jobs they don’t like or are feeling immense financial pressure in their life. Trading education is typically done extremely badly today because of the conflicts of interest in the industry. Fund managers want to hold onto your money forever; brokers want you to trade more frequently; forex brokers want you to use more leverage. Why? Because that is how they make their money.
By teaching traders how to develop and test their own stock trading systems I am able to empower them to find trading rules which fit their own personality, objectives and lifestyle. This is the only way for new traders to be successful. This process transforms people’s financial future, their relationship with money and wealth and gives them hope. I love that!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I recently spent 3 years living in Singapore which I absolutely loved. This put me in a good position to observe the other Asian markets. As a stock trader I am interested in many markets and economies around the world, however the Asian markets have some of the best potential for trading profits. I have traded stocks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have developed trading systems that work in many other Asian markets as well.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favourite city is Singapore. After living in Singapore for 3 years my family fell in love with the city. Life is great in Singapore for the whole family and the pro-business and investing policies of the government make it a wonderful place to build your financial future as well.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
On a personal front: Find something you love, throw all your energy and passion into it.
On the wealth front: Spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Take control of your finances and always accept 100% responsibility for your investment decisions.

Who inspires you?
My wife Stephanie inspires me. Her commitment to everything she does, her compassion, her insights into people and her ability to uplift those around her, make me want to be a better person.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
No matter what we think we know, there will always be a different perspective that can change our opinion. In my own trading, I continually find that the truths I cling to are not absolute and they can be misleading if held onto dogmatically. Striking a balance between taking a stance and knowing when to change that stance based on new information is critical in all areas of life.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more action earlier on. My fear of mistakes (which still limits me on occasions, like most people) has always proven to be baseless. Playing small to avoid the embarrassment or pain of mistakes is very limiting and I would have taken more action earlier, if I had my time again.

How do you unwind?
To unwind I like to read, meditate, run and ride my mountain bike in the forest.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I just love the small island resort at Batu Batu. It is beautiful, isolated, quiet and surrounded by clean water, full of sealife. After a week at the resort I felt like a different person.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book teaches the art of clear and structured communication. My time working as a business strategy consultant gave me a great appreciation for the importance of communication in business. Clear and effective communication can solve a myriad of challenges in your business and professional life, and as a strong communicator your employment prospects, business relationships, team performance and family life are all dramatically improved.

Shameless plug for your business:
Enlightened Stock Trading ( is the only stock market trading education business that empowers you, as an individual trader. It shows you how to design and test your own unique stock trading system that fits YOUR Personality, Objectives and Lifestyle. We have no conflicts of interest and we are focused on teaching you how to trade stocks profitably in a way that fits your life.
After working through the Enlightened Stock Trader Certification Program you will find yourself confident and empowered with your own battle tested trading system and trading plan to guide you through the markets.

How can people connect with you?
Email me directly at [email protected] or through my Facebook Page (

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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