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US entrepreneur accuses IIT of tech theft

Last updated on: July 21, 2011 15:18 IST

US entrepreneur accuses IIT of tech theft

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Ritu Jha Ritu Jha in New York


Tension between a United States-based company and the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur is mounting after the Calcutta high court kept the injunction in place over Mandana D Farhang's objection regarding the alleged misappropriation of her technology in India earlier this month.

Both Farhang and IIT-K claim they hold the patent for the mobile technology.

Farhang, a Bay Area entrepreneur and owner of MA Mobile, filed a law suit against IIT-K in the US District Court in San Jose, California, in 2008. IIT-K filed a separate lawsuit in India a year later.

Farhang has alleged that IIT-K breached a 2003 contract it signed with her and her affiliate MA Mobile Limited by allegedly passing the technology, relating to a new platform for mobile computing, to others.

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Image: Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur.
Photographs: Rediff Archive.
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In her complaint, she has said that during a meeting with IIT-K Dean Partha P Chakrabarti she shared critical technology and disclosed trade secrets relating to her interest in the Indian Railways.

She claimed that Chakrabarti entered into a joint venture with her and MA Mobile and promised to develop the advanced application with the Indian Railways, a coveted customer that IIT-K promised it could deliver because of its influential status in India.

After years, Farhang alleged, she discovered that Chakrabarti had given the technology to IBM and ultimately to the Indian Railways and possibly others.

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Photographs: Reuters
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The 100-page report says Farhang learned about the venture with the Indian Railways through a February 2008 article published by Forbes.com.

The demonstrative application that was developed for the Indian Railways was designed to demonstrate how their travelling ticket examiners could utilise a hand-held device to run data from their passenger reservation system on the device while on board the trains, so that the TTEs could, among other things, track passenger information to locate doctors on board in case of an emergency, identify vacant berths, issue tickets instantly, and update the PRS.

The complaint has also alleged that IIT-K never intended to pursue a joint venture, but was using it as a pretence to seize the technology for their benefit.

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"Any allegation by Farhang or her complex web of companies of any wrongdoing by IIT or the people at IIT is false. We have serious concerns about her actions. IIT flatly denies her allegations and looks forward to presenting the case in court," said Neel Chatterjee, attorney for IIT-K in the United States.

Though Farhang's co-consul Sanjiv N Singh refused to comment on the Kolkata ruling, he told India Abroad, "The Farhang case has tremendous significance not just for the IITs as commercial entities doing business in the US, but also for the future of Indian-US joint ventures and technology collaborations."

"In my estimation, the US court's repeated rejection of IIT- Kharagpur's attempts to have itself dismissed as a defendant is ultimately protective of both national interests and serves as a reminder to both Indian entities and US entities that they cannot hide behind jurisdiction, sovereign status, or the like when there are real allegations of wrongdoing in these important cross border ventures," he added.

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Photographs: Reuters
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"The Notice of Allowance issued by the United States Patent & Trademark Office in May, 2011, which authorises the publication of a US patent later this year, is compelling evidence that the core technology disclosed to Partha Chakrabarti's group at IIT-Kharagpur was novel. This fact, coupled with the US court's rulings in 2010 that there was a reasonable inference from even the preliminary evidence that IIT-Kharagpur had engaged in technology misappropriation, breached its NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with MA Mobile Ltd, and breached the joint venture for development of numerous mobile applications, including the TTE handheld application -- makes our current position very strong," he contended.

"The case is ripe, is far ahead of the parallel Indian case that was filed much after the fact, and we are prepared to move forward imminently with aggressive discovery," he added.

Farhang, in an e-mail to India Abroad, said, "In response to the vitriolic remarks posted recently by IIT supporters, I can only say that I have spent a significant amount of time in India, and I have a deep love for the country and its benevolent, hard-working people. I am vehemently opposed to fraud and corruption, and I will not stop this fight until the truth is exposed and there is full financial audit of (IIT-K Dean) Partha P Chakrabarti's department SRIC (Sponsored Research and Industrial Consultancy) that was responsible for safeguarding my intellectual property under strict NDA."

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Photographs: Reuters
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She added, "I sincerely hope that by now, after what they have seen, the IIT engineers who were involved in this venture for nearly three years will abandon their fealty to Chakrabarti (aka PPC) and expose the truth.:

"If any of the engineers who were part of my team were innocent bystanders and they approach me to tell the truth about what transpired, they will be spared from further legal entanglements and will be entitled to equitable consideration. Exposing the truth will also enable IIT to cleanse itself of rogue elements responsible for past and present misconduct and malfeasance that will taint its future international partnerships," she said.

"I believe the rest of IIT's honest, well-deserving students and faculty have earned the right to be part of an institute that upholds the highest legal and moral standards," she added.


Photographs: Reuters
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