The world post-World War II has seen tremendous growth in the field of space exploration. Ever since the launch of the first satellite in space, the Sputnik-I by the USSR followed by Explorer-I of the USA, space exploration has increased rapidly. But increased development in space exploration technology coupled with private participation and globalization has enumerated the need for clear reconciliation between Intellectual Property Laws and Space Laws as the need of the hour. However, as of today, there is no clarity as to the relationship between Space Laws and Intellectual Property Laws.
The Requirement for Harmonization
The need for harmonizing Intellectual Property Laws with Space Law lies in several recent developments. Firstly, there is an increased participation of private sector players in the field which was not the case in the 20th century. These private entities are generally far more aware and interested in protecting their property, both tangible and intangible, due to the increased opportunity of monetization and commercialization. This was hardly the case with the government organizations that dominated the scene until a couple of decades ago. Secondly, the rapid development of technology has opened up new business avenues in space transportation and Exploration. Space Tourism, for example, is now no longer a very distant dream. This could open up the need to deal with the issue of protecting IPs other than Patents and venturing into Trademark and Design protection in space. Thirdly, a lot of work in space exploration is now carried out simultaneously across the globe through mutual cooperation. The question arises as to whose jurisdiction would an IP developed in such a way come under.
Hindrance to Harmonization
The biggest issue with Intellectual Property Laws being harmonized with Space Laws lies in the fact that the former laws are municipal in nature, i.e. their jurisdiction and applicability is restricted to the territory of the sovereign that made the law. Contrary to this, Space Law is a field of International Law that is applicable to the Outer Space Region – starting roughly 100 km above sea level. According to Article II of The Outer Space Treaty, 1967 (one of the most important international treaties regarding space law) no sovereign state can appropriate Outer Space as its own territory. This essentially means that there exists no concept of State Sovereignty in Space.
Step Towards Harmonization
Presently, due to a clear distinction between the “Outer Space Region” and “An Object Launched in Outer Space” existing in the Outer Space Treaty, the state which launches the object in space will be the one that can register the object under an appropriate registry, and shall retain jurisdiction on that object once it is in space. However, no clear law exists on whether Intellectual Property Laws would extend as such in outer space. Also, the fate of an object created by any activity in outer space itself, eg. in the ISS, is also unknown.
In this regard, The United States is the only country that has made a move in clarifying its position in regard to IPs, specifically patents. The US Space Bill extends the applicability of American Patent law to objects in space. The European Union has also tried to take steps in this regard, which has led to confusion because of non-clarity.
Indian Legislation and the lack thereof
Like most nations, India also does not have legislation regarding the extension of Intellectual Property Laws to Outer Space. But with the increased participation of several private players from India, albeit in a limited capacity, the demand for a definitive legal provision in harmonizing space law and IPR Law gains more traction. Such a bill should comprehensively address all pertinent issues in this regard, for example:
- A civilian control agency for all space-related activities except those of weapons development and national defense
- Promotion of commercial use of space
- Promotion of space tourism
- Clarification and provisions relating to Intellectual Property Laws
- Provision for licensing for entrepreneurs in space
- Clear rules for all space-related activities, so that no adverse effects on the environment are caused
- Clarification of Labour Laws in space etc.
Space is a frontier that has only started being explored. It is thus important to regularize and clearly define the rights, obligations, and procedures of humans in space. This is even more necessary when we take into account the great financial prospects that space exploration also holds. The above discussion thus clearly portrays the requirement for harmonization of Space Laws with Intellectual Property Laws and what aspects effective legislation should try to cover to deliver fruitful results in the future.
2ND YEAR, LLB
ILS LAW COLLEGE, PUNE