December 09 2019
IIT-Kharagpur in trouble over US tech transfer case
27 June 2011

he case against IIT-Kharagpur and its affiliate Technology Incubation and Entrepreneurship Training Society (TIETS) for misappropriation of technology of a US firm in the Northern District Court of California has taken a serious turn. 

Recently, the US Patent & Trademark Office(USPTO) described the technology as "valuable and novel" even before IIT-Kgp had access to it. What could further complicate matters for IIT-Kgp is the fact that the US court has refused to grant it sovereign immunity (given to countries). 

IIT-Kgp is said to have breached the contract it signed in 2003 with entrepreneur Mandana D Farhang and her affiliate MA Mobile Limited by allegedly passing to others the technology relating to a new platform for mobile computing. 

Sanjiv N Singh, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs Farhang and MA Mobile, told TOI from the US, "IIT-Kharagpur should be very worried about the Farhang case. The recent authorization by USPTO of a patent describing Farhang's mobile technology and confirming that the technology in question is valuable and novel -- and was valuable and novel as of the year 2000, long before IIT-Kgp even had access to it as a trade secret -- confirms that the Farhang case will be a winner and will very likely result in a significant verdict for our client. Moreover, the case has been approved to proceed and IIT-Kgp must remain in it as a defendant, despite attempts by it to have itself dismissed from the case." 

IIT-Kgp registrar T K Ghosal did not reply to a detailed questionnaire. He told TOI that the "matter is subjudice and the institute would not like to comment". 

In the complaint, Farhang's lawyers have made Partha P Chakrabarti, dean, Sponsored Research and Industrial Consultancy, IIT-Kgp, IIT professors Pallab Dasgupta, Rakesh Gupta, Pravanjan Choudhry, Subrat Panda and Animesh Naskar party to the case by alleging wrongful conduct. Singh said, "There is compelling evidence that agents of IIT-Kgp, operating under the direction of and in coordination with Partha Chakrabarti, appear to have misappropriated a US-based company's technology for their own benefit and for dissemination to third parties including IBMand the Indian Railways." 

The case relates to 2003 when Farhang and her affiliate entered into an agreement with IIT-Kgp and shared a new mobile computing technology. Farhang and her affiliate shared not only critical technology and confidential information with IIT-Kgp but also disclosed critical trade secrets relating to marketing, business strategies and various applications for which the technology could be used. 

In return, IIT-Kgp promised to develop the advanced prototype that Farhang and her affiliate provided to them for specific application with Indian Railways. The complaint in court said while IIT-Kgp promised it could deliver because of its influential status in India, it "misappropriated" the technology and "joint venture's customers for their own benefit, giving the technology to IBM and ultimately to the Indian Railways and possibly others". 

The complaint also charged IIT-Kgp with delaying tactics and launching concurrent court proceedings in India. It said the institute filed for concurrent proceedings ex-parte in Calcutta HC without notice to Farhang or her affiliate. It also said filings submitted by IIT-Kgp in the HC were "rife with egregious factual errors".



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