The outer space was out of the reach for humankind for the longest time, but in the last 75 years, space exploration has become somewhat familiar. In October 1957, Russia became the first country to begin space exploration by launching Sputnik-I, an unmanned satellite in outer space. The United States followed in Russia’s footsteps the following year. Russia also holds the distinction of becoming the first country to send a manned satellite into the earth’s orbit, known as ‘Vostok I, in 1961. Today, space technology has become increasingly advanced and developments in this field have resulted in the formation of laws governing outer space and intellectual property rights.
Although space exploration is no longer a new concept, IP rights governing advancements in this field are being highlighted only recently. This is partly attributed to the fact that developments in the field of outer space are increasingly becoming a private, commercial affair. These activities, especially in foreign countries, are not state-run affairs any longer. Space Exploration Technologies Corp, popularly known as Space X, founded by Elon Musk in USA in 2002 is a great example of a private Aerospace company that has been making advances in the field of space technology.
As such, it has become imperative for such developers and explorers to protect their innovation. The governments of such countries are obligated to help such inventors protect these innovations, by creating and enforcing appropriate intellectual property law and outer space laws so that research can continue and companies can succeed. After all, the success of the private entity in the field of space, also directly benefits the economy, propelling it as an advanced country. Since space developers understand the need to safeguard such inventions, the demand to create appropriate space laws has exponentially risen.
While non-governmental agencies can explore space privately, there are certain legal liabilities at play in conjunction with outer space and intellectual property rights. For instance, as per the Outer space Treaty of 1967; a treaty forming the basis of all international space laws – all countries (including India) undertaking space research are internationally responsible for any outer space activities, whether they are run privately or through government agencies. Private companies should seek permission from the government of their country before conducting any and all space activities.
IPR in space innovations basically implies that a country is capable of granting protection to innovations, in Space; outside of its own conventional and territorial boundaries. Inventors may pursue legal recourse if their creations are exploited in space commercially. These rights attempt to protect the inventors’ interests and encourage them to continue space exploration, while reaping rewards from their innovations.
Like almost every other innovation, intellectual property and space activities can be protected in four ways
However, before filing for patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets, it is important to conduct thorough research to prove the uniqueness of the creations. Since intellectual property law and outer space laws are fairly new, it is rather essential to be well aware of the laws – especially because there are several international laws governing this kind of innovation.
Although the outer space remains one of the most mysterious and intriguing entities, innovations in this field are more advanced than ever. India, with its ISRO, is also a party to almost all prominent international space treaties. However, like most other countries, India does not have its own specific space legislations and must comply with those mentioned in outer space and intellectual property rights treaties. But since space activities in India are diversifying rapidly, it may be time to formulate specific comprehensive space legislation.