IP Agreements in Outer Space

Occasionally, we have encountered licensees who are not content with a licensed territory described as “the World”, and seek to extend the territory to other parts of the universe.  Our personal view is that this is usually ridiculous; perhaps an argument could be made for a slight extension of territory to Earth’s orbit, when dealing with satellite technology, but even in this situation an explicit territorial licence may be unnecessary.

In this context, we are pleased to see that the UK Government is planning to update the Outer Space Act 1986.  The Act makes fascinating reading.  Were you aware that, as part of the application process for launching a satellite, you have to declare the object’s basic orbital parameters, including nodal period, inclination, apogee and perigee?

The Act, which seeks to implement various UN treaties, does not attempt to carve up outer space into spheres of influence controlled by national governments.  Rather, regulation is based on the nationality of the party sending the satellite into space.  As someone who is not a specialist in the law of outer space, IP Draughts found the definition of outer space in the Act strangely disappointing: “outer space” includes the moon and other celestial bodies.

The concept of granting territorial exclusivity under an IP licence for activities in outer space seems problematical.  Do any IP rights exist in outer space, for which licences can be granted?  And if they do exist, what are the rules governing their use?  For example, we are unfamiliar with the requirements for registering licences in the Mars Patent Office.  Are non-Mars nationals allowed to register licences?

4 Comments

Filed under Intellectual Property, Licensing, News

4 responses to “IP Agreements in Outer Space

  1. Do any IP rights exist in outer space

    Probably not. At least for UK patents, a spacecraft would probably be exempted under a purposive reading of ss60(5)(e) and (f).

    I’ve always taken the view that you have to nab them where the craft was launched from. Could be fun if the craft turns out to be alien?

  2. Thanks, Ken. The article hints at an interesting thought – that references to “throughout the universe” have come from standard practice among Hollywood lawyers. That could explain why we only see it occasionally. I agree with your quoted remarks about it being silly.

  3. This seems like an appropriate context in which to revisit that old favorite, “throughout the universe.” It was considered in the following Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125658217507308619.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLENexttoWhatsNewsTop.

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