The Intellectual Property Act of Sri Lanka under Amendment


I wrote last week about intellectual property and the legislation covering it, including copyright, the laws of which are to be tightened. Conversing with some friends who have had books of theirs published, I found that copyright is a very nebulous concept in Sri Lanka. I should add so far, since things in this sphere are to be greatly improved.

Just two instances of infringement / neglect

An author said that a well known children’s book of hers had been plagiarized and published and put out for sale with a few changes in format. They had traced the publisher, a little known businessman who said he did not know how to contact the author of the book. Furthermore, when he met the author and her lawyer, he was dressed to substantiate his performance as a very sick man pleading for forgiveness due to illness and age. Plagiarism goes on barefacedly.

Another friend said she translated a Sinhala novel to English for an acquaintance of hers, generously refusing the amount offered her, much less than the work was worth. It was a gesture of friendship, though it meant spending much of her time on the translation. She found to her utter surprise that when the English translation was published and out on sale, only the author’s name was on the title page and front cover. Her name (the translator’s) was nowhere to be seen and no acknowledgement made. The author had not even told her that the translation was published. True, the author of a translated work is the one responsible for the intellectual work of the original that goes into translation. Thus book cataloguing lists a translated book under the author, with an added entry under translator. But the lack of any recognition or acknowledgement of the work done by the translator in the instance I quote, is abominable. It happens though, apparently not only in this land of ours. India however is very strict on copyright et al.

The NIPO Office

I visited the Sri Lanka National Intellectual Property Office at Samagam Medura, D R Wijewardane Mawatha, Colombo 10, and was pleasantly surprised to see how good the two floors dedicated to this office are. It’s an open plan of employees’ desks, cabinets and side tables, with a few cubicles half glass walled for executives. The entire two floors are air-conditioned. Many employees are women, so also the Director General. I went to the third floor where much business seems to be done, and where there were many transacting business, but could not meet the DG, she being away. Unfortunately I went during their lunch break - 12.30 to 1.30, but stayed longer and saw many empty rooms. The office had been shifted from Slave Island. I wanted to know when the new building was commissioned. No reply, even from an old office aide who was asked. The Information Officer too did not know. No matter, but this is how things pertain over here. Employees should have the basic curiosity to find out when the office they work in was built (or taken over) and furnished.

I was given a 36 paged, small sized booklet titled: Intellectual Property System in Sri Lanka: an overview authored by D. M. Karunaratne, Director General of Intellectual Property – 2008 with a severe warning added that ‘reproduction of this work or any parts thereof without written authorization of the …. was prohibited.’ The booklet defines and explains the term ‘intellectual property’ and explains the evolution of the present system. Act No 36 of 2003 supersedes The Code of Intellectual Property Act No 52 of 1979. Interestingly, the intellectual property system in Sri Lanka had its origin during British colonial rule with the grant of the first patent on November 22, 1860, under the British Inventor’s Ordinance of 1859. This law was replaced by the Patents Ordinance of 1906 and thus with a couple more additions we come to the Amendments proposed in 2013. Following the section dealing with ‘the evolution of the domestic system’ is a reference to the ‘international arena’ followed by the sections of the Act: copyright; related rights; expressions of folklore; industrial designs; patents; marks; layout designs of integrated circuits; assignment, transfer and licences; enforcement; criminal sanctions; customs; dispute resolution and agents. I quote from the last section: "The profession of Intellectual Property Agents is recognized and established. The Attorneys-at-Law and those who have been successful at an examination and interview conducted by the DG of Intellectual Property are entitled to have their names registered as agents."


I was interested in the number of patents registered since patents are now big business and mostly commercial firms rather than individuals submit patents to a country’s patent office to obtain a right. Large figures for patents, industrial design and trademarks were given me by an employee but she did not know the years for which these figures are relevant so I shall not mention them here. Also an officer senior to her said that figures would be released only on a written request. However just one figure: 222 patent applications were submitted in 2014 - great! shows that R&D and manufacture are all alive and kicking in this land of our. Examination of a submitted patent and its rejection or award of a right takes up to one and a half years. (Googling I found much on patents but the first Ceylonese patent was not listed).

Proposed amendments

Accessing, 19 pages came up titled An Act to Amend the Intellectual Property Act no 36 of 2003. It will carry a number after the amendments are passed by Parliament and titled Intellectual Property (Amendment) Act no … of 2013.

The amendments are for copyright, industrial design, patents and trademarks. The main amendments are because of digitalization of both print and non-print materials – books, music, songs etc. Also up until now copyright of material was automatically granted. Once a book is published, for instance, it is copyrighted under the author or the publisher. It is ‘registered’ at the National Archives where submission of five free copies is mandatory. Termed legal deposit, these copies are distributed to the National Library, Colombo Museum, Peradeniya University, Ruhuna University and one retained at the National Archives. International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) are assigned by an officer in the National Library and Documentation Services Board.

I quote from the amendments document which has been submitted to Parliament for debate and passing: "The Director General shall keep and maintain a register called and known as ‘The Register of Copyright’ as provided herein below. There shall be included in such Register the names and titles of the works and sound recordings protected under this Part and the names and addresses of the author and owners of copyright of such works, of the producers of such sound recordings and of the publisher of the item to be protected, and any other information as may be prescribed."

Folklore gets greater protection. Communication is re-defined to include newer methods of present times. Thus in the revision document, sections from the Act of 2003 are either amended or repealed.

Pic Dharmasena Welipitiya

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