Intellectual Property Rights as understood legally refers to those rights given to persons for their intellectual creations of mind, by way of copyright, trademark, design or patent protection. Just like any other property rights, they confer up on the owner or the creator the rights to benefit from their work both morally and economically. And in the same line, intellectual property laws too are restricted by jurisdictional limitations. To put it precisely, the proprietor of a registered trademark in India can enjoy exclusive rights and ownership of the trademark only within the physical boundaries of the country and not beyond. For trademark protection in any other country, the proprietor would have to make separate applications in accordance to the laws of that respective country.

Having said that, all creations of mind, be it an invention, or literary or artistic work, or designs or symbols and logos, when created within the boundary of any particular region, will be granted intellectual property protection by the Government of that particular country.

The pertinent question which arises here is: whose territory is the Outer Space? The answer to this question is as elusive, vast and unexplored like the Outer Space.

Birth of the Space Law

Launch of the world’s first satellite way back in 1957 by Russia marked the birth of the Space Exploration or the Space Age. Space Law was soon established as a part of International Law and was described as the body of law governing space-related activities. Space law basically comprises a variety of international agreements, treaties, conventions, and United Nations General Assembly resolutions as well as rules and regulations of international organizations.

In the year 1959, the United Nations created the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) for negotiating agreements relating to outer space. There are officially five international treaties negotiated and drafted by the UNCOPUOS:

  • The Outer Space Treaty of 1967,
  • The Rescue Agreement of 1968,
  • The Liability Convention of 1972,
  • The Registration Convention of 1975 and
  • The Moon Agreements of 1979

Though disappointing, but none of these agreements contain provisions expressly dealing with intellectual property rights.

So whose territory is the outer space?

The Outer Space Treaty, formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, very clearly states that, Outer Space is free for exploration and use by all States in conformity with International law (Article I). Further Article II states that the Outer Space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.

And hence, the Outer Space belongs to all and is open for exploration by all. This brings us to the next question as to whether any individual or State can claim authority over objects in the Space?

To this regard, Article VIII of the Outer Space Treat states that any object launched in the outer space shall be owned and governed by the State on whose registry such object is registered.

Further Article II of the Registration Convention provides that launching State shall register the space object by means of an entry in an appropriate registry which it should maintain. Article I (a) defines a launching State as “a State which launches or procures the launching of a space object or from whose territory or facility a space object is launched.” In cases where there are two or more launching States with respect to a space object, they should jointly determine as to whose jurisdiction the space object ought to be registered.

The need for IPR in Outer Space:

Practically speaking, developing IP laws for outer space is the need of the hour, given the constant evolution of the most advanced and sophisticated technology put to use in outer space related activities. In order to examine the importance of IPR in outer space activities let us take the example of Remote Sensing Satellites, which take imageries of Earth from outer space and send it back to the satellite stations established on earth for various purposes. These imageries are called Earth Observation (EO) Data or Spatial Data. The entire process is a fruit of intellectual creation of the human mind and thus falls under the ambit of IP.

The primary impediments regarding IPR in outer space may relate to the manufacturing and use of patented inventions as well as the determination of the author, use and licensing of copyrighted products, such as software, spatial data, etc.

Patent: The entire technological process applied for collecting the raw data from the Outer Space using Remote Sensing Satellite is patented as an invention. The technique and technology used is unique and different in every remote sensing satellite and is thus patentable.

As far as patent law for outer space is concerned, problems occur when an invention is used or infringed in outer space. The national patent laws are applicable only within the territory of the respective State which excludes the extraterritorial domain of outer space.

Copyright: The raw data gathered by these satellites as such holds no copyright value. But copyright subsists in the final processed or value added data created after disseminating the raw spatial data. The imageries sent by these Remote Sensing Satellites are used in weather forecast, environmental monitoring, terrain mapping, etc. and embrace a great deal of copyright value.

In the copyright laws of most countries, the threshold of originality that is required to qualify for copyright protection differs. This would imply that a particular kind of spatial database may be granted copyright protection in some countries, but a similar data would not qualify for copyright protection in other countries.

Pertaining to India, as per the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957, it will be a difficult task to establish the real author of such spatial data collected by Remote Sensing Satellite, a machine that does not involve any human intervention, unlike other literary work creations.


Outer space activities have always been characterized by high-tech inventions and advanced science but the recognition of IPR with respect to these activities is of a recent origin and India, like many others countries, has not enacted any space legislation, nor has any provisions dealing with outer space activities in its domestic IPR regime.

Having said that the major obstacle to reconcile the Space law and IPR is that the Space law is a part of international law and thus is uniform and same for all countries, whereas every country has its own IP regime. There is a lack of legal certainty and single uniform law in the field of Space IPR. With law comes enforcement mechanism, which is also presently lacking with respect to Space IPR issues.

 “Man’s mind and spirit grow with the space in which they are allowed to operate.” – Krafft Arnold Ehricke