The patent’s office decision about WOW Tech Group’s We-Vibe brand of sex toys, delivered last year, has only come to light this week.
The BBC reported that WOW Tech, which recently was known as Standard Innovation Corp. prior to its merger with Womanizer Group Management GmbH, had applied for a patent in India to prevent generic copycats being sold in the Indian market.
Since the We-Vibe brand was founded in 2003, more than 5 million units have been sold across 50 other countries. A couples vibrator with an ergonomic design, the We-Vibe is protected by patents in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The Indian Patent Office rejected the application after stating that the products lead "to obscenity and moral deprivation of individuals."
"These are toys that are not considered useful or productive. Mostly these are considered to be morally degrading by the law," the Indian Patent Office wrote. "The law views sex toys negatively and has never engaged positively with the notion of sexual pleasure."
The Indian Patent Office also invoked the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a 155-year-old colonial-era law, which criminalizes “unnatural” intercourse, in refusing the patent.
The BBC said an appeal to strike down provisions of the law is currently before the Supreme Court.
Dr. Shamnad Basheer, a visiting professor of law at India's National Law School who is working on a book about public health law, told the BBC, "Why should the patents office handle moral decisions? Officials trained in technical science are not supposed to decide whether an invention is moral or immoral."
In India, sex toys are openly sold online but they are hard to find in conventional brick-and-mortar stores.
The India Patent Office said that an amended claim with additional technical features could enable the We-Vibe to meet the requirements of novelty and inventive step, though such changes would not address the “moral deprivation” objection.
A spokesman for WOW Tech, Denny Alexander, told XBIZ today that the BBC story, more than a year after the ruling, "seems to have come to light after an opinion by Dr. Shamnad Basheer, honorary research chair of intellectual property law at Nirma University and visiting professor of law at the National Law School of India," who recently posted the story about the patent decision on his blog.
"The article questions the patent office's authority to make moral or immoral determinations," Alexander said. "[The company] has strong patent protection that has been recognized by patent offices around the world."