Tuesday, January 29, 2008

'Overhaul India’s patent processes’: Panel’s report to the Prime Minister calls for systemic reform to ensure accessibility and transparency

Acknowledging systemic problems with India’s patent offices, the National Knowledge Commission, under the chairmanship of Sam Pitroda, has called for a complete overhaul in the patent examination system.The commission is a high-level advisory body to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and is charged with transforming India into a knowledge centre.

The commission’s recommendations to Singh, a copy of which has been reviewed, said the patent examination procedures, practices and decisions in patent offices should be streamlined. It also suggested that a new detailed manual for examining patents should be created.

The report was submitted in October, but is only now coming to light. The recommendations were made after consulting industries, lawyers, scientists and technocrats. The commission suggested that patent offices must have adequate technology that will allow for transparent and publicly accessible databases. Recommendations are outlined for 10 key areas that will facilitate a systemic reform.

“The process in intellectual property offices needs to become more accessible and reader-friendly and, therefore, the ultimate objective of all efforts to modernize the patent offices must be to facilitate more transparency and procedural ease for the inventor as well as the common man,” the commission wrote.

The commission recommended that all patent applications be released with complete details so as to give sufficient opportunity for any pre-grant objections. “It is particularly essential to provide electronic access in real time to all steps of a patent application, from the detailed patent description, examination reports at each stage and all amendments introduced at various points, in order to maintain complete transparency,” the report said.

On 31 December, India’s patent offices have been criticized for not releasing enough and timely information about patent applications even as there has been a surge in patents granted. Critics have complained that lack of information prevents them from challenging patent applications.
Indian patent offices publish only abstracts of claims in patent applications, often with a delay of several months before and after they examine such applications.

During 2005-06, the last year for which official data is available, India’s patent grants soared 125% from the previous year. The country’s four patent offices in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai collectively granted 4,320 patents during this period even as the number of patent examiners fell to 140 from 196 in the previous year.

Even though the intellectual property offices received some 24,505 patent applications in 2006, there were only 161 oppositions during the year. The number of patent applications abandoned by the department was, however, comparatively lower in 2005-06 than in previous years, according to the 2005-06 annual general report of the controller general of patents, designs and trademarks. Patent offices abandon those applications where there is no merit in the claims.
Other recommendations of the commission include introduction of incentives to attract and retain talent; adequate training and human resource development for patent offices; spreading intellectual property rights education beyond patent offices among scientists and engineers, and establishing an expert institute for patent policy research.

It also called for setting up of a special intellectual property rights tribunal; adequate protection for traditional knowledge; investment in the intellectual needs of small and medium enterprises, and identification of intellectual property issues in fields of emerging technologies.

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