One of the distinguishing features of a developed country is the strong protection/emphasis given to intellectual property rights. Patents and trademarks are zealously guarded and enjoy the full protection of the law. This is, however, not the case in developing countries like India, where IPR protection is still an issue, mainly because of the low level of awareness and inadequate and delayed judicial processes.
The level of protection may not be limited, but there has been progress since the first patent act was introduced in the 19th century as the Patents Act of 1970. The first major step was the signing of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 1995, and later the signing of the Madrid Protocol that offered protection for trademarks.
The need to protect IPR in government circles has been recognized. In 2016, the government came up with the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy to promote innovation and entrepreneurship and review existing laws in order to strengthen them.
Slowly, there has been progress in ensuring IPR protection. There has been some resistance to stronger IPR protection by those who feel that it could work against India’s interests. For example, it could make life-saving drugs more expensive and out of reach of large chunks of the Indian population. The Indian pharmaceutical industry also produces large volumes of generic drugs, which are relatively inexpensive and accessible. A stronger IPR regime, it is feared, would make it far more difficult to produce these. There are also fears that stronger IPR laws could affect food security if seeds and other products are patented.
Lack of awareness is another issue. A study by Einfolge, an international patent analytics and market research company, on ‘Intellectual Property: Rights, Need & Awareness’ found that a majority of respondents, including students, scholars, teachers and managers, from over 200 educational institutions in South India were not fully aware of the benefits of IP and other related issues.
So, what is the future of intellectual property rights protection in India? The government needs to maintain a delicate balance between national interest and IPR protection. However, the advantages of a stronger IPR regime are too hard to ignore, especially as India makes huge strides in the areas of science & technology, industry, agriculture and culture. Without strong IPR protection, innovation and creativity will not be able to flourish. Innovators and creative people won’t be able to reap the rewards of their hard work.
In India, there have been institutions like the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that have been making significant contributions to scientific innovations. However, they have been unable to commercialize many products due to the lack of strong IPR protection.
The private sector too stands to gain from stronger IPR laws. According to a 2018 report by the Centre of American Entrepreneurship, ‘Rise of the Global Startup City’, India is one of the world leaders in startup activity, after China and the UK. In the same year, five Indian companies made it to the Forbes list of the world’s most innovative companies. Companies like these will also benefit from stronger protection for their products and processes.
It may not just be the large companies and organizations that stand to benefit. For centuries, Indians have used homegrown knowledge and materials to come up with useful products of everyday use. This kind of traditional know-how is a great source of innovation as well as employment. Ensuring better legal protection will give a fillip to grassroots innovation and improve the lives of ordinary Indians.
The future of IPR in India will depend on three things: awareness about IPR benefits, stronger enforcement, and convincing Indians that national interest will not be compromised.
See how R&D and IPR go hand in hand! See this short video to know more.