Protection of intellectual property rights is vital to the development of a country. Companies and individuals can spend years and a fortune to develop a product or service that is creative or innovative. All this effort can come to naught if the owners of intellectual property are unable to ensure its protection.
Let’s take a look at intellectual property rights issues and challenges in India. For a long time, the level of IPR protection was very low in India. Copying, plagiarism, piracy and other IPR violations were rampant, causing huge losses to IPR owners. With India’s political, social and economic evolution, protection of IPR is vital to ensure intellectual, cultural and economic growth.
The first patent law was introduced in India in 1856, which was followed by the Indian Patent Act of 1970. The first major step towards IPR protection came in 1995 when India joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and became a signatory to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement. This set minimum standards of intellectual property regulation by its members. The Madrid Protocol, of which India is a part, now permits the filing, registration and maintenance of trademark rights in more than 90 countries.
On the other hand, the impact of IPR in India is limited and currently faces challenges. Violations are rife because of poor enforcement of rights and court cases that could run on for years. This is a sore point, particularly for large multinational corporations in areas like pharmaceuticals and agriculture. India, for example, is on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) ‘Priority Watch List’ for poor protection of the rights of American companies, along with countries like China, Russia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The Indian government, for its part, has been reluctant to enforce IPR to protect the interest in Indian citizens in some instances. For example, under the provision of compulsory licensing, the government can force the patent owner or get someone else to mass-produce an essential drug in an emergency. Another contentious issue is Section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act, which prevents large pharma companies from ‘evergreening’ or continuing the patent in perpetuity by making minor changes in earlier patents.
IPR protection in agriculture is a sensitive topic in India. Under the TRIPs agreement, subsidies like minimum support prices for agricultural produce and those for fertilizer etc. have to be phased out. Since issues of food security and livelihoods are involved here, political parties are unlikely to allow this to happen anytime soon. There has also been some resistance from farmers to the patenting of seeds by multinational corporations.
Traditional knowledge and products acquired over the centuries using local know-how, have been kept out the reach of patents. The government has created a database of such products and processes in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.
The impact of IPR in India has led the government to take steps to enhance the IPR regime in the country. In 2016, it approved the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy, which will lay the future roadmap for intellectual property in India. It aims to increase awareness, stimulate the creation of IPRs, ensure strong and effective IPR laws, redressal and modernization of IPR administration, among other things.
Under this policy, the Cell for IPR Promotion and Management (CIPAM) was created for simplifying and streamlining of IP processes, apart from undertaking steps for furthering IPR awareness, commercialization and enforcement.
Protecting IPRs can be a tough proposition in India, where awareness is low and enforcement weak. But protecting patents, trademarks and copyrights are vital for innovation and development. However, even with rapid progress on the industrial, scientific and economic front, we lag behind countries like China. Good IPR protection will foster a culture of creativity and innovation that could help us close that soon.