Mumbai: The new controller general of patents, designs and trademarks has ordered the heads of all four regional offices to issue final orders in some 600 patent and trademark opposition cases by 31 March. Some orders have been pending for at least three years.
Several companies have taken advantage of the delays in deciding on pre- or post-grant opposition by either keeping genuine patent holders from commercializing their products or by selling their own generic versions till a final decision is made. A delay in deciding on a post-grant opposition case results in a patent holder enjoying a continued monopoly in the market even if its patent rights are under question.
Controller general P.H. Kurian, who took office in January, acted on mounting complaints by companies, non-governmental organizations and individuals.
An internal circular was issued on 17 February to the heads of the four patent offices in Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, setting the deadline for orders to be issued on all patent opposition cases that had been heard until December.
“I have been getting a number of complaints from people and companies seeking final orders from patents and trade mark office on cases”, some of which were heard as many as three years ago, Kurian, the first controller general from the Indian Administrative Service, said on Monday over the phone. “There are a few hundred such cases on which the controllers have reserved orders on contested proceedings.”
Kurian warned in his circular that it was “not in public interest to keep such orders pending for unreasonable period, and such delay would also affect the quality of orders... Any lapses or violation of this circular on the part of joint controllers, deputy controllers and assistant controllers will be viewed seriously”.
Typically, a patent office needs a week to three months to hear both parties and issue the final order in a patent opposition case.
“The move to clear the backlog is welcome but an updated procedure should not affect the quality of the orders,” said Dilip G. Shah, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), an industry body that has opposed many drug patents issued in the country after 2005.
Kurian said the one-and-a-half months’ time give was sufficient to clear the pending cases without compromising on quality. The patent offices were also instructed not to take up new cases till the backlog was cleared.
V. Rengasamy, assistant controller of patents and designs, and in charge of administration at the Chennai office, is confident of passing orders in all pending patent opposition cases before the deadline, but declined to give the reasons for the delays. “We will have only a few cases of oppositions, which have completed hearings, pending with us,” he said.
W.M. Dhumane, deputy controller of patents and the official in charge of the Mumbai patent office, did not return calls made to his office on Monday.