New Delhi: Patent filings in India were one-seventh of the number in China last year and have just scratched the level achieved by the neighbour as long as 10 years ago, according to a study by global analytics firm Evalueserve, which says the gap will remain for up to five years more.
The report also recommends that India introduce a new class of 10-year patents—half the normal lifetime—that will attract lesser scrutiny and encourage smaller domestic companies to seek patents, a suggestion spurned by public health advocates who don’t want the bar lowered.
Major chunk: The chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector constituted the biggest bulk of patent filings in India.
Indian patent offices received more than 35,000 applications across sectors in 2007-08—up 21% from the preceding year and a more than three-fold increase during the last six years. In China, the number of patent applications last year reached 245,161.
“Indian companies lag substantially in patent-filing intensity compared with their Chinese counterparts,” Evaluserve said. Filing of invention patent applications in India was at about the same level as in China in 1997, “thereby lagging behind China by a decade”. It predicts India will need 4-5 years to catch up.
China’s manufacturing sector is largely responsible for the country’s lead over India in patent filings, said Ram Deshpande, senior manager for intellectual property in Evalueserve’s Shanghai office.
“India has seen a lot more investment in the services sector which doesn’t need patents,” Deshpande said. According to him, the question boils down to how innovative Indians are in the manufacturing sector.
The chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector constituted the biggest bulk of patent filings in India. Patenting activity in the information technology sector was 115 times lower.
China is also faster in granting patents. China’s timeline of 22.5 months for a 20-year-patent grant compares with 3-5 years in India, mainly due to the absence of pre-grant or post-grant opposition in China, which merely allows patent invalidation proceedings. China has more than 2,000 patent examiners, compared with 240 in India.
Some caution that too much shouldn’t be read into the statistics.
“The numbers are important to a certain extent but beyond that they don’t say a lot,” said Amit Sengupta, a health affairs activist and secretary of the Public Health Movement. “They don’t tell you the quality of patents filed, the way local patent laws are defined or the number of patents actually granted.”
China is a bigger economy with a larger industrial base and had a headstart in introducing the product patent regime over India, which got on board fully only in January 2005. And unlike India, China allows the patenting of new uses of an existing product.
The real concern for India is that domestic companies are not filing enough patent applications in their own country, said Deshpande.
Chinese companies make up 62% of patent applications filed in that country. In 2005-06, Indian companies accounted for just 20% of the applications in India, with foreign entities making up the remainder.
Only 22 “pure-bred” Indian organizations figured in the list of top 200 Indian filers.
“Indian companies are going to lose out in the long run. Patents that we think are inconsequential right now may come to bite us later,” warned Deshpande.
Indian companies and researchers could benefit a lot more from “cross-licensing” if they had their own bunch of patents that would act “as a protective shield” while negotiating with global companies, he said.
To encourage domestic companies and research institutes to seek patents, the Evalueserve report has recommended “utility model patents” that attract a smaller patent fee, lesser scrutiny from patent examiners and grant a monopoly right only for 10 years, as in Japan, Germany and China.
Public Health Movement’s Sengupta says it won’t work. “One first needs to prove that patents spur research and only then can we talk about 10-year patents. Evidence is not clear on the first assumption itself,” he said.
“Moroever, we run the risk of protecting innovations that don’t fulfil the basic tenets of patentability as per our law.”