Mumbai: On the heels of a key amendment that brings India’s intellectual property laws in line with international standards, the screws are being tightened on corrupt and inefficient officials who deal with trademarks.
The controller general of patents, designs and trademarks has banned registrars from adjourning trademark application proceedings and patent opposition cases unless absolutely necessary.
The directive was issued in December in the wake of mounting “indefinitely adjourned” cases, which stood at 150,000 in March 2009.
“The move would also help in bringing some transparency in the department as the earlier practice here was simply adjourning the cases without citing any reasons,” said P.H. Kurian, controller general of patents and trademarks, in an interview.
Long pending trademark applications and opposition cases are a serious issue for companies and individual applicants. Trademark registrations, which should take less than a year once applications are filed, have been getting delayed by several years.
“Since the Railway department recently made trademark registration compulsory for participating in tenders for material supply, we have been running from pillar-to-post to know the status of our five trademark applications filed at the Mumbai office in 2006 and 2007,” said a senior executive at a Mumbai-based engineering company.
The executive did not want his or his company’s name to be identified, as he said it would weaken his case.
An internal circular from the controller general’s office in December said that “adjourning application proceedings and oppositions without citing any reason, and with no mention of date of next hearing is a highly irregular practice, which results in undue delay.”
The circular directed all trademark registrars not to adjourn proceedings without substantial reasons, which should be cited on the adjournment orders along with the date of the next hearing.
“Any violation of this direction will result in disciplinary action,” added the circular.
So far, the practice at the trademark offices was to affix a seal “Hearing adjourned” to defer the matter to an uncertain date, admitted a trademark official who did not wish to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media. There are applications pending since 2004 and 2005.
“This was happening mainly because of requests from opponents or agents acting on behalf of them. Though some of them are with genuine reasons, mostly they are with an intention to delay the registration of the applicant, who could be a rival firm,” he said.
Last year, the department transferred at least a dozen senior officials in the trademark section on charges of corruption and inefficient functioning.
All the officials have now been asked to clear the pending cases in chronological order. But the department, which faces a severe shortage of staff to handle pending cases, may take a long time to finish off the backlog.
“It will be difficult to dispense these cases even within a year’s time,” said another trademark official in Kolkata.
Kurian, however, said the department proposed to create a cell of at least 10 officers dedicated to handle pending matters in the trademark wing.
In early December, the government had cleared a proposal to amend the country’s trademark law following its decision to join the Madrid Protocol, a cost-effective system for international registration of trademarks.
It enables the nationals of its member countries to obtain an international trademark registration within 18 months by filing a single application with one fee and in one language in their country of origin.