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Utility patenting: India’s next move?

Utility patenting: India’s next move?
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First Published: Mon, Nov 14 2011. 12 43 AM IST

Key elements: The main features of a utility model patent system are protectable innovations, conditions for protection, application procedure and, finally, the scope of protection. Photo: Bloomberg
Key elements: The main features of a utility model patent system are protectable innovations, conditions for protection, application procedure and, finally, the scope of protection. Photo: Bloomberg
Updated: Mon, Nov 14 2011. 12 43 AM IST
Mumbai: India’s rating on the Global Innovation Index (GII) slipped to 62 in 2011—a sign that recent reforms in economic policy, education and intellectual property protection aren’t helping boost innovation, say experts.
India stood at 56 on the index in 2010 and at 45 in the year before.
Key reasons for the fall, the experts point out, include a lack of transparency in policy implementation, political instability and, importantly, the absence of a connecting link in the innovation ecosystem.
Key elements: The main features of a utility model patent system are protectable innovations, conditions for protection, application procedure and, finally, the scope of protection. Photo: Bloomberg
The index acknowledges the need for a broader vision of innovation that is applicable to both developed and emerging economies, and recognizes the role of innovation as a driver of economic growth.
Key indicators for this rating includes traditional measures such as the level of research and development in a country, as well as political stability and protection given to intellectual property. The index is produced by the research arm of INSEAD that deals with graduate business schools, which has campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
While economic liberalization in the early 1990s was the first important step India took towards changing the business environment, the following reforms such as the introduction of intellectual property protection through a tightly drafted policy and the implementation of the Science and Innovation Bill to encourage publicly funded research institutions and universities to work closely with industries and evolve a self-sustainable model were expected to deliver positive results.
But there are few takers for the theory that a strong intellectual property regime or an innovation law alone can help scale up innovation in a country like India.
“Innovation today is widely recognized as a major source of competitiveness and economic growth for all countries—advanced and emerging economies alike,” said R.A. Mashelkar, former director general of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and a Bhatnagar Fellow at the National Chemical Laboratory. “Its significant role in creating jobs, generating incomes and improving living standards is now well-understood. However, instead of viewing innovation strictly in terms of competitiveness and as a strategy to support high value-added employment, it should also be conceived as a means of promoting inclusive growth.”
P.H. Kurian, India’s controller general of patents, designs and trade marks, said while the country has an “excellent” intellectual property protection law, the cost structure for such protection is one of the lowest in the world.
“Our biggest problem is that the IP system and the patent system in particular is elitist in nature and shuts out a number of poor innovators and creators,” said Shamnad Basheer, a professor in Intellectual Property Law at the National University of Juridical Science, Kolkata.
Experts have their bets on the proposed utility patents model to address this issue. This model suggests a less stringent intellectual property protection to support incremental research or innovation. Protection may be for a shorter period than, say, for an invention or true discovery patent.
“In order to help tap into this huge creative base of India, we need to make our IP systems more inclusive and enable poor inventors to access the system at low or subsidized costs,” said Basheer. “One solution might be to encourage leading corporate users of the patent system to insist that their preferred law firms also take up pro-bono work (done free for public good) on behalf of poor inventors.”
Kurian agrees. “The current system in general deals only with invention patents. A country like India should also now encourage incremental researches that can make larger impacts in a progressing economy.”
Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano car may not be a big invention from a research point of view, but the low-cost vehicle changed perceptions about owning a car, otherwise a luxury for most Indians, said Kurian. “This is the kind of innovation that India should look at now and it should create the ecosystem for this.”
The government is discussing an intellectual property protection system addressing the utility model.
Utility models co-exist with patent systems in most countries under different names and features. But there are common elements such as a short term of protection and relatively easy access of these systems vis-à-vis patent protection.
“Inclusive growth can be accelerated through inclusive innovation,” Mashelkar said in a recent speech at the Indian Merchant Chambers.
For achieving inclusive innovation, India will have to cater to the needs of four billion people whose income levels are smaller than $2 (around Rs.100) a day. “For this, we need to make some paradigm shifts. For instance, getting more (performance) by using less (resources) for more (profit) is a well-known strategy of industrial enterprises,” he said.
The main features of a utility model patent system are protectable innovations, conditions for protection, application procedure and, finally, the scope of protection, the government’s department of industrial policy and promotion said in a recent discussion paper. DIPP is in favour of encouraging minor technical inventions by protecting them under a legal framework. Given that such incremental innovations use local resources in a sustainable manner and are driven by small and medium enterprises, such protection will be useful and relevant only if provided through a legal framework, it states.
The argument that several multinational firms make in favour of strict adherence to a globally accepted intellectual property regime to boost innovation seems to be disappearing, said another IPR law expert, who didn’t want to be identified.
This is mainly due to the mounting importance of emerging markets in the growth plans of many multinational companies, and their realization that adopting to country-specific environments makes more sense while designing models for business, this person said.
ch.unni@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Nov 14 2011. 12 43 AM IST