Mumbai: India’s understaffed patent offices have lost 25-30% of their examiners over the past four years as private companies, looking to strengthen their intellectual property capabilities, lure them with better work environment and higher salaries.
The department of patents and designs has lost 35 people in the past four years. It now has 120 patent examiners and 70 vacancies.
Meanwhile, the number of applications filed in the country’s four patent offices has increased 300% since 2004 and patent grants have risen 150%.
Companies such as Tata Motors Ltd, Reliance Industries Ltd and Hindustan Unilever Ltd, as well as information technology and pharma companies, the key patent filers in India, are all hiring these patent examiners for their skill in drafting patent applications and international patent searches.
A former examiner, who joined a software firm in Bangalore after he quit the Chennai patent office three months ago, blamed poor salaries, work pressure and bureaucratic interference for the exits. “Temporary postings of patent examiners for a period of one year is another factor, because this makes exits easy for these professionals,” he added while not wanting to be named.
According to a Mumbai-based patent agent, another reason for the private sector firms to hire these examiners is to “use their connections in the patent offices” where they worked for years together.
Their familiarity with the dos- and-don’ts in the patent offices also help these companies file an “error-free” application, he added.
“Private sector companies are increasingly looking to expand their in-house intellectual property cells, and they prefer to recruit experienced people,” said an assistant controller in the Mumbai patent office, which has the thinnest team of patent examiners. “Since these companies offer stupendous salaries, we just can’t stop the attrition.”
The Mumbai patent office lost three patent examiners in the previous two years and has only 17 examiners. The Chennai patent office has 35 examiners, after half a dozen recent exits, an official said.
A Reliance Life Sciences Ltd executive, in an email response, said the company’s intellectual property group candidates “at the level of patent search and drafting, possess more of scientific and technical background. They by and large understand the landscape of a particular field of research...” Reliance Life is among those Indian companies that have filed a large number of patents.
“Intellectual property right is a new area for Indian companies and there is a shortage of skilled people who understand the domain,” said Anil Pareek, vice-president, medical affairs and clinical research, Ipca Laboratories Ltd. “It is common for firms to hire patient examiners from government offices to draft patent applications and this will continue because there is a lack of talent. Besides, the industry pays better salaries than government.”
While salaries for patent examiners are in the range of Rs20,000-25,000 per month, with average annual raises of Rs800-1,000, private companies offer annual pay packages totalling Rs18-20 lakh.
Despite the huge gap in its pay, the government says it hopes to contain the attrition with some new measures.
“The finance ministry, based on our recommendation last year, has approved a scheme for confirming all patent examiners on a permanent basis, along with a 50% increase in the annual package in May,” said an official at the department of industrial policy and promotion, the umbrella organization responsible for policy decisions for patent offices in the country.
In 2007-08, India’s patent offices issued about 11,000 patents, almost double the annual number granted in 2006. India, which has one of the most stringent patenting regimes in the world after Japan and Germany, has been granting an average 50 patents a day. This rate is comparable to patent grants made in advanced intellectual property regimes such as the US and the European Union, when measured as a proportion of patents granted to the number of applications made.
The Union ministry of industry and commerce agreed that there is an overload on the patents grant system in India. “The average number of examinations handled by an examiner at Indian patent offices is 100 per annum compared with 50-80 cases in the US and Europe,” said a recent report by the government’s department of industrial policy and promotion.