Mumbai: India’s intellectual property (IP) office continues to struggle with processing patent applications because of a long unresolved staff crunch as the government dithers over deciding the pay and rank of patent examiners.
More than 100 people recruited as patent examiners by the office after an exhaustive selection process declined to join, and several other officials in the patent examination cell have either quit or are in the process of exiting, according to people aware of the issue.
The IP office, after persuading the government to allow it to recruit more patent examiners, offered jobs to 257 people; only about 150 joined and of them 15 have already resigned.
The department needs about 400 examiners to review the 60,000 patent applications that come to it every year. The examination wing had about 130 officers earlier and, including the new recruits, has about 265 officers now.
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India’s premium research organization, conducted the recruitment under a contract with the patent office in 2011. Postings were handed out in January after the recruits underwent a year’s training at the IP training centre in Nagpur.
Many officials in the IP department do not see much prospects for growth as patent examiners as the finance ministry is yet to decide on recommendations that they be ranked on par with scientists in CSIR or the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
“A total of 15 newly appointed patent examiners from all the four offices have already left the department, and a few more would leave soon,” said an official in the administration wing of the Delhi patent office, declining to be identified.
“My major concern when I joined the department was not exactly the pay scale that I was offered, but the scope for future growth,” said a former patent examiner who left the IP office in July and joined a private research organization in Mumbai, declining to be named. “Even though the controller general had assured implementation of schemes like FCS (flexible complementing scheme) at the time of the posting, we did not hear anything regarding this till now.”
Patent examiners, often post graduates or of higher qualifications in various science disciplines, are responsible for examining patent applications to ensure that the discovery claims made by the applicants are genuine and eligible for patent protection.
The profession, according to a 2010 Parliament standing committee report, is equivalent to scientists in other premium research organizations, and patent examiners need to be treated equally in terms of compensation and promotions.
The National Knowledge Commission and the Justice Alla Rahim committee, formed at the time of CSIR’s recruitment drive, suggested a flexible complementing scheme for patent examiners.
This essentially means making promotions and the compensation structure flexible according to the efficiency levels of the officers.
According to the proposal, patent examiners should be eligible for promotions and salary increments within three to five years of joining.
Under existing rules at the IP office, it takes more than 15 years for a patent examiner to be promoted to the next level.
The IP office, when it decided to outsource the recruitment process to CSIR, also suggested similar amendments to the patent examiners’ promotions and packages rule to its parent department, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).
“The finance ministry is yet to respond to this recommendation, though we wanted this amendments to be implemented as early as possible,” said a DIPP official, also requesting anonymity.
A comment from the finance ministry could not be obtained. An official at the office of the joint secretary in the department of expenditure (finance ministry) said the “officer dealing with this matter is on leave”.
The IP office’s headquarters in Mumbai posted 18 examiners from the new batch but two of them have already left and five of the allotted vacancies remain unfilled, said an official in deputy controller Rakesh Kumar’s office.
“Some people among the newly appointed have already left. One of the reasons for their leaving could be the issues with growth opportunities in the department,” said another official in the Mumbai IP office.
Chaitanya Prasad, controller general of patents, designs and trademarks, could not be contacted for comments as he is on an official tour.
Many staff vacancies in the IP office have remained unfilled for several years due to problems with recruitment procedures and financial allotment issues, and it finally decided to outsource at least the hiring of patent examiners to CSIR hoping to gradually improve the situation.
“Patent examination, which involves accurate scientific analysis of discovery claims in the areas of industries such as electronics, electrical, drugs, automobiles, chemicals, etc., requires thorough understanding of the subject, and it needs to be done with due attention,” said P.H. Kurian, former controller general of patents and designs and trademarks.
A shortage of patent examiners has put severe pressure on the existing officials. Any resulting improper examination of patent applications could lead to an unjustified monopoly in the market for essential products, including life-saving drugs.
India is home to a large number of patent litigations, and has even witnessed patents on essential drugs and other key products being revoked.
The IP office has seen a multifold rise in the number of patent applications, both local and international, in the past seven years since the country re-introduced its patent regime for drugs and agriculture products in 2005.