Mumbai: The first Indian Administrative Service officer to head India’s intellectual property office, P.H. Kurian has had a tough time since he took charge in 2009—he has had to work towards creating an efficient and transparent patenting process and reform a system that has previously faced allegations of lack of transparency, indecision, even corruption.
Cleaning-up act: Electronic filing and monitoring of patent applications leaves no chance of being non-transparent, says P.H. Kurian. Kaushik Chakravorty / Mint
In his first interview after taking charge as India’s controller general of patents, designs and trademarks, Kurian talks about the controversies that surrounded his office and his plans to change the patent office’s image. Edited excerpts:
The Indian patent system is often criticized for the poor quality of patents and weak enforcement.
Enforcement of patents doesn’t come under my office’s responsibility. It’s primarily vested with the law enforcement agencies such as as customs, police and ultimately the courts of law. My office will render help wherever necessary.
The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA, an industry body of top Indian drug firms) has recently alleged that several patents have been granted wrongly, violating section 3d of the Indian Patents Act (the section says patents cannot be granted for marginal innovations). It had also demanded a review of those grants. What’s your take on this?
The controller general of patents has no suo motu powers to review or revoke patents already granted. But the law provides enough options for the affected to question a wrongly granted patent through post-grant opposition (within one year after the publication of the grant), Intellectual Property Appellate Board, or even legally challenging the patent grants in the courts. The IPA should have used any of these options, instead of making such allegations.
There have been apprehensions about the functional transparency at India’s patent offices, especially after the new product patent regime was introduced in 2005. What were the real issues?
The reintroduction of product patent regime in 2005 after the amendment of India’s Patents Act led to a rush of a large number of new foreign as well as local patent filings in pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture in the four patent offices of the country. These new filings were in addition to the mailbox applications, which were already filed in the past one decade. All these filings piled up for examination and disposal; ...created pressure on the then available infrastructure, especially when most of the processing functions were done manually.
Though a modernization, including the computerization efforts, were started in 2002, the records digitization processes were not fully functional till the end of 2005. The huge workload and manual operations resulted in a lot of pressure and stress in the department. The officials were new to product patents for pharmaceuticals, agriculture and food products, and the records were not fully digitized. These pressures along with other regime-shift issues might have caused lack of transparency in the decision-making process.
How do you plan to resolve such issues?
The digitization of records for old patents was completed in 2009. The new filings are being completely digitized now.
During the last one year, the digitized records were uploaded on the central server, and by the end of October, all the granted patent records were put on the official website in a searchable format. For the first time in the history of the Indian patent office a transparent patent office procedure was introduced and most of the applications were electronically enabled till the grant and final publication. Around 20,000 pending publications were published during the first half of last fiscal. This publication system is now automatic. The introduction of specialized groups in examination and transparent allotment of applications have reduced arbitrariness and improved quality of examination.
Still, your office seemed to be suffering for its indecision on patent processing.
From January this year, the patent application status search has been introduced and the stakeholders know the exact stage of file movement. As you know, delayed publication of patent applications and grants was the most critical issue raised earlier on the transparency front. It was true as a large number of applications were pending. Now, through the electronic module of patent office process, a realtime monitoring of processes from patent application to grant and final publication has been introduced. So there is absolutely no chance of being non-transparent at any stage of patent processes.
Do you think the awareness of intellectual property in Indian industry is still too low, preventing effective enforcement of the law?
Increased awareness of the law and its use would improve compliance. We have initiated several intellectual property awareness programmes at the industry and academia level. Besides, there are various programmes organized by the National Research Development Corp., department of science and technology, and ministry of SME (small and medium enterprises), among others, to educate the local industry, universities, educational institutions and other stakeholders on intellectual property rights. But more is required.
You had recently re-enforced a provision in the law to ensure that patent holders submit relevant data to prove that their patents are working. Has this been fully complied with by the stakeholders?
It is a mandatory requirement to be followed by the patentees. I have reminded (them about) this as the compliance in the past seemed weak. After the notice, the submissions have gone up considerably. The reminder was on the back of our concern about the compliance of the law among the patentees, rather than the impact of this in the marketplace.
We have received data from the majority of the patent holders, and the information will be made public as soon as the compilation of the data is over.
Is shortage of competent people one thing that affects service quality at Indian patent offices?
Currently there is a shortage of patent examiners, which is a concern. But it has been addressed by the government by creating 200 additional posts. The fresh recruitments are in process, and the country’s premium scientific institution CSIR (Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research) has been hired to recruit competent people. More quality training will be imparted to the new employees.
How do you rate Indian patent offices vis-a-vis its international peers such as the US Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office?
We do have the patent search databases that comply with World Intellectual Property Organization standards in place already to ensure quality search. The second phase of computerization during this year will enable us to provide more information to the public on a real-time basis
Besides, we are also planning to have access to European Patent Office’s electronic patent search engine. I am confident that in a year or two the Indian patent office will come up to the standard of any well-regarded patent office.