Trademarks office ushers in glasnost

Trademarks office ushers in glasnost

Mumbai: India’s Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks has placed in the public domain details of pending trademark applications, registered trademarks, examination reports, copy of applications, opposition to such applications, and other information in a move that is certain to increase transparency into the workings of the department.

The information was uploaded on the website on Wednesday.

Interestingly, the move comes even as the government plans to split the country’s intellectual property (IP) office to exclude the trademarks cell from the direct control of controller general of patents. And once that happens, the head of the trademarks section can choose to discontinue this effort, although he will be hard-pressed to come up with a logical reason for doing so.

“This is the kind of transparency that the government intended to introduce with the modernization efforts at the department. With this, public can access any data on application status, search on registered trademarks, decisions and other procedures by logging on ‘trademark status’ in our official website, giving no room for unfair practices," P.H. Kurian, the controller general, said in a phone interview.

Earlier, trademark agents used to charge clients for such information. Some of these agents would also try to influence the working of the department.

Over the past five years, around 12 trademark officials have been caught in the act of accepting bribes in the four branches of India’s patent office—located in Kolkata, New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. Some of these cases are being investigated.

Kurian, who took over in January 2009, has tried to clean things up. He has transferred some trademark officials, who have been accused of corruption. The new online system should help further.

“The opening up of trademark data is a significant milestone in the history of Indian IP. It will change the way trademark law is practised in this country and ordinary citizens who wish to register trademarks can conduct their own searches without going through expensive attorneys," says Shamnad Basheer, an IP law expert and the ministry of human resource development chair (IP law) at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.

Basheer had earlier initiated a national campaign for transparency in the IP office, which prompted the government to come up with further modernization at the office, and the appointment of an Indian Administrative Service official to head the office for the first time.

The proposal by the department of industrial policy and promotion to amend the Trademarks Act so as to spin off the trademarks section from the patent office could jeopardize the move to place all information online, said patent consultant Prabudha Ganguli.

Another patent consultant Gopakumar Nair echoed those fears and said it could mean the return of “corruption".