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The bipartisan parliamentary standing committee on commerce has recommended re-establishing the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), which was abolished through an ordinance earlier this year, given its pivotal role in adjudicating intellectual property rights (IPR) appeals and cases.

The abolition of the specialized tribunal handling complex issues related to IPR may create a void in appellate resolution of cases, driving them to commercial or high courts, increasing pendency of cases, the panel observed.

“The committee also opines that an inordinate delay in the appointment of officials at higher levels and the resultant pause in the functioning of the IPAB affected its optimal performance. The committee, therefore, recommends to the government that IPAB should be re-established, rather than being abolished, and should be empowered and strengthened with more structural autonomy, infrastructural and administrative reforms, as well as ensuring timely appointment of officials and experienced manpower," the panel headed by Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra Pradesh, V. Vijayasai Reddy, said in its report titled ‘Review of the IPR Regime in India’.

Established in 2003, the IPAB was the appellate tribunal on decisions of the controller of patents, the registrar of trade marks and geographical indications under the Trade Marks Act, the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act and the Copyright Act. However, through the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, the IPAB was abolished along with four other tribunals on 4 April.

In February, the government had introduced a bill to abolish the tribunals where the public at large is not litigant. As the bill could not get a parliamentary nod, an ordinance was issued.

While introducing the bill in Parliament, the government had argued that these tribunals only add to another additional layer of litigation and that having a separate tribunal requires administrative action in terms of filling up of posts and other matters, and any delay in such action further delays the disposal of cases.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld the ordinance, but criticized the “lethargy" in making appointments and filling up the posts of chairpersons and members of tribunals that have been long vacant. The government is expected to introduce the bill in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament to convert the ordinance into law.

The parliamentary committee said it is distressed to note the absence of any judicial impact assessment or active consultations with stakeholders by the government prior to the abolishing of tribunals. “It strongly recommends that the government, before scrapping of significant tribunals through an ordinance, should undertake a judicial impact assessment along with wide consultations with relevant stakeholders to ensure building a systemic perspective on abolishing an established system in the country," it said.

The committee was apprised by the industry department that various inherent difficulties led to the abolition of the IPAB and setting up of dedicated benches in high courts for dealing IPR cases would be pursued through the law ministry. “It was informed that undue delay in appointment of members and experts at all levels of the IPAB has affected its optimal performance, causing disruptions in adjudication of IPR cases. The department further highlighted that the IPAB has faced issues in the appointment of the chairperson, a post that had fallen vacant on 31 December 2020," the report said.

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