The Case of Indian Intellectual Property – Misplaced Perception

Walking out and looking at yourself is not very easy, but it must be done to understand what is going on with you. That will also give an insight into how people are perceiving you. It seems that India has not been very successful in looking at itself as a third party, and understanding how other countries are perceiving it. Maybe, someone did that and was happy with the impression the country is making.

This post is a response to a post by IP Watch Dog  of USA, which is surely doing a good job in protecting its country’s IP and business interests. Written by Steven Brachmann, the post complains about how India has been soliciting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from USA, but throttling intellectual property rights through compulsory licensing. It is funny how one compulsory license can lead one to make inferences about India’s IP scenario. USCC and USTR reports, both emerging from US, have been cited to show India’s intellectual property environment.

Is India really faring as badly as United States and other countries seem to perceive, or is it just an extrapolation of impression and apprehension. Could it be a move to push a US friendly IP system so that companies dont have to work hard to strategize for the Indian market, or is it a pre-peremptory move to prevent something businesses fear might happen. Also, can businesses really afford to ignore Indian market?

Here are some highlights of India’s IP progress during the last decade:

Awareness about intellectual property, especially patents, has increased multi-fold during the last decade. No one has measured it, but having seen the change, I estimate an improvement from 1 to 6 on a scale of 10;
The increase in awareness is reflected in the number of patent filings by Indian applicants, which increased from 3630 in 2004-2005 to 10941 in 2013-2014 ;
Respect for IP has improved substantially both online and offline. Though piracy rates are still high, several online business models have enabled revenue generation from IP protected content and products by almost two hundred percent in some fields;
Intellectual Property enforcement has become much easier than earlier with enforcement personnel understanding IP language, establishment of IP cells, anti-piracy squads, etc;
As opposed to a decade back, Judges today understand intellectual property concepts and no longer treat it as an alien law;
The Indian IP Office has gone a long way by facilitating online filing, digitization, improving transparency, etc;
Intellectual Property Appellate Board has been set up to deal with IP matters, and has been delivering well reasoned, articulate decisions; and
Novel IP incentive schemes, subsidies, and programs have been initiated, and India is putting together its national IP policy.

All these have happened during the last decade. If this is not progress, then what is? Unlike the United States, Indian policies have a strong social and public interest foundation. While it may be argued that long term benefits from intellectual property outweigh short term ones, India’s perspective is not necessarily short term. It must be understood and accepted that every country has its social, ethical, economic, cultural, and political objectives based on which policies are made and implemented, and India’s approach deserves some thought, if not respect. Rubbing US policies on India may not work, and it is high time that the fact is accepted.

Besides, if one does not limit his/her assessment to particular instances, and sees everything that is happening in India, he/she would be led to the conclusion that intellectual property is respected, valued and can be enforced effectively and efficiently. But, to achieve the same, it is important to devise an India strategy. Merely implementing strategies companies are using in other countries will not work, and will lead to disastrous results.

If the concerns being expressed have to be taken on face value, one must ignore a multitude of cases in which IP holders have been successful. If one has a secret agenda, it is infact a good idea to ignore everything else and focus only on Bayer, Roche, and related instances. However, if one wishes to make an objective assessment, Ericsson, Zara, and several other cases must also be considered.

Read our series on IP progress in India:

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