Indian IP Office and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

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One of the biggest issues in modern societies is perhaps a growing sense of apathy towards fellow human beings. Intellectual property as a field has not been untouched by this issue. The Marrakesh treaty for instance since it was first put forward, has garnered only 70 signatories till date out of the 190+ member states that form part of the WIPO. This post however does not intend to deal with or question the aforementioned issues themselves but instead seeks to highlight the efforts of organizations such as Cane Foundation in seeking accessibility of IP tools and systems and also laud the efforts of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and Indian Intellectual Property office and its officers such as Dr. Suman Shrey Singh, Deputy Controller of Patents and Designs at the Delhi Patent Office who have taken steps to set the wheel in motion for bringing about changes that have long since been ignored or simply brushed aside.

Attributions of words such as specially abled, differently abled and divyangjan do not make much of a difference in the life of persons with disabilities (hereinafter referred to as PWDs). The need of the hour is to provide facilities, infrastructure and accessibility for full and equal participation of persons with disabilities. The facilities, infrastructure and accessibility options range from universal design to reasonable accommodations.

The Complaint

In 2018, Dr. Kalyan Kankanala filed petitions with the Registrar of Copyrights and the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (hereinafter referred to as the CGPDTM or the IPO [Intellectual Property Office] as the context may require). While the petition filed with the registrar of Copyrights sought to make the Copyright Office’s services, website, online systems, and documents accessible to persons with disabilities,specifically to persons with blindness, the petition filed before the CGPDTM sought to make the IPO’s services, website, online systems, and documents accessible to persons with blindness. A prayer was also made before both the offices for the provision of alternative facilities to file and prosecute copyright, patent, trademark and design applications, and also access documents, orders, and facilities until everything is made accessible for persons with disabilities on the website or e-filing platforms.

As is the case with any form of IP, the procedures are timeline driven and any delay in abiding by the statutory and other time limits may result in abandonment of applications. It therefore becomes all the more important to read and review the Office’s documents online along with those received by email or post on time and take appropriate action. Although the e-filing facility was introduced by the patent office as early as in 2012 and by the Copyright Office as early as in 2014, the systems were not equally and fully accessible to patent and trademark attorneys with blindness and other disabilities, and no alternative facilities were made available.Even after the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 which imposes an obligation on government offices to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to exercise their rights fully, equally and without discrimination, the offices did not have any policies or systems to ensure the same. Though the Act requires that appropriate steps be taken to put in place suitable support measures for persons with disabilities and to ensure accessibility of all public documents, records, services, etc., the offices had not implemented these into their functioning as well as the online systems or websites.

After exhausting alternative options, Dr. Kalyan was forced to approach the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) to resolve the issue. Mr. Rakesh Krishnan, Ms. Ashwini Arun and Mr. Arjun Kansal, volunteers of the Cane Foundation, played key roles in the preparation of the complaint and interactions with the IPO and NIC thereafter.