In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for India to become a leader in Innovation. His “Jai Anusandhan” (Hail Innovation) slogan is timely.
India significantly lags behind the world’s top economies in Innovation/Inventions and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)—including patents, trademarks, trade secrets and copyrights. While India’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index has improved significantly from 81 in 2015–16 to 46 in 2021, it is a long road ahead for India to dominate in innovation.
A recent report analysing data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests that India pays a huge amount of money to foreign entities (for using the latter’s IPRs), compared to what India earns for IPRs held in India. For example: In 2021, India paid $8.6 billion and earned just $800 million. Back in 1981, the out-go was $15.1 million and earning was $0.11 million.
As India aims to be one of the top three economies in the world, we must have a multi-pronged approach to strengthen our position in Innovation and IPRs. Let us look at how India can improve its innovation and invention capabilities through patents.
For the uninitiated, a patent is defined by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) as an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something or offers a new technical solution to a problem. Patents are territorial rights—this means that the patents are to be filed in each country where the inventor seeks patent protection. World bodies (like the Paris Convention and Patent Cooperation Treaty, etc.) assist inventors in filing patents in other countries.
The Indian patent system dates way back to the 1856 Act on the protection of inventions. It has undergone several modifications and enhancements post-independence and more so since 1999.
Over the past decade, the government’s ‘Make in India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Atal Innovation Mission’, ‘Skill India’ and the ‘NIPAM’ (National IP Awareness Mission) have certainly helped in spurring innovation in the country. To encourage startups to file more patents, the government provides incentives—startups recognised under the Startup India programme get up to 80% rebate on patent filings.
There are several examples of Indians driving innovation. For example, a Maharashtra-based company has a patented tamper-proof painting technology that can be applied on uneven and rough surfaces. This technology would have global demand.
Patent filing has significantly increased over the past decade. For example, 58,502 patents were filed in 2020–21, compared to 39,400 patents filed in 2010–11. Nearly 28,391 patents were granted in India in 2020–21 compared to 7,509 in 2010–11.
However, when we look at the global scenario, 5.3 lakh patents were granted in China, while 3.52 lakh were granted in the USA, 1.7 lakh were granted in Japan, and South Korea granted 1.35 lakh patents. We are significantly lagging behind these leading economies. The main issue is India’s low Research and Development spending of 0.7% of GDP. In comparison, the USA spends 3%, Israel spends 4.5% and even China spends 2.6% of GDP.
It is heartening to see the share of Indian residents in total applications has increased to 40% in 2020–21 from 20% in 2010–11. It is encouraging to see academic institutions filing over 2,500 patents during the last year, spread across Information Technology, Biotechnology, Ayurveda and Basic Sciences.
India fares poorly on time taken for patent granting. The time taken in India is about 42 months. This has dropped significantly from 64 months in 2017. However, this is way below the global benchmark. USA, China, South Korea and Japan take about 15–20 months to grant patents.
The delays can be attributed to the number of patent examiners in India. India has 615 examiners compared to 8,132 in the USA and 13,704 in China. The whole process of patenting involves three critical aspects—the inventors, the patent agents and the examiners granting the patents.
Firstly, we need to create a research mindset among the students in schools and colleges. We need to create an environment that can aid in producing subject matter experts who are equipped with multidisciplinary skills.
The NEP 2020’s vision for encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation can help if implemented effectively through strong feedback and a continuous improvement mechanism. Much more awareness must be created among the students and the youth in the country. The NEP’s focus on building multidisciplinary skills can encourage students to think about research and innovation instead of just focusing on standard jobs.
The inventors approach patent agents for filing. The patent agents need to pass the patent agent examination conducted by the Indian government to qualify for patent filing.
Reports suggest that India has about 4,000 registered patent agents. In contrast, the USA has about 50,000 agents. The number of patent filings per agent is about 14 in India compared to about 7 in the USA. We need to increase the number of patent agents significantly. This can be done by increasing awareness about the role of patent agents. These patent agents must hold a degree in Science and Technology to appear for the patent agent exam. Here again, multi skilled personnel will have a great opportunity to excel.
Finally, India is lagging significantly behind its global peers with regard to the ratio of patent examiners to the patents filed. Government initiatives to increase the intake will certainly help in reducing the gap. Regular awareness campaigns and celebration of success stories will motivate professionals to become patent agents or patent examiners. India should learn from the European Patent Office’s (EPO) strategy to attract talent as patent examiners.
Overall, we have an excellent opportunity for the innovation-led ecosystem to work together and enable an efficient patent management system in the country. Such actions would ensure India can produce some of the best-patented inventions in the world before we celebrate India@100.
Bengaluru-based ICT professional and columnist