India announces new trademark, patent policy amid global pressure

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) listens to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during the Global Business Summit in New Delhi January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/Files

India announced a new intellectual property policy on Friday, speeding up the online registration of patents and trademarks, but resisted pressure from the United States and other Western countries to amend its patent laws.

The policy will make the Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy the agency in charge of regulating intellectual property rights in the country.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, global drug brands led by U.S. companies have been pushing for changes to India’s intellectual property rules.

India’s strained patent and intellectual property administration has failed to keep pace with growing technological advances. Global pharmaceuticals players have often complained about India’s price controls and marketing restrictions.

“We hope it will lead to an interpretation of the Indian Patent Act that respects innovation, encourages research and facilitates effective enforcement mechanisms,” said Ranjana Smetacek, Director General, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, a body of multinational drugmakers in India.

Nirmala Sitharaman, commerce and industry minister, told lawmakers last month that over 237,000 applications were pending in India’s four patent offices.

The policy aims to spread awareness among public about trademarks, copyrights and patents to promote innovation within the country, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters.

The new policy will try to safeguard the interests of rights owners with the wider public interest, while combating infringements of intellectual property rights.

Jaitley said India would retain the right to issue so-called compulsory licenses to its drug firms, under “emergency” conditions, and would not immediately need to change patent laws that were already fully World Trade Organization-compliant.

“Compulsory licences are already provided in our patent law. That existing provision will continue,” Jaitley said after the cabinet approved national IPR policy on Thursday evening.

Last month, the U.S. Trade Representative kept India, China and Russia on its “Priority Watch List” for inadequate improvement in IPR protection.

India, however, says, it is party to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a WTO agreement that sets minimum standards for intellectual property regulation.

“It (IPR policy) reiterates India’s commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and the TRIPS agreement,” a government statement said.