Indian patent filing declines despite examination improvements in latest annual figures
The figures published by Centre for IPR Promotion and Management (CIPAM), a policy shop within India’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), indicate that a recent upgrade in manpower is pushing both examinations and grants upward. The next annual report for India’s Patent Office may show that applications declined in the most recent fiscal year. Overall, applications fell by about 3% compared with the last fiscal year. Looking at the past five years, it can be seen that the needle hasn’t moved a whole lot. The CIPAM report puts a positive gloss on the latest haul, saying it represents a 6% increase over FY 2015 numbers.
Many other IP offices have dealt with stagnating or declining applications – Japan and the EPO come to mind - but what is interesting about India is that over the past five years it has become much more important as a litigation venue. In addition to the many big-name pharmaceutical battles that play out there, it has more recently become a key venue in global SEP disputes.
The big majority of patent filings are driven by foreign entities. It could be that outside of SEP-dependent mobile manufacturers and branded pharma titans, tech companies in other domains have not seen much risk emerging from this jurisdiction yet.
It will be a while before we know how domestic applications moved in the last year. A report recently tabled in India’s Parliament by the Finance Ministry called attention to a chronic under-investment in R&D, which stands around 0.7% of GDP. Notably, it pointed out that India’s biggest research spenders fall into three sectors – pharmaceuticals, software and automobiles. It is well known that inventors in the first two fields have a relatively high bar to clear to gain patent protection in the country. Moreover, government R&D spending is highly centralized; and the largest such research body is in the midst of a major re-think when it comes to the value of patents.
Filers of all types have long cited the long pendency time for receiving a granted patent in India as a major concern. If the examination process takes up a sizable portion of an eventual patent’s life, the investment is all the more difficult to justify. But the numbers show a clear improvement in terms of the number of examinations, grants and overall disposals being handled by the office. The hiring of around 450 new patent examiners just over one year ago looks to be manifesting itself in big gains in all of these areas.
It will take plenty of chipping away at the significant backlog – last estimated around 232,000 applications – for the patent office to change its reputation among major patent owners. But that seems like the surest way of putting filing back on an upward path.