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Patently lagging

India is poised to reap the rewards in a growing global economy, but its warts are showing in the culture of building patents, writes Sanjay Gupta.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2007 21:04 IST

Is India really an emerging superpower in the knowledge economy? Much is said of the country's abilities and potential, but in ground reality, there is a long way to go for India to make it big in the real test of intellectual economic power – which lies in the ability to generate patents.

Look at India's score. The country accounts for only one out of 800 patents across the world, whereas it accounts for one out of every six persons on this planet. As per the Annual Report 2004 of the Indian Patent Office there are only 6,857 patents that have been granted by our Patent Office. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) states in its Patent Report 2007 that the total number of patents in force across the whole world was a whopping 5.6 million at the end of 2005.

The WIPO report also has some very unique statistic – the table attached indicates our comparative position versus other countries. A comparison with China, Japan, EU and the US depicts a very gloomy state of affairs. Even WIPO states that "the use of the patent system remains highly concentrated with only five patent offices (the US, Japan, Republic of Korea, China and the European Patent Office) accounting for 75 per cent of all patent applications and 74 per cent of all patents granted."

On all the three parameters assessed by WIPO India scores poorly: Patent filings by residents per million population Only seven patents were filed versus 148 filed on an average across the world in 2004. And India's scores have fallen further in 2005 to only six filings whereas China increased its filings to 71 from 51 per million residents.

Patent filings by residents per billion $ GDP Only 2.3 patents were filed by Indians versus 19 filed on world average. Again the number of filings for India dropped to 1.97 in 2005 whereas that for China increased to 11.92 in 2005 from 9.4 in 2004 (in just one year).

Resident patent filings per million dollar R&D expenditure India could generate and file only 0.23 patent versus the world average of 0.81 in 2004. Here, the country did improve the score to 0.25 in 2005, but again China was able to improve their rate to 0.91 patent filings in 2005 from 0.78 in 2004.

What is the government doing?

Some thing at last – few days ago the Department of Information Technology (DIT) planned to provide financial support to fund 50 per cent of the patent filing fees. Financial incentives such as these will help – but a bigger effort is required to make the IPR Administration (primarily the departments of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks - often referred to as the TM Registry and Patent Registry) effective by scaling up its infrastructure. But in 2004 India invested only Rs 10.01 crore on upgrading its IPR Administration; compare this with Japan, which invested yen 118 billion (about Rs 4,170 crore) in 2006 on its IP Office upgrade.

Another comparative is the number of examiners/staff employed at the Patent Office – looking at which it appears we have shortage of manpower in a country with 1.1 billion people. One can clearly guess the benefit of bigger numbers here – the more the trained manpower, the higher the chances of a good, timely and quality job at evaluating and granting patents. The good news is that enrollment of new staff required to meet the increased filing has begun, but the number of vacancies is huge. And even the expenditure on training the staff on latest technologies and tools is very limited.

All efforts that support and strengthen the processes that help creation of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in India are important because they provide the critical supports for the overall innovation culture, newer and superior products that fulfil societal needs leading to global footprint and technological leadership which eventually fuels the growth of an economy.

(The author is Director - Intellectual Property Rights with Microsoft and is also the Chair of the India Committee in Business Software Alliance, a global agency that promotes intellectual property rights. The opinions and views expressed in this article are personal and not of these organisations)