The next annual report for India’s Patent Office will show that applications declined in the most recent fiscal year. But preliminary numbers revealed last week indicate that a recent boost in manpower is pushing both examinations and grants upward.

The figures were published by the Centre for IPR Promotion and Management (CIPAM), a policy shop within India’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). Overall, applications fell by about 3% compared with the last fiscal year. Looking at the past five years, you can see 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.

Patent statistics in India: past five years

Year

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

% Change 2016-17

Filed

43,674

42,951

42,763

46,904

45,444

-3%

Examined

12,268

18,615

22,631

16,851

28,967

+72%

Granted

4,126

4,227

5,978

6,326

9,847

+56%

Disposal*

9,027

11,411

14,316

21,987

30,271

+38%

*Disposals include applications granted, refused, withdrawn and abandoned

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. In our annual list of IP market makers last autumn, LG Electronics’ then-head of IP Joo Sup Kim declared: “I think the next IP market is India”, and he is not alone in that view.

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 centralised; 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 458 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.