This article analyses the recent developments made in India’s patent system. The Intellectual Property administration vis-a-vis stakeholders is still encountering issues ranging from application backlog to lack of adequate human resources in the Indian Patent Office (IPO). The workload on an Indian examiner as compared to the work pressure on patent examiners in the US Patent Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) is much higher, which in turn impacts the quality of examination and grant of patents.
In March 2016, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had categorically stated that as many as 237,000 patent applications were pending with the government, mainly due to the shortage of manpower. The Government currently has 130 examiners of patents and designs to examine around 43,000 applications a year. This meagre strength results in monumental delays in the examination of patent applications, leading to massive pendency. Moreover, the filing of bad patent applications (lacking novelty and inventive step) adds to the extra workload of examiners, as these applications also have to go through the same process.
In the case of Nitto Denko vs. Union of India and Others, this issue of patent office delays and excessive backlog of pending patent applications was seriously dealt with vide civil writ petitions before the Delhi High Court. The main grievance of the petitioner was that the strict time line for examination and grant of patent provided under the Patent (Amendment) Rules, 2003 was not being followed. The patent office authorities submitted that owing to shortage of resources (in terms of examiners) there was a huge backlog of patent applications and the time taken to examine each patent application varied according to complexity of technology. The Delhi High Court issued an order directing the IPO to file an affidavit stating the current position in the patents office regarding issuance of FER and to disclose the year wise pendency of patent matters. As a consequence of this order, the Government committed to spend US $49,226,400 for recruitment of fresh examiners and other related problems. The decision in this case is remarkable and a way forward towards tackling the issue of unreasonable delays in disposal of patent applications for the first time in India.
The government with an aim to radically reduce the time taken for the first examination of patent applications from about five-to-seven years to 18 months, by March 2018, through its nodal agency i.e. Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), has recently recruited 458 patent examiners which is almost four times the number of existing examiners, of which 396 have just joined work after training. Additionally, 263 examiners will be appointed on contract basis, and 100 examiners have been appointed separately for examination of trade marks.
It is hoped that this influx of examiners across disciplines will reduce the workload of Indian examiners. However, the quality of examination process will be carefully watched. Certainly, this move of DIPP to recruit new examiners is a welcome initiative to expedite the examination of patent applications in India.