National IPR Policy: Discussing the rights of all the stakeholders

Prelims level : Economy Mains level : GS-III Economics - Intellectual Property Rights
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Why in News? 

  • In May 2016, the then Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (now known as the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade) under the Ministry of Commerce released the 32-page National IPR Policy. The overall purpose of this document was to spell out the government’s comprehensive vision for the IPR ecosystem in the country towards shaping a more innovative and creative Bharat.

What is a Patent?

  • A patent is an exclusive set of rights granted for an invention, which may be a product or process that provides a new way of doing something or offers a new technical solution to a problem.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

  • IPR refers to the legal rights that protect an individual’s or company’s creations and inventions (such as inventions, literature, music, and symbols) from being used or copied by others without permission. 
  • IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.
  • By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

Three important objectives of National IPR policy document

  • Strong and effective IPR laws: Under the head Legal and Legislative Framework, the goal was to have strong and effective IPR laws, which balance the interests of right owners with larger public interest.
  • Modernise and strengthen IPR administration: Under Administration and Management, the objective was to modernise and strengthen service-oriented IPR administration; and
  • Strengthening adjudicatory mechanism: Under Enforcement and Adjudication, the focus was to strengthen the enforcement and adjudicatory mechanisms for combating IPR infringements.

Changes in IPR ecosystem so far:

  • Structural and legislative changes: Over the last six years, the IPR ecosystem in this country has witnessed both structural and legislative changes.
  • Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB): IPAB was dissolved in April 2021 as part of tribunal reforms, and its jurisdiction was re-transferred to high courts.
  • Dedicated IP Division: This was followed by the establishment of dedicated IP benches the IP Division by the Delhi High Court, arguably the country’s leading court on the IPR front, for speedier disposal of IPR disputes.
  • IP friendly environment: Such measures, one presumes, are intended to convey to investors and innovators that Bharat is an IP-savvy and even IP-friendly jurisdiction without compromising on national interest and public health commitments.
  • For instance: This is evident from the very same National IPR Policy which, among other things, expressly recognises the contribution of the Indian pharmaceutical sector in enabling access to affordable medicines globally and its transformation to being the pharmacy of the world.

What are the concerns?

  • Patent-friendliness, rather patentee-friendliness: It appears that the patent establishment of the country has drawn a very different message it has gone on an overdrive to prove its patent-friendliness, rather patentee-friendliness, in the pharmaceutical sector at the expense of public health and national interest respectively.
  • Evergreening of patents on critical drugs: Evergreening patents on drugs which relate to treatment of diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular diseases and other serious conditions continue to be granted to pharmaceutical innovator companies by the Indian Patent Office.
  • Enforcements at the expense of statutory rights: Worse, they are regularly enforced through courts at the expense of the statutory rights of generic manufacturers and to the detriment of patients.
  • Unavailability of affordable drugs: The delayed entry of generic versions of off-patent drugs affects adversely the availability of affordable medicines to patients in a lower middle-income country such as Bharat where most middle-class families and below are only a hospital-visit away from dipping into their hard-earned savings.

Way ahead:

  • It must be understood that IP legislations such as the Patents Act do not exist for the sole benefit of IP right owners.
  • Patent bargain is in which the society is expected to benefit from dynamic innovation-based competition between market players.
  • Clearly, there are four stakeholders under the Patents Act the society, government, patentees and their competitors.
  • Each of these stakeholders has rights under the statute which makes all of them right owners.
  • To interpret, apply and enforce the Act to the exclusive benefit of patentees, and that too evergreening patentees, is to abridge and reduce to a naught the legitimate rights of other stakeholders, leading to sub-optimal and worse, anti-competitive market outcomes.
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