A year on, e-filing of patents yet to net applicants

Written by Arun S | New Delhi , May 30 | Updated: Jun 1 2008, 03:19am hrs
The governments ambitious project to encourage electronic filing of patent and trademark applications has received an embarrassingly poor response in its first year. Of the 35,000 patent applications filed last year, only 410 (1.17%) were filed online. Worse, only 0.24% or 242 of the one lakh trademark applications during 2007-08 were filed online.

The facility for filing of patent and trademark applications from anywhere in the world at any time through the Internet, was launched in July 2007 to help the Indian Patent and Trade Mark Offices function as paperless offices. Government officials termed the poor show as teething troubles and blamed it on ignorance and reluctance on the part of companies and individuals to use the new system.

To correct the situation, the government had asked patent officers and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to provide training to patent attorneys, through a programme conducted in the four metros. Consequently, in the two months of the current financial year, online applications for patents and trademarks have improved marginally. Online applications constituted 4.9% of the 6,000 patent applications filed so far in this financial year while it also constituted 1.34% of the 20,000 trademark applications.

Currently, there are only about a dozen countries that have e-filing facilities, with India recently becoming a member of this elite group which consists of countries like USA , Japan , South Korea, China and the European Patent Office. With patent applications from China outstripping those from India by leaps and bounds, the Centre has launched a national awareness, sensitisation and consultancy programme by roping in universities, laboratories, state level chambers of commerce and industry, patent attorneys and the scientific community.

The proactive campaign which involves an outlay of Rs 20 crore, would establish a correlation between intellectual property, innovation, productivity and competitiveness. The objective of the programme was to take the intellectual property regime to the bottom of the industrial pyramid and invigorate the proprietary rights culture in the country. An effective online filing system can prove to be the lynchpin for this strategys success.

The benefits of e-filing of patent and trademark applications include getting an application number immediately, on-line verification assuring error-free filing and obtaining the filing date, a speedy registration process, being able to save the date locally in the applicants personal computer, printing the completed application data and recalling the contact details for subsequent applications. This would have meant savings on paper, valuable time and money.

Payments can be made through the Payment Gateway of authorised bankers, which would save time and money and also put an end to the hassles involved in visiting and filing the applications in the offices. NIC has developed modules for e-filing and on-line processing with State Bank of India providing the payment gateway.

But patent lawyers said though the e-filing system is a major improvement over the previous one, it also hasits own limitations.

Pravin Anand, managing partner of the law firm Anand and Anand and a leading intellectual property rights lawyer, said the memory of the (e-filing) system is too small to hold the details of the huge number of applications. Besides, there is a fee limitation of Rs 50,000, which means that thicker applications regarding patents in sectors like biotechnology and pharmaceuticals would be left out.

Moreover, the rules say that the soft copy has to be followed by a hard copy, which means that e-filing helps only in cases where filing is done cross-city or at the last minute. It does not make any sense to do both types of filing if you are in the same city. Apart from this, one cannot file a divisional application, where there is an objection on the unity of the application and it has to be divided into two or more parts, Anand points out.

Incidentally, the government is working towards sending more officials to be trained by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, UNIDO, as well as Japanese and US patent offices. Several vacant posts of patent examinees also need to be filled up.

To enhance the prestige of the Indian Patent Office (IPO) and to attract work from abroad, the government is also in the process of transforming IPO into an International Search Authority and an International Preliminary Examining Authority under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. Currently, there are only 12 such authorities.

Besides, India would soon join the Madrid Protocol on Trade Marks. Madrid Protocol is a simple and cost-effective system for registration of International Trademarks. Indias membership of the Madrid Protocol will aid Indian companies in registering their trademarks in other member countries of the Protocol through a single application. A thriving online filing system would help there as well.