Rajshri Rai: We recently celebrated Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Day. I feel women have a great amount of involvement in securing intellectual property (IP). In spite of this, there are lots of obstacles and challenges. What has been your experience in this regard?
Prof (Dr) UP Pandit: The theme of this year’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Day is extremely important. The establishment of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is celebrated as World IP Day all over the world. This year’s theme is: “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity”.
IP as it relates to women is very special. It is an inherent innate cultural way in which women enhance and spread traditional knowledge and skills. When we speak of India, this year’s theme becomes all the more important.
In India, women are not only securing Indian culture from generation to generation, they are also passing on culture and traditional knowledge to their offspring. Which means transmission of traditional knowledge to a new generation.
Of course, obstacles are present. However, in our society, women perform a lot of roles at the same time—that of a mother, wife and a professional. Now, she is a protector, preserver and transmitter of domain cultural knowledge as well.
RR: We would like to know how your patent department works. What was the situation before you took charge, and what’s your vision for the future?
Prof Pandit: My department deals with the administration of IP and authentication of IP rights. When we talk about IP, patent, trademark, copyright, design, geographical indication, all come under the domain of the department. The people who wish to certify/register their IP approach us. For patents, we have a Patent Act under which novelty, inventiveness and industrial applicability of a product is assessed.
If the product possesses the abovementioned elements, a patent can be provided. Some non-patentable inventions are also mentioned under Section 3. If an invention falls under Section 3, a patent can’t be granted. This is where legal and technical complexity comes up. Apart from legal knowledge, technical knowledge is also necessary. Which is why if I have a conversation with a lawyer, I mention that we can’t just look at this through a legal perspective only. Social utility is also important.
Many times we think the IP address is unique. My name is Unnat Pandit. Recently, someone made an account named as “Unnat Pandit Official”. I’m official Unnat Pandit and someone else took the name. That’s wrong. This is where disputes arise. Ethics in business is necessary. Unethical practices don’t sustain for long. Financial frauds are taking place, courts are passing judgments in such matters. But this is a territorial right, IP is a territorial right. This is a big legal complexity.
Last and the most important, IP is copyright. The yearly revenue in India is more than Rs 1.5 lakh crore even if we only consider Hindi movies and radio. Today, artificial intelligence is helping in creative writing. The question is: Whose copyright is it, the individual or of the machine?
Geographical Indication (GI) in IPR is different from all IPRs as it includes community rights. For instance, Banarasi silk, Moga silk. Basmati rice, Alphonso mangoes, all are GI tagged and protected as IP.
RR: You have talked about GI. How far have we progressed in securing GI rights for our native products? Do farmers, skilled workers and labourers benefit from GI? How are GI products being protected?
Prof Pandit: GI is a community right and within its community it is protected. The Act for GI protection came into being in 2000 and it was enforced in 2003.
With the promulgation of GI Act, India’s traditional community-based products were legally protected. For example, an Assam speciality is “Gamocha”. The GI application of “Gamocha” came in 2003, but the fact is “Gamocha” was there since long. It became a legal entity only in 2023. For a lawyer to make a GI registry should be an honour. In a lifetime of a lawyer’s profession making one GI product come in force will bestow a special joy to him. This is the power of GI.
RR: Neem is very special for Indians. However, the patent for it was granted in America. There are more than a dozen patents related to neem which have been issued in America. Haldi heals wounds and is also used as an antibiotic. The patent for haldi was also issued for two Indians, but in America. Do you feel the law isn’t strict enough to prevent different countries from issuing patents to properties that are owned by other nations?
Prof Pandit: Just like I said before, this is a territorial right. So, the things that are produced in India are meant to stay with India. The same thing goes for foreign countries. But the things that are being patented outside India are already a part of Indian IP. So, the things that are already well known and have an Indian origin can’t be patented outside India. This has always been a conflict. Different databases are also searched to provide certification for patents.
The Indian government has started a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDS) with the help of CSIR. More than 8,000 traditional plants and Ayurveda-related knowledge have been documented, and all the patent-providing departments have been provided with its access.
So, if someone reviews any invention based on Indian knowledge tradition, he can refer to our TKDS database. It is also accessible to the researcher so that he can further use that knowledge. The government of India has also taken a cabinet decision to bring TKDS in public domain.
RR: If we look at our laws, how do they protect our intellectual properties? How do our laws compare with other nations?
Prof Pandit: We are against evergreening of a product. Which means modifying a product slightly and getting a patent for it for a few more years. No big innovative technology is involved here. This is happening more with pharma products.
In India, Section 3 has been brought in specifically for such pharma-related evergreened products that do not have enhanced efficacy .If a product has enhanced efficacy, it will be certified and registered, otherwise it will be stopped. When I am talking about this rule, in different countries, such as South Africa and Indonesia, they have accepted our Section 3D. Even though there is no Section 3D in America, the US has openly said that if any drug is better than the one which is already available in the market, it will be granted.
Internationally our rules give us a balanced judgment. The Indian government is IP friendly. In the last nine years, we have brought changes in different rules and Acts 10 to 12 times.
RR: The IPR department is working in a transparent and efficient manner, yet we observe that violations and acts of corruption occur. How do you see the challenge?
Prof Pandit: We know there are all sorts of malpractices going on in our society. The moment I joined this division, I noticed a significant difference in the standard of IP morals and ethics. I also understood how and why we must proceed towards good IP ethics. Our minister often emphasizes the urgency of moving most of the things online. If our online presence strengthens, it can lead to a more transparent approach to things. Granting of IP rights will take less time and the process will be more transparent. IP protection will also become quicker and effective.
It can be done by changing mindsets. Obviously, such a change cannot be brought upon solely through one person. This needs to be done holistically by the IP ecosystem and IP fraternity as a whole. I strongly feel that anything that may be iniquitous should not be allowed to continue. We live in an ever changing, technological world and we should gear up to meet its challenges and make our dealings more ethical.
Recently, the Bombay High Court had arrested a patent official and given him a sentence of four years labelling him as a criminal. This goes on to prove that reprehensible and unethical actions are countered by law order and justice systems.
RR: Intellectual property and creativity are so much interlinked. Much creative work is done and its copyright is ensured. Yet despite the rules and regulations, stories are plagiarized, song lyrics pilfered and films copied. How challenging is the copyright landscape?
Prof Pandit: Copyright is voluntary in nature. Even without formal certification, we own this IP right. If copyright is not registered and somebody violates it, a case needs to be filed in the court or a police complaint can be filed. In certain cases, we can enforce the IP right by filing a case before the court, but this is minimal. We need more awareness about copyrights. About 1.5 lakh crore worth of copyright assets are extant in India.