Going by the Cabinet approval to the Patent Prosecution Highway programme, India may have taken a baby step towards harmonising its patent laws with those of other countries.
The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the proposal for adoption of Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) programme by the Indian Patent Office (IPO) with patent offices of various other interest countries or regions.
The IPO headed by the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks, India (CGPDTM) will initiate a PPH with its Japanese counterpart - the Japan Patent Office (JPO) - on a pilot basis for a period of three years.
Under this Pilot programme, IPO will fast track patent applications in certain specified technical fields such as electrical, electronics, computer science, information technology, physics, civil, mechanical, textiles, automobiles and metallurgy if these applications have already been granted patents in Japan. The JPO will reciprocate in the same manner if it receives patent applications for innovations that already have a patent in India. Unlike India, JPO has not restricted applications to specified fields as it will accept applications in all fields of technology under PPH.
The key to the programme is that some of investigations which a patent office does to ascertain whether the application qualifies for a patent or not can be done away with by relying on the findings of an another patent office, which saw merit, and hence granted a patent to that innovation. India and Japan hope that this will reduce time to dispose patent applications, decrease their pendency and improve the quality of search and examination of patent applications.
India is expecting that it will provide an opportunity for Indian inventors including home-grown micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and start ups to get accelerated examination of their patent applications in Japan. The Cabinet has also given the Commerce and Industry minister the power to extend the ambit of the programme in future, if need be. The patent offices have been asked to frame their own guidelines for implementing the programme.
There is no doubt that the workload of patent offices can be reduced if the duplication of the examination of patent applications can be avoided. It could work seamlessly if the patent laws of the partner countries are more or less the same. World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which is spearheading a global PPH pilot project has already enrolled over two dozen patent offices, including Japan Patent Office, as participants.
India is yet to align its patent law completely with the ones legislated in most developed countries as it wants to provide some safeguards against the possibility of frivolous patents. For instance, Indian Patents Act does not provide patents on software or algorithms, whereas Japan is more liberal. Due to the same reason, blind acceptance of the data generated by a foreign patent office may not satisfy the investigation requirements of Indian patent office. If PPH results in blurring this difference, it could be a harmonisation of the sort in an indirect way.
The results of the PPH pilot, hence will be keenly watched.