Patents and the Intellectual Property Rights Ecosystem at Indian Universities
India aims to grow as a knowledge economy, and this goal cannot be achieved without nurturing innovation and creating a strong intellectual property (IP) ecosystem. Intellectual property rights (IPR) are particularly important because they enable the protection of innovative ideas and their commercialization by industry and start-ups as the latter provide solutions for society.
In India, the initial filing of a patent may cost up to 20,000 INR and each inquiry or revision process will incur further charges. Once a patent is granted or published, the holder has to pay a maintenance fee every year for the life of a patent (which is up to 20 years). Thus, patenting can be a huge financial challenge for higher education and research institutions (HEIs), where basic ideas are researched and translated into innovations and inventions. In an attempt to solve the IPR-related challenges faced by HEIs, the Indian government, senior science and technology (S&T) leadership, and S&T policymaking bodies have come up with innovative statutes and schemes.
Patent Legislations, Amendments, and Schemes
The Patents (Amendment) Rules, 2021, which came into effect on 21st September, 2021 introduced an 80 percent reduction in fees for patenting and prosecution specifically for HEIs. Prior to this, the Patents Rules, 2003, have been amended several other times between 2016 and 2020 in order to introduce user-friendly, fast-track and completely online procedures for making a patent application. The aim of all the above legislations was to create a streamlined, quicker, more efficient, and transparent system for submitting patent applications.
In addition, the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks (CGPDTM), Government of India, launched the Startups Intellectual Property Protection (SIPP) scheme in 2016 under which professional, registered IP facilitators are available to guide start-ups through the patent application process. The SIPP scheme also covers the service charges of the facilitators and is active till 2023.
Strengthening the Knowledge Economy
In a recent event at Delhi University, Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister of Education and Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, floated a suggestion to start a short-term diploma course in patenting. His suggestion stems from the need to create an IP ecosystem at universities where knowledge creators (especially students) are provided with skills for entrepreneurship in commercializing patented inventions and technologies. Universities have a huge role to play in promoting innovation and securing patents as a means to enhancing student employability.
In a move to create new rules for obtaining a PhD degree, the University Grants Commission (UCG) discusses in its PhD regulations, 2022 (Draft), Section 7.2.2, how to support researchers with patents towards monetization of the IP generated. Under another recently proposed scheme that is soon to be rolled out by central government, UGC will invite applications from faculty, researchers, and students to seek funding for applying patents. With a goal to fund filing of 10,000 patents annually, the government aims to promote commercialization of patents and improve India’s position in global patent rankings.
Patenting at HEIs and Technology Business Incubators
Research institutes and organizations such as the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, Defence Research and Development Organisation, and Indian Council of Agricultural Research have been the frontrunners in filing the highest number of patents. As per the 2019-2020 annual report issued by CGPDTM, among educational institutions, the number of patents filed by all the IITs together was highest, at 664. Interestingly, private universities such as Lovely Professional University and Chandigarh University have shown an upward trend in the number of patents filed in the year 2019-20, with 442 and 400 patents filed respectively. Other universities that have made it to the top ten list for patents filed include Amity University, Sanskriti University, and the Chandigarh Group of Colleges, as well as Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research and SRM Institute of Science and Technology.
There are more than 100 Technology Business Incubators (TBIs) set up across HEIs and universities. Their key duty is to support business innovation and to provide structured guidance and support to students and researchers so that they can commercialize patented ideas. For example, Chandigarh University has set up a TBI to nurture young innovators and guide them on how to attract angel investor funding to convert their ideas into services or products that can be commercialized. Similarly, the TBI at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), Odisha, includes a Technology Transfer Office (TTO) that provides information to students and researchers about patent searches, patenting innovations, and making them market ready. The TTO at KIIT has organized IP awareness workshops under the National Intellectual Property Awareness Mission (NIPAM).
In other words, a university that promotes a patenting culture and houses a TBI has all the elements needed to take an extra leap and establish itself as not only a knowledge creation hub but also an innovation commercialization hub.
Awareness of Intellectual Property Rights and Patenting
The Department of Promotion for Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) has developed engaging methods for disseminating IP knowledge and information to stakeholders. DPIIT in collaboration with CGPDTM has been conducting awareness activities for schools, colleges, industry associations, universities, etc. DPIIT conceptualized and created a mascot named “IP Nani” in collaboration with European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Videos and comics of IP Nani and her grandson “Chotu” have been created and used by the Cell for IPR Promotion and Management (CIPAM). In addition, the Office of the CGPDTM conducted more than 150 programs and workshops in the year 2019-2020 as part of their outreach to universities, including law and women universities; micro, small, and medium enterprises; incubation centers and start -ups; schools (through Atal Tinkering Laboratories) and colleges; and industry associations (FICCI, ASSOCHAM, etc.).
It is concerning to note that per 2019-20 report of the Office of the CGPDTM, some central and state universities and various other Institutes of Eminence (IoE) are still lagging behind and have not made it to the top twenty list for patents filed. Lack of awareness, financial support, appropriate guidance, and an overall IPR ecosystem are possible reasons for such a gap.
India, with over 1000 universities across its territory, has the potential to emerge as a patent forerunner globally. Recent trends in patent filing look promising, and with the latest legislation changes and schemes for financial support, universities and research institutions must roll up their sleeves and get ready to steer India on the path to grow as a knowledge and innovation economy.