“Innovate, patent, produce and prosper,” was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new motto for young scientists, at the inaugural function of the 107th Indian Science Congress. He suggested innovation and patenting will “make our production smoother” — but, in reality, it is the process of patenting any innovation itself that’s complicated and harrowing, and needs greater attention. To safeguard against frivolous patents, the Patents Act, 1970 has imposed certain ‘restrictions’ on patentability. One well-known example is Section 3(d) of the Act — brought to fore in 2013 during the controversial case of Novartis’ Glivec — which aims to prohibit ‘evergreening’ by barring patenting of products which are only slight variations of known substances. Although it does curb monopolistic behaviour by industry giants, it also discourages solutions achieved through deeper research of established concepts. But this is not all.

New technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) are the future of digital advancement. AI/ML models can learn and adapt, and hence potentially come up with solutions to various kinds of problems on their own. However, the Patent Act states that any computer-related innovation must have a ‘human’ inventor, complicating patent applications. It also bars patenting of computer programmes and algorithms. As India looks to boost its technological progress, the Patent Act indeed needs to be updated to accommodate newer concepts.

And it’s not just the law which needs attention. Since 2016, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, set up to resolve disputes regarding patents, trademarks, has been without a chairman twice, periods during which it stopped hearing cases. Only the very recent extension of current chairman’s tenure brought some temporary relief, but there is now a sizeable backlog of cases waiting to be heard. Such a lax attitude will cost India dearly. If young scientists are to be enthusiastic about innovation, they don’t just need verbal motivation, but also a system won’t discourage or restrain their work.

The writer is Sub Editor with BusinessLine