India crossed a major milestone in its intellectual property rights (IPR) journey by granting over one lakh patents in 2023-24. This marks a big moment for its innovation and knowledge sector. Till as recently as 2016-17, India used to grant less than 10,000 patents annually. This figure rose to 34,134 patents in 2022-23, but jumped to 1,03,037 in the latest year. The grants are now greater than filings and helping clear backlogs.

This improvement is on account of various factors including a special push to clear pending applications, bolstering manpower, process reforms, digital infrastructure upgradation and administrative streamlining.

Many of the reforms that we had highlighted in our EAC-PM paper Why India needs to urgently invest in its Patenting Ecosystem? in August 2022 have already been implemented or are under implementation.

Along with the patent grants, the number of patent applications have also been steadily rising. They increased from around 45,444 in 2016-17 to 92,172 in 2023-24. Equally significant is the increased participation of domestic innovators.

Earlier, applications were dominated by multinational corporations merely extending their foreign patents into India. The share of patent applications by residents rose from 29 per cent to 56 per cent between 2016-17 and 2023-24.

Although India’s recent performance is commendable, the number of patent grants is still far below 3,10,245 granted in the US in 2023 and 7,98,347 by China in 2022. China’s number is admittedly exaggerated by low quality utility patents, but the sheer scale of the innovation effort is impressive.

Copyright spike

Meanwhile, there has also been progress in case of copyrights. Filing and registration of copyrights have witnessed significant growth, increasing from 16,617 filings and 3,596 registrations in 2016-17 to 36,744 and 38,003 respectively in 2023-24. Nevertheless, despite the impressive growth, India still lags very far behind global peers. The US, for example, registered over 4,41,526 copyrights in 2023.

India’s has been historically strong in trademarks and rose to third position in terms of trademark applications in 2022, trailing only the US and China. The filings rose from 2.78 lakhs in 2016-17 to about 4.3 lakhs in 2021-22, but have levelled off in the last two years. Moreover, registrations seem to have stagnated. Trademarks registrations have ranged between between 2,50,000 and 3,00,000 annually since 2016-17.

A key reason for this has been shortage of manpower. Per the latest available figures, India has only 164 people employed in trademark office, as opposed to 718 in the US. This has led to build-up of pending applications. At the end of 2023-24, 3.8 lakh applications were pending at examiner/senior examiner level and 2.17 lakh applications were pending at registrar level.

Addressing the issue of manpower is crucial for making any improvement in this area. In addition, improvements in IT infrastructure and streamlining of administrative processes is important. Some efforts in this direction are already underway.

First, the rules and regulations need to be updated. The recent amendments to Patent Rules 2003 have modified the pre-grant and post-grant opposition procedure, fixed timelines for various steps and reduced compliance burden for the applicants.

In addition, a new provision of Certificate of Inventorship has been introduced to provide recognition to the inventors.

In order to promote copyrights filings, there needs to be similar updating of the provisions of copyright law, especially in light of emerging digital technologies.

Second, recruitment process of about 550 examiners is underway, promising increased application processing capacity and reduced wait time. This should be done in the next few months. The hiring schedule further envisaged recruitment of 450 people and this needs to done on time so that capacity is put in place ahead of an anticipated increase in filings.

Even after both rounds of hiring, the Indian Patent Office will have a headcount of 1,960 compared to 8,568 in the US and 13,704 in China.

Manpower issues

Similarly, the trademark department needs to increase its headcount, starting with filling up existing vacancies.

Third, the physical and digital infrastructure needs to be upgraded urgently to accommodate the expansion. Artificial intelligence search engines, in-house servers, office infrastructure and the country’s overall IPR ecosystem need urgent investment.

In case some readers are concerned by the cost of this expansion, note that the IPR system contributes directly to government revenue even without considering the wider impact on the economy.

The Office of Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks generated approximately ₹1,392 crore in revenue against an expenditure of about just ₹277 crore in 2023-24. This is a revenue positive area for the government.

The positive shifts in India’s IPR ecosystem is reflected in the improvement in the country’s rank in the Global Innovation Index (published by World Intellectual Property Organisation), where India has moved up from 66th position in 2016 to 40th position in 2023.

Given the momentum, India has a chance to being in the top-20 by 2030 if it gets the above-mentioned things right.

Sanyal and Arora are Member and Joint Director respectively in Economic Advisory Council to the PM. Views expressed are personal