Before I review Joff’s take on this rather unfortunate state of affairs at the patent office, let me thank all our readers for their comments to Kruttika’s hard hitting post on this issue. Some of the comments made for very interesting reading! Kruttika is now working on a post that will highlight the key aspects of a report by an Austrian government entity (AWS) that also raises similar issues about the unethical nexus between patent agents and patent office personnel. The Mint article by CH Unnikrishnan and Khushboo Narayan, though not based on this report (since the Mint investigation re: the Indian patent office began several months back), relied on it, in some parts.
In an earlier post on his widely read IAM blog, titled “Indian patent grants raise serious quality questions”, Joff noted:
“During its 2007/08 financial year, which ended at the end of March, the Indian Patent Office granted a record 15,262 patents, more than double the 7,539 issued during 2006/07. That is an extraordinary figure, given that from what I understand there are well under 200 patent examiners currently plying their trade in the country.
You do not have to be a great mathematician to work out that if there are 130 examiners at the Indian patent office, each one would have had to approve over 100 of the applications he or she dealt with during 2007/08 to get to that 15,262 figure. By contrast, I think there are around 1,300 examiners employed by the EPO, which last year granted around 54,700 patents.
It all goes to make you wonder about the quality of the patents now being granted in India. “
In his latest post, Joff draws on his earlier concern and notes that the Mint allegations, if true, could help explain these huge grant rates. He however cautions that the alternative explanation could be that the Indian patent office is more efficient than their counterparts in the US or EU.
I’d love to think that this is the case, but have reason to believe that these huge numbers come more out of a bias/culture in favour of grants. As an examiner that I spoke with about a year back bluntly put it: “If I reject an application, I have to give reasons. So why bother? Particularly when most of my rejections are routinely overruled by my boss (typically an Assistant Controller).”
In his note, Joff urges patent owners to query their lawyers (patent agents) on this unfortunate revelation of an unethical nexus with the patent office, to ensure that their patent grants are in no way implicated. He notes:
“It could well be that the LiveMint story is wrong and that the Indian Patent Office is actually doing an amazing job, despite the low number of examiners it has. But if I were a multinational I would want to be absolutely certain that nothing untoward was happening in my name. It seems to me that there is a duty on all those who use the Indian patent system to demand straight answers from their professional representatives and to ensure that no abuses are taking place. If they do not, it could well come back to haunt them further down the line.”
I couldn’t agree with Joff more. To weed out institutionalised corruption, all stakeholders have to come together and put pressure on the patent office/government to increase transparency in the patent grant process. A corrupt office and a corrupt patent granting process is an evil that we can ill afford.