SpicyIP congratulates Mr PH Kurian, a 1986 IAS (Indian Administrative Service) Officer on his appointment as the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (CGPDTM). Mr Kurian’s appointment signals a fundamental break with tradition, as hitherto, the Indian IP office has always been headed by an insider (typically an examiner at the IP office who has risen through the ranks). And with the exception of Mr Ravi (the erstwhile Controller General and a trademark specialist), most such appointees have been patent specialists.
Mr Kurian has no IP background, but has worked as a career civil servant (IAS officer) in a wide variety of capacities, including most recently, as the Principal Secretary to the Department of Industry, Kerala.
Having an IAS officer head the Indian IP office is of monumental significance, and reflects the growing importance of this office. One of my colleagues even mentioned that a government rule (that stipulates that any government agency that is worth more than 100 crore rupees in turnover needs to be headed by an IAS officer) may have triggered this appointment. Any of our readers with more insights into this process and these alleged rules?
Interestingly, Joff Wild (of the reputed IAM (Intellectual Asset Magazine),) Duncan Bucknell (an internationally renowned IP strategist) and me discuss the qualification that the head of a patent office ought to possess. In other words, should such patent chiefs have a background in “patents”? The consensus amongst us appeared to be that it would be far more preferable to have such a post filled with someone blessed with common sense, rather than someone with a more of a “patent” sense and less of common sense.
Else, as Joff opines, someone as talented as President Obama would never even be considered for the post of the US Patent Commissioner. It ought not to be lost on our readers that America may be one of the very few countries which has had a former US Patent Commissioner elected as President (tis Thomas Jefferson that I speak of)…. perhaps signalling the importance of patents to this country.
SpicyIP hopes that Mr Kurian’s appointment will usher in some fresh thinking at the Indian patent office. As many familiar with the Indian patent office are aware, fresh and innovative thinking is an absolute must for this office, which has hitherto been beset with several problems, including understaffing, lack of “specialised” examiners/controllers, sub optimal access to specialised patent databases, sub optimal training and mentorship, high rates of attrition and issues of “transparency”, something that has been the focus of this blog and mainstream media as well. Needless to state, the recent spike in the number of applications pertaining to complex areas of technology such as pharma, biotech etc has only added to the pressure.
To complicate matters further, we believe that recently, a great number of Examiners were suddently promoted as “Controllers,” making the Examiner: Controller ratio almost 1:1!
We wonder how this skewed ratio is likely to impact decision making at the patent office, given that the primary responsibility with examining an application lies with “Examiners”. In particular, we wonder if the patent office is hiring more Examiners to fill in the gaps? Secondly, what were the reasons underlying this sudden surge in promotions? Did the office really need so many new Controllers? Did existing Controllers resign or leave? Or are Controllers being vested with new responsibilities now? Can any reader familiar with these developments throw some light?
To those not familiar with the structure of the Indian Patent Office, here is an extract from a report that I’d prepared for the India-EU TIDP (trade and investment development) programme):
“The Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks (CGPDT) is a subordinate office under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoC&I). This Office has the statutory responsibility for administration of patents, trademarks and industrial designs and serves as a main source of policy advice to the Government of India on industrial property matters. The Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (the Controller) is the administrative and statutory head of the Patent Office and the Trade Marks Registry. The Controller as also the various examiners and other officers are appointed by the Central Government. It is in this sense that the patent office qualifies as a government agency. Although the Act vests most powers in the Controller, it stipulates that such powers can then be delegated by the Controller to his subordinate officers. It is important to appreciate that while certain acts of the patent office qualify as ‘purely administrative’, others would qualify as ‘quasi judicial’.
The Patent Office is headquartered in Kolkata and has branch offices in Mumbai, Chennai, and New Delhi. The Patent Office performs duties relating to the granting of patents as set out in the Patents Act, 1970, and the registration of industrial designs under the Designs Act, 1911.
The number of personnel at the Indian Patent Office (IPO) are as below (as of 31 March 2006)
• One Controller General
• Two Joint Controllers
• 5 Deputy Controllers
• 33 Assistant Controllers at the Patent Office.
• 141 examiners (although sanctioned strength is 157)
• 140 support staff”
Again, for the benefit of those not entirely familiar with the Indian patent office, the hierrarchy appears to be (in increasing order):
1. Examiners (number varies each year)
2. Senior Edaminers (number varies each year)
3. Assistant Controllers (number varies each year)
4. Deputy Controllers: (number varies each year)
5. Joint Controllers: (normally 2)
6. Controller General of Patents Designs and Trademarks: 1
The skewed Examiner: Controller ratio might be one of the first things that Mr Kurian may need to fix. As he goes about his job, many eyes will be tracking him, perhaps in the fond hope that with such a high profile appointment, at least some of the issues plaguing the Indian patent office will come to be fixed in the near future.