[This post has been co-authored with Shamnad Basheer]
A friend of the blog is keen on unleashing an innovative online interface to ease e-filings of trademark (TM) applications and other TM forms. While a trademark registration regime brings with it various perceived advantages, the regime also brings in various administrative requirements that are needed to ensure that the Trade Marks Register is always upto date. A significant part of a client/trademark agent’s time is spent in ensuring that applications, replies, forms for amendments, payment of fees etc. in relation to their trademarks are filed accurately and in time. Thankfully, these filings can now be made online. However, the online interface can be improved to ease such filings.
We therefore thought that it might be a good idea to reflect on the online TM and patent filing process and collate a set of recommendations that we could send the patent and trademark office via a public petition.
Class 3 digital signature: The IP office is perhaps the only government agency that requires a Class 3 digital certificate in order to sign up for e-filing. It is pertinent to note that the income tax authority requires only a Class 2 certificate.
A Class 2 signature is issued merely on the submission of a document of verification without the requirement of a personal appearance. However, a Class 3 digital signature is issued only on a personal (physical) appearance of the applicant before the Certifying Authority (defined under the Information Technology Act, 2000). Class 3 signatures are therefore meant to accord the highest level of protection/authentication as compared to the other classes of digital signatures. It appears that Class 3 signatures are also more expensive than the other classes of digital signatures.
The requirement of a Class 3 signature for TM/patent filing appears to have been made based on the assumption that trademark applicants will themselves digitally sign and submit documents. But this does not always happen. In most cases, trademark filings are made through agents, who need only one digital signature for making filings on behalf of various applicants. Therefore, the need for the highest level of authentication/protection and therefore the requirement of obtaining a Class 3 digital signature needs to be examined. This is more so for TM/patent filings which ensure other safeguards that assist in authenticating the authority of the person making the filings such as requirements to submit powers of attorney etc.
A class 2 certification may therefore ease the e-filing process without compromising on the need to authenticate identity in a robust way. And we therefore recommend that the patent office move towards this.
Open APIs: There is a need to encourage online platforms that build on the e-filing platform of the TM/patent office in order to make it easier for applicants to avail of this facility. However, in order for this to happen, one must have access to the API (application programming interface) of the IPO. The “Policy on Open APIs” issued by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, under the “Digital India” vision, promotes software interoperability for all e-Governance systems and access to data and services. One of the objectives of this Policy is to ensure that APIs are published by all Government organisations for all e-Governance applications and systems. The income tax agency provides its API which has helped in better functioning/user interface of its websites. Open APIs could encourage app developers to innovate and optimise performance of government websites. We therefore encourage the patent/trademark office to do the same.
The website of the Indian Patent/Trademark office (www.ipindia.nic.in) has recently been redesigned but its interface remains largely the same. Important pages of this website such as trademark status check pages, the public search page etc. do not function often. Further, E-filing forms on the website requires patience as the platform works slowly, refreshes if not kept alive for few minutes, the preview and uploading of forms involves navigating through various dialogue boxes etc. which makes the simple process of filing forms unnecessarily time consuming. Therefore, access to the API may encourage online platforms to build on and further simplify the e-filing platform.