It is that time of the year once again – the Global Intellectual Property Centre (GIPC) has released its international IP Index to help measure the global IP environment. As is usually the case with the GIPC index, India is located close to the bottom of the 40-45 countries that are considered for the index. This year the GIPC has placed India at 43rd out of a list of 45 countries. In the past, Swaraj and Kartik have questioned the methodology adopted by the GIPC. I won’t repeat those issues once again in this post. I would rather discuss the issues related to the manner in which the Indian press has covered the GIPC index.
Put briefly, the Indian press has covered the GIPC Report like it has been penned by the holy lord – the gospel truth that shall not be critically examined. The Hindu, the Times of India, the Hindu Business Line have all covered the story with alarmist headlines. The Quartz titled its report “India sucks at protecting intellectual property, according to a new ranking”, while the Financial Express explains to us that “Modi’s Make-in-India is facing the IPR drag”. Most of these news reports merely extract certain paragraphs from the reports and reproduce the GIPC’s chairman’s statement about how India has a woefully inadequate IP ecosystem and how it is adversely affecting the overall economy.
There is a word for journalism like this in the media world – “press release journalism”. It is called so because the reporter in question usually just reproduces a press release or as happened in this case, reproduces parts of the report without bothering to provide the reader with any context of the report or get a comment from someone who is an expert in the area. Such journalism is the wet dream of every PR firm and lobbyist.
For starters, it is necessary to understand that the GIPC is a part of the US Chamber of Commerce. Its mandate, in its own words is as follows:
GIPC is leading a worldwide effort to champion intellectual property rights as vital to creating jobs, saving lives, advancing global economic growth, and generating breakthrough solutions to global challenges.
GIPC’s belief, in its own words is as follows:
In the 21st century, innovation and creativity remain the driving forces behind America’s competitiveness and economic future. IP-intensive industries employ more than 40 million Americans and account for 74% of exports and $5.8 trillion in GDP. We cannot thrive without strong protection of intellectual property (IP) rights, which incentivize new and improved innovation and creation, encourage investment and commercialization, and help advance the spread of knowledge globally.
So to put it briefly, GIPC is not an academic institution, it is a lobbying group and going by the coverage their index received, I would give them top marks for their lobbying efforts. Its entire mandate is to protect American IP interests and it should come as no surprise that their IP index is designed to reflect how well a country protects American IP interests. Is it in India’s best interests to offer strong protection to American IP? That is a complicated question with no perfect answer. There are a lot of areas where India is technologically deficient and a strong IP regime will help facilitate technology transfer. At the same time however we must note that India simply lacks the institutional capacity to effectively regulate IP. Just have a look at the chaos being caused by the SEP litigation in the smartphone industry. It looks like an institutional circus out there between the CCI, the Patent Office and courts. The risk with such an institutional setup is that Indian industry and consumers will be seriously affected by the enforcement of IP rights since there will be very few safeguards to protect against the abuse of IP rights.
The tragedy of the Indian media’s coverage of the GIPC index is that they still don’t understand the IP advocacy game. Such reportage may have been a pardonable offence if it was from a decade ago when Indian journalists were still figuring out IP as an area of reportage but it is unacceptable that they still haven’t figured out the game.