Strong IP Reform In India Would Benefit Everyone

Increasingly promising dialogue between the United States and India on trade issues presents an excellent opportunity for the strengthening of intellectual property rights. The recent trade policy forum (TPF) held late last month led to the two nations once again affirming their commitment to increased trade and cooperation, and to protecting IP.

According to a joint statement, both nations “recognize the importance of providing a transparent and predictable policy environment for fostering innovation.”

The meeting, which was the first TPF between the two nations in 4 years came about as a result of several promising steps towards bilateral trade policy following PM Modi’s official state visit to the U.S.

The election of Modi, a pro-business politician in May this year, was followed by the announcement of an overhaul of the IP system in India in September.

While Modi has shown an apparent commitment to promoting pro-business policies, there remains work ahead with many stakeholders in India determined to preserve weak and outdated protectionist policies, which has put pressure on the new Indian government.

In particular, there exists resistance to strong IP reform with regards to pharmaceutical patents, a key issue for U.S. policymakers.

Concerns about India’s IP policy are not limited to the United States, with Japan recently pushing India to raise its patent protection standards, mindful of the importance of promoting global innovation.

IP protection is especially important to medicine because of the high costs to develop products. Where strong protection exists, innovative medicine will follow.

Initially, the United States Trade Representative had taken a hard stance towards India’s IP policy, including launching an out-of-cycle review and refusing to remove India from the 2014 priority watch list.  But last week, the USTR backed down on previous criticism and praised India’s “useful commitments in recent months, including to institutionalize high-level engagement on IP issues, to pursue a specific work program and to deepen cooperation and information exchange with the United States on IP-related issues under the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum.”

While it is true that India has taken positive steps, it must be noted that work on implementing IP reform in India is yet to begin, and so it would be premature to congratulate India – especially given the problems which characterize its current IP regime.

Indeed, it will all be for nothing unless comprehensive and strong IP reform is implemented to bring India in line with the modern world.

In doing so, India will attract increased foreign investment and innovative technologies. Creators & innovators will be, and have been interested in doing business in one of the world’s largest economies, however concerns over IP protections have discouraged some in the past. But by removing this crucial barrier and embracing the free market, India can put itself on a path to economic prosperity.