The Indian patent regime has been celebrated and censured in equal measure: celebrated by those that see in it the vestiges of a past, where nations could craft a patent policy to suit national priorities – without succumbing to the pressures of a global patent script and dictated largely by the industrial interests of the developed world – and censured by those who think that India's extensive use of TRIPS flexibilities to advance developmental priorities comes at the cost of global innovation incentives and a uniform patent paradigm.
Indeed, the present frame of the Indian patent regime contains a unique set of provisions not ordinarily found in other regimes. Patent working is one such provision. While most patent regimes demand ‘disclosure’, in that the patentee must elaborate the invention in full so as to educate the public and enable those skilled in the art to replicate it with relative ease, the Indian patent regime goes one step further. It requires that the disclosure even extend to the mode and manner in which patents are being worked for the greater public good. This information can then be used to trigger compulsory licences and even patent revocations. To this extent, the Indian patent regime not only grants exclusive IP rights, but also imposes a set of IP duties.
As an IP duty, patent working is central to the innovation ecosystem, for its disclosure helps foster greater transparency by inter alia pegging specific patents to products. This information is particularly valuable in the high technology sector, where it is often impossible to co-relate patents and the technological products that embody them, and vice versa. Unfortunately, Indian patentees routinely flout this important legal tenet, and the government has all but turned a blind eye to it.
This paper reflects on this important statutory mandate and its jurisprudential underpinnings, particularly in relation to two technology sectors: pharmaceuticals and high technology (IT and telecommunications). It highlights a writ petition filed by the author of this paper to showcase the sheer callousness with which the patent working requirement has been treated by both patentees and the government alike. It then discusses the ways in which the mandate could be strengthened so as to pave the way for a more meaningful patent regime and a more transparent innovation ecosystem.