For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

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Friday, 11 June 2010

What's Behind the Shuffle in the Indian Trade Mark Office?

Trade mark admiministration is not usually the purview of high political intrigue. I guess the last time that I thought about Len Deighton (of The Ipcress File fame) and trade mark offices in the same breadth was in connection with the establishment of the OHIM office in Alicante. Thanks to IPKat's Indian colleagues--Raja Selvam of Selvan and Selvam of Chennai, and Shamnad Basheer, of the iconic Spicy IP Blog and the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata--our attention has been drawn to an interesting administrative development, with possible political overtones, regarding the reassignment of the trade mark section of the Indian Intellectual Property office.

As reported in the June 3 post by C.H. Unnikrishnan, "Trademarks Section to Move Out of IP office", on livemint.com here and the June 4 blog post by Shamnad Basheer, "The Fishy Trademark Handover" here, there is a move afoot to shift the trade mark section of the Indian IP office out the control of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks to another governmental officer. According to these accounts, the Indian Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), which oversees the Indian IP office, has already shifted some of the powers of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks to another government official.

The motivation for the move, at least in some quarters, is being attributed to political more than adminisitrative efficiency considerations. Thus, Unnikrishnan writes:
"In January 2009, the government appointed P.H. Kurian to the top post of the IP office, the controller general. He has since tried to reform the way the office works and, in an attempt to cleanse the system of corrupt practices, transferred at least a dozen senior officials, mostly from the trade mark section, to other posts."
Against this backdrop, several persons connected to trade mark practice in India have been more outspoken in their criticism. According to one, trade mark officials involved in alleged acts of bribery in the past will now find their way "back to their earlier locations." Another observed that "[t]he administrative shuffle is quite vindicative to the strong reforms that the controller general has inititated in the last one and one-half years, and it will shift the system back to its inefficient past."

There is, however, a less conspiratorial view of these recent moves. V. Bhaskar, the joint secretary of the DIPP, notes that separating patents from trade marks may allow for better administrative focus of the two areas. Basheer is quoted in the Unnikrishnan article as suggesting that
"[g]iven the increasing complexity of these regimes, it may be desirable to have two heads in this regard."
However, he did go on to note that, under the current Indian trade mark law, the government may appoint a person to discharge some of the functions of the controller general, but it is the controller general who remains in charge. As a legal matter, therefore, the contemplated change would require an amendment to the current Indian trade mark law.

Commenting on his blogpost on the issue, Basheer summarized it as follows:
"I really think that the government should think through the intended structure a bit more before it takes a final view of the matter. Perhaps it should also have consultations with IP stakeholders before it takes a final position here. I think that there is some sense in the recommendation ... that we have an overall head and then specific technical heads for patents and trade marks."
It is no secret: this Kat has a particular interest in IP activities in India. I especially like the energy and openess of the discourse on IP matters there, both in writing and in conversation. The interweaving of administrative, political and professional considerations in the current matter is a good example of what I find so fascinating.

More on Len Deighton here.

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