India’s “Gripping” Tryst with TRIPS

April 26th is celebrated each year as the World IP Day. For those interested, I penned a short piece for the Mint on this momentous day, reflecting on Indian IP policy and the progress since the advent of TRIPS 15 years back. I extract a few paras below:

“….The stage had been set and India was on its way to mastering the nuances of “TRIPS flexibilities”, a term best articulated in 2002 by Murasoli Maran, who in his avatar as the then commerce minister, famously remarked: “We are all aware that the text of TRIPS is a masterpiece of ambiguity, couched in the language of diplomatic compromise, resulting in a verbal tightrope walk, with a prose remarkably elastic and capable of being stretched all the way to Geneva.”

…India’s stand is, however, more nuanced than a simple objection to the upward ratcheting of global IP standards. Indeed, it advocates higher standards when its national interests so demand: Geographical Indications, or GIs, are a good example in this regard, and India is fighting to have reputed global brands such as basmati rice and Darjeeling tea enjoy the same level of heightened international protection as European wines. Similarly, it is pushing for an international agreement on the protection and utilization of traditional knowledge, particularly that is connected with its biodiversity.

In the 15 years that have elapsed since 1995, India has learnt the ropes and progressed from “tripping” over TRIPS to a more strategic “gripping” of it, wherein this contentious international instrument has been interpreted and leveraged to suit India’s national interest.

However, India must be careful not to conflate “innovation” policy with intellectual property policy. It must look for ways to incentivize innovation in its own right. In particular, much like the US, a National Inventors’ Hall of Fame to celebrate India’s most well-known inventors would be an excellent start. Similarly, we also ought to award national medals to our most promising innovators. Such awards are statutorily mandated in the US through the America COMPETES Act, passed in 2007. Although the Indian government appears to have drawn inspiration from this Act in framing a recent Innovation Bill, it has surprisingly left out this important feature.

Only a conscious effort at romanticizing innovation will help us leverage the one advantage that we have over the rest of the world: a large and creative workforce. Bollywood has already taken the first step in this direction by giving us an “idiotic” hero who makes innovation look cool. Can we now leverage this sentiment to ensure life imitates art?”

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