As many of us know, the Indian Patent Office does not do a great job of making information publicly accessible/available. Currently, it publishes patent applications through its weekly journal, (in both print and electronic formats) containing only bare essentials such as the abstract, title of the invention, convention priority date and applicant details. A copy of the complete specification has to be requested in writing from the Patent Office. Apart from this, the Patent Facilitating Centre (PFC) of TIFAC provides access (including web access) to two online patent databases ‘Ekasawa A’ and ‘Ekasawa B’ that contains details of patent applications published since 1995 (including those published for opposition). However, much like the patent office, these databases provide only the bare minimum. As a result, it is very difficult to procure complete details of patents and patent applications and there may be some omissions in the information obtained.
Users of the patent system or those interested in patent information need to put greater pressure on the patent office to do a better job of making this information available. After all, it would be a shame if India, which is touted as an IT superpower, can’t even do a decent job of creating a good and usable online database of patent information. And, isn’t it paradoxical that the patent office, an institution that is in many ways the repository of cutting edge technology, suffers a severe “technology lag” when it comes to IT/databases?
We also need to advocate for greater transparency in patent office decision making, which would inter-alia, involve making patent decisions available to the public. During the 80’s and early 90’s, some of these decisions were made public and proved tremendously useful for a paper I did whilst assessing the role that “policy” played in patent office decisions. Unfortunately, with the retiring of then Controller General, Mr Shanti Kumar, this practice was discontinued. It would be great if this were resumed. After all, more critical public review of these decisions can only lead to a more robust patent system.
Fortunately, some public-spirited individuals are doing a great job of filling this void. One such effort has led to a terrific database of India specific patent information. Professor Bhaven Sampat, who teaches at the Mailman School of Public Health in Columbia University has put together, “Big Patents India”, along with Patrick Crosby of XB Labs, LLC and bigpatents.com. This laudable initiative was made possible with funding from the Ford Foundation.
This is perhaps the first site to provide a complete, searchable (and free!) version of post-TRIPs Indian patent applications and issued patents.
The bulk of the data was parsed from the Indian patent journals, beginning with those published in January, 2005, using proprietary algorithms developed by XB Labs. Data not parsable via programming were hand coded by Digital Divide Data, a non-profit social enterprise offering data entry services.
Prof Sampat and his team are working on several enhancement to the site, including:
i) Links from Indian applications to corresponding international applications
ii) Links from the Indian application data on this site to relevant page (pages) in the Indian Patent Office Journal
iii) User guides on "How to Search for Indian Applications and Patents" and "How to find Indian Applications for Drugs on the FDA's Orange Book"
They are also discussing the feasibility and desirability of implementing a "peer review" system for Indian patent applications (modeled on the Community Patent Initiative) with stakeholders, policymakers, academics, and potential funders.
Prof Sampat is an economist and a prolific writer in the area of patents/innovation. His research centers on the economics of biomedical innovation, the law and economics of the patent system, and science policy. His current projects examine the political economy of the National Institutes of Health, the effects of patents on access to medicines in India, the interactions between patent laws and FDA regulation in the pharmaceutical industry and the determinants of patent quality in the U.S. patent system.