Special 301 Report: India’s IP Climate Continues to Discourage Innovation

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released its 2016 Special 301 Report today, which assesses intellectual property (IP) rights protection in markets around the world and identifies particular countries for follow-up action. Given the continued and widespread barriers that many industries in the United States face under India’s IP landscape, it is clear that India belongs on this year’s Priority Watch List.

The Special 301 Report echoed several of the same outstanding concerns with India’s IP policies that AFTI and its members outlined in recently submitted comments to the USTR. These issues include inadequate trade secret protection in India, continued copyright piracy across India, concerns about compulsory licensing for biopharmaceutical and environmental technology, and unnecessary and burdensome criteria for the patentability of medicines and other products. The USTR report also noted that weak or inadequate IP protections in India have a negative impact on both U.S. and Indian businesses.

While public Indian government statements have acknowledged the need to improve the business and IP environment in India to attract new investment, and increased high-level bilateral dialogue and ongoing revisions to India’s National IP Policy have indicated greater attention to IP issues, the Indian government has made very few changes to implement necessary IP reforms—and in some cases India’s IP climate has worsened.

In fact, even within the first quarter of 2016, new doubts have surfaced about the Indian government’s commitment to improving the business climate for foreign and domestic innovators. For example, in February, India released new rules that effectively block patents on computer-related inventions. Most recently, an Indian pharmaceutical company was denied a patent for a new HIV/AIDS medicine by the Indian government. The company had already been granted patents in the U.S. and other countries, but could not overcome India’s additional, and burdensome, patentability requirements.  While India has not yet finalized its National IPR Policy, some reports have indicated that the policy will not include needed reforms to address concerns surrounding patents and trade secrets.

These actions undermine the goals of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative to attract more foreign investment and statements from Prime Minister Modi about the importance of building India as an “innovation hub.” Instead, these moves only discourage domestic and foreign innovators that want to do business in India. Though the USTR will not conduct an Out-of-Cycle Review (“OCR”) of India’s IPR regime this year, AFTI encourages the U.S. government to continue to focus heightened attention on India’s IP policies – policies that undermine jobs and opportunity in the United States, and India.