What are your duties at Philips?
I am the head of the intellectual property and standards (IP&S) division in India, which has a team of 27 people. I am also part of the management team of the Philips Innovation Campus, as well as being in charge of the technology innovation management group. In terms of my IP-related responsibilities, I personally counsel Philips businesses on IP clauses in commercial and licensing contracts, oversee brand protection activities including raids, and am involved with a bit of IP scouting in the region, which includes India, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia. I used to do patent drafting and prosecution, but this has not been a big part of my responsibilities recently.
I am also a bit of an evangelist for both IP and Philips.
In what way are you an IP evangelist?
Being an IP evangelist is one of the more fun parts of my job. I see it as my role to spread the word and increase awareness of IP, influence thinking about IP in India, and Philips's role in it. I do this in a number of ways, such as speaking with the press, delivering lectures at various conferences, conducting sessions at educational institutions and in general, working to help educate people about IP.
I also do this work with a number of organisations. I'm on the board of the Licensing Executives Society India, for example. Through LES, I work on some IP-related education initiatives such as contracts and licensing and IP strategy. As Indian businesses such as software companies get more involved in contracting and licensing their own IP, it's increasingly important for them to get a better understanding of how this works. I am also involved in the In-House IP Professionals Forum, which was started to facilitate knowledge sharing and discussions of best practices. We are now slowly moving into policy issues.
Has the level of IP awareness and sophistication in India improved recently?
Yes, I believe it has improved. The types of questions that are being asked in conferences and education sessions reveal a higher level of understanding.
Another sign of the growing sophistication and awareness of IP's importance is that you have a lot of participants who are not lawyers: company staff, inventors, in-house IP professionals. Companies are learning that IP is important to their businesses, and IP needs to be supported and considered throughout the business.
What are some of the biggest IP-related challenges that Philips faces in India today?
Most of the big IP-related challenges in India are common to all companies and not unique to Philips.
One IP challenge that is unique to India is the requirement that patents have to be worked. Each year, all patent owners have to file paperwork about the extent to which each of their patents has been worked, including information such as how many units of a product have been sold, and how much money has been generated.
If each product we sold had just one patent attached to it, then this would be relatively simple. However, most of our products, such as MRI machines, are covered by multiple patents. Also, patents may be used in more than one product. In these situations, it can be very difficult to allocate the proper amount of revenue to each patent.
The requirement is a big administrative burden and takes up a lot of time. There's also concern about the accuracy of the data. But again, this is not just a Philips problem.
There are also some administrative issues. For instance, electronic filing of documents and payment of fees is possible only for patent applications; all other transactions are paper-based. Another example is the online search facility provided on the Indian patent office website, which is quite primitive. In order to become world class and match the other major patent offices in the world, the Indian patent office needs to satisfy basic requirements such as the facility to handle all transactions electronically or the facility to search and accurately find information on its website.
Another problem you hear often is that cases take too long. For example, you might have to wait a few years to get a decision for a patent infringement case. There is a feeling that the courts don't put as much priority on IP infringement as other legal issues such as social or violent crimes. The impression that I get is many don't feel that people really get hurt in IP infringement when compared to these other crimes.
I am not passing judgment on this attitude, but I think it's a reason why not as many resources are dedicated to IP protection.
I also think that the IP laws in India are still developing and improving. There is not as much IP case law in India as there are in other jurisdictions, so a lot of issues are still unsettled. Of course, this will improve over time as there is more awareness of IP and more cases are being decided. Right now, I feel that trade mark and copyright law are more developed than patent law as patent decisions are relatively rare.
Are there any local developments that you think will be important to rights holders?
The issue of parallel imports is an important one for rights holders. The Delhi High Court has held that under trade mark law, Customs officials can stop the importation of non-counterfeit goods that are being imported by an unauthorised importer. Sometimes, these products were intended for sale in countries other than India. Unless the Supreme Court overturns this, it is a good ruling for rights holders.
For companies like Philips, the Delhi High Court's decision is quite important, because we sell products that have different specifications due to different regulations in various countries. So for example, a device intended for another market might use a different standard from the Indian version, so the imported version might actually be illegal to sell here. In addition, some of the products may not function properly in a different market and may sometimes even put the customer or end user at risk.
Are there any changes that you wish to see in IP?
I think some of the problems we've discussed earlier just take time to solve. For example, case law in India is being developed. Right now, about 75% of all patents filed at the Indian patent office are being filed by foreign companies, but I think this number will change as more Indian companies file more patents, likely generating more disputes and case law. In the meantime, we continue to build our patent portfolio to prepare for the future.
There are also some small but important things that I would like to see, such as making it easier to conduct raids. If you bring a trade mark certificate to the local police to try to get a raid going, they have to check the validity of the certificate with the trade mark registrar, which can take time. However, if we could eliminate procedural speed bumps like this, perhaps by giving police a way to verify certificates electronically, then it would make raids easier and more economical.
One change that we have not discussed earlier pertains to Customs. The Indian Customs department is implementing the IPR (Imported Goods) Enforcement Rules 2007, which is an excellent initiative to protect the rights of IP owners and their licensees. This great initiative could be made even better if the Customs department provided access to the database of goods that are being imported into India. In order to prevent misuse or abuse, such database access could be restricted to registered holders and even be anonymised or sanitised before granting access.