New Directions for India’s Patent Strategies?

In 2016 India adopted a National Intellectual Property Rights Policy dedicated to reinforcing ‘the strengths of IPRs to acquire both economic and social benefits’. At a first glance this new IPR policy looks like the last leg on a political and ideological journey that has taken India from independence in 1947 to a global economic power of the 21st century. My work within the Passim project will explore where this last leg leads, and what it says about the production and appropriation of knowledge in a postcolonial world.

In the 20th century India took a unique position in relation to global IPR policies. Beginning with the revision of India’s colonial IPR laws in the 1950s, India came to challenge a global patent agenda that was seen to serve the interests of industrialized economies at the expense of developing nations. In the following decades India carved out a space of agency within the increasingly globalized IPR regime. By adopting national patent laws that enabled local production of generic drugs, India not only served its domestic social need, but also became a supplier of generic drugs for other developing countries as well as vocal defender of global rights to medicine. Consequently, India was consistently targeted as a rouge state by American and European trade representatives and IP-organizations.

With the liberalization of the Indian economy and the increased globalization of the intellectual property rights in the 1990s, India took up a new route. After joining the WTO in 1995 India revised its IP laws to be TRIPS-compliant – a fact they consistently emphasize in the 2016 IPR-policy. In that regard, the new IPR policy seems to confirm that India has finally submitted to the global IPR-agenda. On the other hand, the 2016 IPR policy also highlights India’s role as a creator of IP, and it particularly emphasizes its rich body of traditional knowledge as a national resource of economic, cultural and social value that need to be protected against foreign exploitation. So while India’s new policymakers embrace the rhetoric of IP evangelism, they still emphasize national sovereignty and social needs.

This study departs from the assumption that India remains a proactive actor with its own agenda in the global IPR landscape, and it sets out to explore what that agenda is and how it is to be implemented. It thus remains to be seen whether India is looking to build a postcolonial or a post-postcolonial patent regime and what that means for the control and circulation of different forms of knowledge as patents.

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