India Must Build Intellectual Property
Without it, Make in India will not mean much
April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day. For most Indians, intellectual property is a combination of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Robin Hood. The French anarchist famously declared property to be theft. Indians, few of whom put in the hard slog required to create intellectual property, readily agree, and are eager to do to the owners of intellectual property what Robin Hood did to the rich. Karl Marx, no fan of property himself, pronounced Proudhon to be confused: you can steal something only if it already belongs to someone, meaning property must precede theft and so cannot be theft. Indians are equally wrong to disrespect intellectual property.
It is not enough to be formally compliant with global regimes on intellectual property rights. India is WTOcompliant on the subject. And its patent law’s Section 3(d), requiring a novel form of a patent-protected molecule to show improved therapeutic efficacy for it to secure a separate patent, is a model for the rest of the world, even if multinational pharma hates it. The problem in pharma is confined to a trigger-happy attitude towards compulsory licensing that eschews room for negotiated price reductions backed up with bulk purchase commitments orchestrated by the government. The emerging problem area is electronics, particularly telecom. Indian companies glibly disregard the need to license technologies, leading to legal disputes with patent holders. The larger problem is consistent failure by Indian firms to carry our research and development (R&D) that would create intellectual property. Trade, tariff and tax policies that discourage genuine domestic value addition and incentivise masquerading trade as manufacture, are to blame as well.
For Make in India to be something more substantive than simple assembly of complex parts produced elsewhere, India has to focus on domestic R&D and creation of intellectual property. Overhaul of university funding and focus, legal clarity on and protection of intellectual property and rational trade and tariff policy — action is called for on multiple fronts.