Infosys, TCS lead in Indian tech patent applications

The biggest filer of technology patents in India is not an Indian firm, but the US chip-maker Qualcomm, India’s Controller General of Patents and Trademarks, PH Kurian has revealed.

Kurian said IT and telecom companies accounted for 5,500 of the 39,500 patent applications filed in 2010-11 in India, but only 150 of these applications came from Indian firms.

“As a proportion of the total filings, it is just around 0.37%, which is very low for a country like India,” Kurian said at a workshop on intellectual property rights in New Delhi.

Among the handful of IT companies that did file are Infosys Technologies, TCS (Tata Consultancy Services), Samsung India, New Gen Software etc., he said.

“We have technology companies that make half a billion dollars in profit.., but don’t create Intellectual Property because they are primarily focused on making money.. by offering cheaper services. They don’t invest in technology,” Kurian said, adding that the stage has come “when Indian companies seem to be realizing that you cannot grow without innovation.”

Unlike the US, Indian law considers software code as less of an invention and more of a literary work and are therefore protected under the copyright laws. Many technology industry veterans therefore argue that the regime allows companies to steal software technology by rewriting the code from scratch, known as ‘clean room’ re-engineering.

Kurian said this may be a factor in the poor track-record of patent-filings by Indian companies. “In some cases, I know some of our software companies are filing outside India because we are stricter about software patents,” he said.

He said that despite boasting of one of the largest and most sophisticated brain resources in the World, India is unacceptably low in the innovation scale. He estimated the number of professional research people at 3-4 lakhs, but pointed out the number of patent filings is disproportionate to the number of R&D professionals in the country.

Some of this, he pointed out, may be due to the fact that commercial innovation in India happens in the captive research centres of big companies who have offices in the IT clusters of Bangalore, National Capital Region etc..

“The IP [intellectual property] generated by these clusters are entering India through PCT route,” he pointed out, referring to the filing of patents for these inventions by the foreign mother company at its home location, most often in the US. The patent is then made applicable in India through the global patent sharing mechanism or PCT.

“So quantity of Indian R&D personnel is not getting reflected in the global statistics,” he said, “It is a stage we have to pass through. But we have to mature out of it,” he urged.