Incomparable Innovative India

This article was originally published in Business World on April 24, 2017.

When it comes to innovative potential, few countries compare to India. The world’s largest democracy, India now also boasts the world’s fifth largest market economy, and the world’s second-largest population size of 1.3 billion.

But India has not yet lived up to that potential: when compared to other leading world market economies, India falls much further down the list as an exporter of goods – closer to 18th or 19th place. Despite a technical change in its World Bank status (from a developing country to that of a lower-middle income country), the fact remains that India lags behind other nations with regard to internet access and cell phone ownership and has less labor force participation than the global average. And in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index, India has consistently ranked among the bottom countries year after year. In many ways, India is still far behind where it could and should be.

However, now with the USTR nominee promising an aggressive posture on India’s IP regime, we may look at India taking a substantial stance on issues like slow and inefficient patents, theft of intellectual property, or insufficient property protection. It is time to address the issue of regulatory protections of biologics in the India-US trade agreements.

On the other hand, the choices India makes today will determine whether it can turn its innovative potential into economic reality. We believe that embracing strong intellectual property standards can make all the difference for India: The 2017 International IP Index just released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows that the world’s strongest economies also happen to have the strongest IP systems. Countries that invest in a system of strong IP laws, backed by strong enforcement and a supportive judicial system, experience a wealth of benefits. They attract and keep more foreign direct investment, foster more native innovative products and exports, have access to the latest technologies, and benefit from the best health systems with innovative cures for the greatest number of people.

No country can claim exclusivity on a strong IP model and the U.S. is far from the only country to adopt one: a pack of world leaders now sit at the top of the Index, including countries such as Japan and Singapore. These markets have seen the great value in investing in IP, and experienced the economic benefits. Rather than seeing IP as a foreign model to be adopted by some countries from others, I encourage all to see IP for what it is: an opportunity that countries can either seize or miss out on. IP is simply the vessel, or vehicle, that makes innovation possible.

Indian policymakers can think of IP tools – patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets – as a bucket that can be used to carry ideas to market. Just as a bucket full of holes won’t carry water, so too, a system full of exceptions, won’t successfully carry many ideas to market. The narrower the copyrights or patent rights that a country chooses to protect, the fewer the innovations that will result in the fields that rely on them. At the very least, an economy that fails to plug the holes in its bucket will fail to live up to its full potential. This explains what we see in India today.

The success of an IP system depends on its reliability. A strong intellectual property system must provide legal certainty that empowers innovators and artists to invest their time, money, and personal energy in creative and inventive works. Too many exceptions – too many holes in the bucket – jeopardize that reliability and result in a lot of spilled opportunities.

Indian policymakers have some choices before them: they can choose to keep discouraging innovation or they can plug the holes in India’s current ‘bucket’ – exceptions such as limiting the patentability of software innovations, or facilitating access to pirated movies and music online. India must also choose whether they will continue down its current path or give innovators a bigger bucket – robust IP laws based on 21st century standards – to take more ideas to market. We certainly hope that India chooses fully embrace its full innovative potential to carry a wealth of ideas to market.

The result could be a truly incomparable, innovative India.

Patrick Kilbride is the executive director of international intellectual property for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center.

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