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India’s IP status unlikely to improve in US Special 301 report

Notwithstanding the recent bonhomie of sorts between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama, India’s status as ‘Priority Watch List’ country for having an alleged weak intellectual property rights (IPR) and patents regime is unlikely to see any improvement in the US’ 2015 Special 301 Report.

The 2015 Special 301 Report is likely to be released on April 30. It is an annual review of the state of IPR protection and enforcement of America’s trading partners, which is issued by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR).

“The chances of improvement in India’s designation in the (Special 301) report looks bleak this year. It will not be worse either, is what we hope considering some of the measures the government has undertaken,” a senior official told Business Standard.

In Special 301 Report, the US designates certain countries under two categories – ‘Priority Foreign Country’ and ‘Priority Watch List’ for IPR violators and offenders. The first designation is meant for countries which are worst offenders and might face trade sanctions.

India has been designated as ‘Priority Foreign Country’ only once in 1994. It had been consistently featuring poorly in this report for having a weak IPR regime since 1989.

At present, the USTR’s office is accepting public submissions to be used in conducting the 2015 ‘Special 301’ review of the IPR practices of other countries. Apparently, this year, submissions have not seen “much appreciation” of the measures undertaken by the BJP-led government, sources said.

The submissions have been made by US trade and industry associations, companies and business chambers.

According to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), although India and US have set up a separate dialogue on IPR and market access, there are still a number of concern areas.

“PhRMA and its member companies remain concerned that India has implemented a number of negative policies that are inconsistent with the new government’s goals of fostering a spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship, and R&D growth. A sustained effort of heightened engagement is required in order to translate India’s commitments into substantive and real policy change in India’s intellectual property laws and policies,” said John J Castellani, CEO and president, PhRMA.

In the last Special 301 Report, the US had kept 10 countries in the ‘priority watch list’ – Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Venezuela.

Under pressure from its companies, especially from the pharmaceutical segment, the US has been threatening India since 2013 on putting it under ‘Priority Foreign Country’ label.

However, after coming to power last year, the BJP-led government has announced that it will roll out a National IPR Policy, the work for which has already begun. The policy is expected to be unveiled by the first half this year.

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