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Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, June 5, 2024, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has once again placed India on the 'Priority Watch List' in its 2024 Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and Enforcement. The US agency has continued to place India on the 'Priority Watch List' along with Argentina, Chile, China, Indonesia, Russia and Venezuela for lacking requisite IPR protection and enforcement. Now, these countries will be the subject of particularly intense bilateral engagement during the coming year. USTR is the US government agency responsible for developing and recommending United States trade policy to the President of the US. The USTR releases the Special 301 Report annually, highlighting the state of IP protection and enforcement regimes in various countries it trades with. While retaining India on Priority Watch List, the USTR, which conducted the Special 301 Review to identify countries that deny adequate and effective protection of IPR, stated that India remains "one of the world's most challenging" major economies with respect to the protection and enforcement of IP. Problems cited by the USTR include high online piracy, huge trademark opposition backlog, and insufficient protection for trade secrets. While conceding that there has been progress under the US-India Trade Policy Forum in addressing certain issues with trademark infringement investigations and pre-grant opposition proceedings, the USTR in its Report said that numerous long-standing concerns remain. These include inadequate IP enforcement, including high rates of online piracy, an extensive trademark opposition backlog, and insufficient legal means to protect trade secrets. Among other things, India still needs to fully implement the WIPO Internet Treaties and to ensure that copyright statutory licenses do not extend to interactive transmissions.

In USTR’s own admission, India has been making steady progress in the area of IP enforcement. The Indian government has always maintained that its intellectual property laws were in strict adherence to the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and that it was not bound by any global rules to make changes in its laws. But unfortunately, instead of removing the country from the list, the USTR has been placing India on the Priority Watch List of countries for many years, which indicates that serious problems exist in the country with respect to IP protection, enforcement, or market access for Americans relying on IP. There can be no two opinions about the fact that India has made rapid progress on the IPR environment which is clear from the fact that India acceded to the WIPO internet treaties. Besides, the Indian Patent Office has continuous been taking efforts to improve operational efficiencies and the country has significantly increased the pace of patent examination. But unfortunately, while finalizing the Special 301 Report, the USTR seems to have conveniently overlooked the substantial and consistent progress made by India on number of issues on which the US companies have for long been raising apprehensions and concerns including that of IP environment in India. In the Report, the USTR itself has admitted that India has made some remarkable progress on the IP front. But, at the behest of the big American pharmaceutical corporations, the US administration once again chose to place India in the Priority Watch List. In fact, the Indian patent law and its application does not deny adequate and effective protection of IPR; nor does it deny fair and equitable market access to the US pharmaceutical industry which relies on IP protection. After making such rapid progress, the USTR should have removed India from the Priority Watch List this year. The USTR should now revisit its decision to place India on the 'Priority Watch List'.

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