Joff Wild

And so to India. After the snow and biting cold of winter time in the UK, it is a pleasure to find myself in Bangalore, where a warm sun shines out of blue skies. It’s my first visit to the country and I am here to take part in the Global IP Convention. It’s one of the biggest IP events in India with an attendee list comprising local professionals and their in-house and private practice counterparts from overseas.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of members of I–HIPP (In-House Intellectual Property Professionals), which as the name suggests is a forum specifically for Indian in-house IP counsel to discuss issues of common concern and to help inform IP decision-making in both the corporate and governmental spheres.  The meeting was organised by Mr JLN Murthy, a prominent member of the group, and brought together a number of its senior members.

Over the course of an hour and a half we talked through a number of issues – monetisation, valuation, litigation, prosecution, etc, both in India and overseas – as well as discussing the current state of play for the IP market in India. Something that I found particularly interesting was that many of those in the room did not have a formal legal qualification; instead their backgrounds were in science and engineering, reflecting the fact that a lot of the work that in-house counsel do in India, especially on the patent side, revolves around prosecution, rather than enforcement and licensing. Times are changing, though, and as in other parts of the world, IP is moving up the priority list - India is at the very beginning of the process, but look out for more patent-related disputes (beyond the pharma sector) and a greater focus on IP value creation over the coming years.

Although India has long had IP laws on its statute books, companies themselves have not really focused on rights creation and exploitation up to now – as can be seen by the low numbers of domestic applications the country’s patent and trademark office receives, and the tiny number of applications that Indian companies make abroad. But it is clear that this is going to change.  When it does the roles that in-house IP professionals play may also have to develop. And, in many ways, India has an advantage here (as do other countries in which the specific IP in-house role is relatively rare). Whereas in large parts of Europe and throughout North America, the in-house IP counsel is an established position within the general corporate legal structure, in India it is not. But with more of the country's companies now looking to develop an IP function there is an opportunity to by-pass the silos and restrictions that you find elsewhere to put IP where it should be: right at the heart of business.

Put it this way: the London Underground system has just celebrated its 150th anniversary - the tunnels were dug and the track was laid many years ago. As a result, modernisation is one hell of a job, in terms of time and investment. In Indian cities, such as Bangalore, they are only now in the process of constructing mass transport systems. That means they have the chance to install the most up-to-date facilities, using the most modern methods. Hopefully, this will mean a much more efficient and stress-free infrastructure than the creaking tube system that millions of Londoners suffer every day. It could surely be the same with IP. The long-established hierarchies and reporting lines that you find in so many western companies in which IP has been part of the landscape for decades just do not exist in India; so there is the chance to avoid creating them in the first place. If that happens, it should mean the country’s companies will be well placed to put their IP to work as effectively as possible, so maximising its value as an asset. That task is so much harder in companies where they have always done what they do now.

Of course, the theory is one thing, in practice it may well turn out different. The key, as it is elsewhere, is in getting senior management to see the potential that there is in IP, both from a direct monetisation perspective, as well as in myriad other areas. And, as is also the case elsewhere, it will be down to IP professionals, such as the members of I-HIPP, to make that case. This will mean speaking the language of business, rather than the language of legal and technical IP.

Putting your head above the parapet is always a daunting task, but the opportunities for IP people in India willing (and able) to do this are immense. There is no doubting the country’s extraordinary innovation potential, but for this to be fully realised IP has to play a much greater role than it has up to now. There are some great examples in various parts of the world for Indian companies to follow in this regard; while there are also any number of warning stories. If they realise this, and learn the lessons of others’ successes and failures, the IP future for Indian companies could be very bright indeed.