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Intellectual Property Rights in India

Understanding and safeguarding intellectual property (IP) rights is crucial when engaging in or already conducting business in India—a market of significant priority for the UK. This comprehensive guide aims to illuminate the nuances of IP, offering practical insights on its application within the Indian market. It not only delves into the broader concept of IP but also furnishes strategies to adeptly navigate challenges related to IP infringement in India. Additionally, it provides actionable advice on effectively addressing these issues and directs towards valuable resources for further assistance.

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What are intellectual property rights?

Intellectual property (IP) encompasses brands, inventions, designs, and various creations that individuals or businesses hold legal rights to. Nearly every business possesses some type of IP, constituting a valuable asset for the business.

Common types of IP include:
  • Copyright: Protects written or published works like books, songs, films, web content, and artistic creations.
  • Patents: Safeguards commercial inventions, such as new business products or processes.
  • Designs: Preserves designs, encompassing drawings or computer models.
  • Trademarks: Defends signs, symbols, logos, words, or sounds distinguishing your products/services from competitors’.
  • Intellectual property (IP) can be either registered or unregistered.
  • Unregistered IP automatically grants legal rights over your creation, including copyright, unregistered design rights, common law trademarks, database rights, confidential information, and trade secrets.
  • Registered IP requires application to an authority (e.g., the Intellectual Property Office in the UK) for recognition. Failure to register leaves your creations open to exploitation. Registered forms include patents, registered trademarks, registered design rights, and copyright (also registerable).

International considerations

India became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. As a WTO member, countries are obliged to incorporate certain intellectual property (IP) protections into their domestic laws. Consequently, when conducting business with India, you’ll notice certain resemblances between the local IP laws and enforcement procedures and those implemented in the UK.

International agreements and mutual arrangements

India is part of key international IP agreements:

  • Paris Convention: Allows individuals from signatory states to apply for patents or trademarks in other signatory nations, enjoying equivalent rights as nationals of those countries.
  • Berne Convention: Recognizes the copyright of authors from member states similarly to its own nationals.
  • Madrid Protocol: Enables filing a single trademark application nationally, extending protection across multiple countries.
  • Patent Cooperation Treaty: Facilitates obtaining national patent applications across different jurisdictions via a centralized system.
    India isn’t part of the Hague Agreement, which permits design protection across multiple countries through a single filing.

Intellectual property rights frameworks in India

India, as a member of the Berne Convention on copyright, suggests registering your copyright as it can serve as evidence of ownership during criminal proceedings against infringers. However, in most instances, registration isn’t obligatory to pursue a copyright infringement claim in India. Registration occurs either in person or via a representative at the Copyright Office, which has been under India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry since 2016. The Department for Industrial Property and Promotion (DIPP) oversees all intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the country.

Internet piracy of films, music, games, and software, alongside unauthorized copying of physical books, remains a notable concern in India.


India’s Patents Act of 1970, alongside the 2003 Patent Rules and the 2016 Patent Amendment Rules, govern the patent law. Unlike the UK, there’s no provision for utility model patents in India. The Patent Registrar, under the office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks within India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, oversees patents. These patents remain valid for 20 years from the application date, contingent upon annual renewal fees.

India operates on a ‘first to file’ principle in patent law. If two individuals file applications for an identical invention, the first applicant secures the patent.


Designs in India are regulated by the Designs Act 2000 and the Designs Rules 2001. These designs hold validity for up to ten years, with an option for a five-year renewal period.


India’s trademark laws include the 1999 Trade Marks Act and the Trade Marks Rules of 2002 and 2017. The Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks, overseen by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, governs trademarks. Police enforcement of trademark law now involves enhanced powers, enabling warrantless searches and seizure of suspected counterfeit goods. However, police action requires the Trade Mark Registrar’s opinion, leading to potential delays in addressing counterfeit products.

Trade names, irrespective of existing ones, enjoy protection in India, particularly for those trading under their surname. To combat ‘cybersquatting‘—the bad faith registration of domain names—owners are advised to promptly register their domain names as trademarks in India. Registration typically spans two years, with trademarks initially valid for ten years, extendable indefinitely in ten-year intervals.

Registering and upholding intellectual property rights in India

Registering intellectual property rights in India is key for their protection. Patents require individual registration in India, although options like the Patent Cooperation Treaty streamline the process for certain rights. Trade marks benefit from registration within India through the domestic system or under the Madrid system. While copyright registration isn’t mandatory, it’s recommended for added protection. Leveraging ‘priority rights‘ from the Paris Convention facilitates local registration by recognizing previously registered rights from elsewhere if filed within a specified timeframe.

Enforcing IP rights in India

IP rights enforcement in India involves civil court actions or criminal prosecution. The procedures for both are delineated in India’s IP laws and the Competition Act, excluding patent and design infringements from criminal proceedings. Civil litigation may not yield substantial damages or punitive measures, but it can lead to injunctions to halt infringement pending case outcomes. While copyright piracy and trademark cases often result in damages, patent cases less so. However, judiciary decisions favoring foreign companies against local infringers indicate impartiality.

In criminal cases, the Indian Government typically takes action, although complaints by rights owners to magistrates or police authorities often initiate proceedings. Criminal actions offer sterner penalties like fines and imprisonment. Alternative dispute resolution through mediation or negotiation with infringers can be effective, supported by the formal mediation process in the Civil Procedure Code.

Self-help considerations

To deter infringers from copying your product, consider these measures

  • Evaluate the product’s design to prevent easy reproduction.
  • Implement robust IP clauses in employee contracts and educate staff on IP rights.
  • Employ secure methods to protect and dispose of sensitive materials and equipment.
  • Prevent packaging leaks that counterfeiters might exploit.
  • Monitor production to prevent genuine products from being sold under different names.

Challenges in India and their solutions

India’s IP legislation comprehensively covers all facets of IP protection, undergoing recent amendments primarily due to its World Trade Organization accession in 1995. While the legal framework aligns comparably with European IP laws, enforcing these regulations remains a significant challenge. Bureaucratic delays contribute to extensive backlogs in civil and criminal courts, elongating cases to five years or more, compounded by transparency issues, especially at local levels.

The Indian IP landscape is characterized by numerous small-scale infringers, resulting in smaller seizures that demand sustained, resource-intensive efforts to have a substantial impact. A notable advantage for UK businesses in India lies in the legal system’s foundation on common law, akin to that in the UK, offering a degree of familiarity in fundamental processes.

Avoiding problems

Prepare thoroughly to safeguard your IP rights in India:

  • Seek advice from Indian IP experts early on for proactive protection.
  • Refer to Indian IP publications and websites for valuable insights.
  • Conduct risk assessments and due diligence on entities you engage with.
  • Rely on professional advice from lawyers, diplomatic posts, Chambers of Commerce, and UK India Business Council.
  • Learn from businesses already operating in similar domains in India.
  • Collaborate with agents, distributors, and suppliers to fortify your rights.
  • Verify previous registrations of your marks or IP with trademark or patent attorneys in India.
  • Maintain familiar business practices without succumbing to alterations just because of a different trading environment.

Who should take responsibility for your IP protection?

Ensure collective responsibility within your business for IP protection. As IP stands as a vital asset for many businesses, assign proper attention to it from both management and employees, as well as external business associates. Consider designating a manager, especially in legal departments, to spearhead understanding and protection of your IP rights.

Seek IP assistance in India from

  • Indian IP attorneys or law firms specializing in IP.
  • Intellectual Property Office in India.
  • UK India Business Council for guidance and resources.
  • Local Chambers of Commerce for support and advice.
  • Consultations with trade organizations and industry-specific experts.

Read also: Intangible Assets

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