The Central Government established the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) on the 15th of September 2003. The Board was constituted exclusively for hearing appeals related to the registrar's decisions as per the Trade Marks Act, 1999, Geographical Indications of Goods Act (Registration and Protection), 1999, Patents Act, 1970 and the Copyright Act, 1957. The Board consisted of individuals with expertise in the realm of Intellectual Property Rights and was established with an intention to adjudicate IP related matters effectively. The IPAB has been accredited for delivering several landmark judgements. However, owing to structural issues which impeded the overall functioning and retarded the rate at which matters were dealt with, the IPAB was dissolved. On the 4th of April 2021, the Hon'ble President of India promogulated the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021. Under this Ordinance, several tribunals were dissolved, and IPAB's functions were consigned to the judiciary. It was contended that having independent tribunals to decide IP-related matters would only add "an additional layer of litigation". Moreover, it was increasingly onerous to expedite the disposal of cases since additional administrative actions, such as filling up vacancies, had to be taken. Thus, such tribunals were considered to be redundant.
In July 2021, the bipartisan parliamentary standing committee on commerce, through its report that reviewed India's Intellectual Property Rights regime, suggested that the IPAB must be re-established. In its report titled 'Review of the IPR regime in India', V Vijayasai Reddy, an MP who headed the panel, stated as follows:
"The committee also opines that an inordinate delay in the appointment of officials at higher levels and the resultant pause in the functioning of the IPAB affected its optimal performance. The committee, therefore, recommends to the government that IPAB should be re-established, rather than being abolished, and should be empowered and strengthened with more structural autonomy, infrastructural and administrative reforms, as well as ensuring the timely appointment of officials and experienced manpower,"
The committee has opined that the abolition of the IPAB was an erroneous move. It was suggested in the report that the action "should be reconsidered in wake of its pivotal role in the adjudication of IPR appeals and cases". Furthermore, it was stated that the scrapping of the IPAB, which was involved in dealing with complex IPR related matters, may "create a void in the appellate resolution of cases leading to their shift to Commercial or High Courts thereby increasing pendency of cases". While the report does acknowledge the delay in appointing officials at the IPAB, which eventually impacted the performance of the Board, the report suggests that abolishing the IPAB is not the solution. Instead, it has been suggested that the IPAB should be re-established "rather than being abolished and should be empowered and strengthened with more structural autonomy, infrastructural and administrative reforms, as well as ensuring the timely appointment of officials and experienced manpower". Additionally, the report also notes how no judicial impact assessments were made before abolishing the IPAB. The report states that "the committee notes with distress the absence of any 'judicial impact assessment', or active consultations with stakeholders, being conducted by the government prior to the abolishing of tribunals under the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021,...It strongly recommends that the government, before scrapping of significant tribunals through an ordinance, should undertake a 'judicial impact assessment' along with wide consultations with relevant stakeholders to ensure building a systemic perspective on abolishing an established system in the country."
Several stakeholders have welcomed the decision to re-establish the IPAB in the legal fraternity. It is to be noted that time and again, the IPAB has delivered several landmark judgements, thus, making it an essential part of the IP ecosystem in India. In sum, the re-establishment of the IPAB may come with several benefits, and it could significantly solve IP related matters at an expedited rate. However, this is possible only if structural issues related to the IPAB are effectively solved. This includes recruiting experienced officers and using digital technologies to improve the functioning of the IPAB. With such changes in place, the IPAB could significantly contribute to the IP ecosystem in India.
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