MUMBAI: The government promulgated an ordinance on April 4 to dismantle five appellate tribunals, including Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), which takes up disputes between companies on intellectual property, across fields of technology, engineering and pharmaceuticals.
The Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021 scraps IPAB, among other tribunals, with effectively now high courts expected to take up disputes of patents, trademarks and geographical indications, while copyright matters will be heard in commercial courts.
The move, which has come as a shock in legal circles, is possibly being done after the earlier plan of scrapping IPAB through the legislative route was strongly opposed, experts say, adding that it may lead to delays in settling cases.
The proposed bill, which was introduced in February in the Lok Sabha, sought to dissolve certain existing appellate bodies and transfer their functions (such as adjudication of appeals) to other existing judicial bodies. Through the ordinance, the government plans to dismantle these appellate tribunals with the objective of streamlining them.
The ordinance says “Any appeal, application or proceeding pending before the tribunal, appellate tribunal or other authorities specified in the schedule, other than those pending before the Authority for Advance Rulings under the Income-Tax Act, 1961, before the notified date, shall stand transferred to the court before which it would have been filed had this ordinance been in force on the date of filing of such appeal or application or initiation of the proceeding, and the court may proceed to deal with such cases from the stage at which it stood before such transfer, or from any earlier stage, or de novo, as the court may deem fit”.
Opinion is divided on the proposed move, with certain IP experts saying it will burden the already over-stretched high courts.
“The delays and pendency plaguing the IPAB have been mainly due to the long vacancies in the posts of its members due to the various legal challenges to the provisions concerning their appointment, or due to the delay in appointments. The transfer back to the high court may lead to additional burden on such courts, where their commercial division deals with varied commercial matters (not limited to intellectual property), and often do not have the requisite technical support (mainly in patents)”, a lawyer told TOI.
However, there is a section which believes the abolishment of IPAB is well-reasoned.
“The government has been struggling to find qualified persons for appointment to the IPAB. As a result it has gone for years without any appointment — this has caused severe backlogs. Secondly there have been complaints about the quality of adjudication because of the poor quality of appointments. Third, the IPAB is located only in two cities, which is simply not sufficient for a country like India where IP litigation takes place across the board,” T Prashant Reddy, an IP lawyer said.
The Ordinance amends the Cinematograph Act, 1952, Customs Act, 1962, Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, Trade Marks Act, 1999 and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, among others.