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DRDO’s open-handed policy to bolster Indian manufacturers

In our commercialized world, the concept of patents is a double-edged sword. It is a boon for some and bane for others. On one hand, it safeguards inventor’s interests, and on the other hand, getting a license for the same makes manufacturing the patented product an expensive affair for other business entities, especially small players in the market. Patent rights generally last for 20 years, after which, the window of opportunity for small manufacturers to capitalize on a useful invention, shrinks drastically.  

Keeping this in view, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), a top tier agency under the Ministry of Defence, Government of India has made some of its patents available without any license fee to Indian industries for encouraging indigenous production. The list includes patents related to life sciences, aeronautical systems, missile and strategic systems, armaments and combat engineering, system analysis and modeling, electronics and communication systems, naval systems and materials and computational systems. DRDO is a forerunner in the fabrication of advanced technology in different domains of science & technology. With free access to DRDO’s patents for some state-of-the-art technology, Indian business entities can manufacture and build upon the inventions to give a fillip to their growth. This flow of useful information that could earlier be utilized commercially only by obtaining licenses at substantial costs will now be free, almost free (non-refundable processing fee of Rs.1000 will be applicable).

However, it is best to understand that the process may not be as straightforward as it seems on papers. Yes, there is an eligibility criterion that clearly states that apart from being an Indian company, the applicant should be a manufacturing entity. This means that DRDO hasn’t opened its patent gates for trading companies. A screening committee will approve the grant of license to the applicant and once it is issued, the licensee will be able to use, manufacture or sell products/processes covered under the licensed patent.

Making patents available for free to Indian industries is certainly an unconventional step. Normally a closed approach is followed for disclosing technological details of strategically vital inventions by all the countries, including India. In fact, the US counterpart of DRDO, DARPA, is known to use the contentious Invention Secrecy Act, even for inventions developed privately, barring an award of a patent to any invention deemed by it as a threat to national security. In view of this, DRDO’s safe disclosure of some of its important inventions is a magnanimous initiative and a big leap for furthering the spirit of ‘Make in India’.

The Way Ahead: More than 400 patents have been listed by DRDO to help bridge the divide between IP creators and potential IP users. However, vigilance needs to be kept in order to prevent the openly available technology from slipping into the hands of the roguish elements. And, needless to say, transparency has to be ensured in the selection process. With DRDO’s heart in the right place, the baton is with Indian manufacturers who should now focus on their capacity building in order to absorb the technology obtained from patent licensing. It is only then that this initiative will bring out the envisioned outcomes.

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