Invisible innovators

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We need a global patent system that protects grassroots inventors and ensures inclusive growth, writes Anil K Gupta

Developing countries have enormous opportunities to develop derivative innovations by using expired and abandoned patents. The Indian Patent Office recently started providing information on expired and abandoned patents, which small entrepreneurs, scholars and students may use. All patent offices should do the same. India’s Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI) has decided to put all expired patents and most of the US Patent and Trademark Office’s abandoned patents on open access for students and entrepreneurs.

Anil K Gupta, invisible innovators
Anil K Gupta

In many technological areas, such as electronics, computers, nano-technology and biotechnology, the rate of obsolescence is quite high. The length of life for patents should not be uniform in all domains. Similarly, there is a need to link related patents so that young scholars can study not only the patents that they have searched, but also those they may have missed because of limited lexicographic knowledge. Such facilities exist in many journal databases.

Grassroots innovators generally make incremental innovations and so require fast-track issuance of patents with perhaps a shorter length, fewer claims and nominal fees. The Australian Patent Office has tried something similar. This is broader in scope than petty patent systems. It should be possible to graduate from one patent system to another.

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ANIL K GUPTA is a scholar in the area of grassroots innovations, the founder of the Honey Bee Network, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and executive vice chair of the National Innovation Foundation. ANAMIKA R DEY, associate editor at Honey Bee Magazine, IIM Ahmedabad, and ZAIGHAM ALI KHAN, a former student at IIM Nagpur and an intern at IIM Ahmedabad under Gupta, contributed to this piece.