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US-Indian IP Pact Boosts Cooperation

Bilateral trade between India and the US has increased exponentially over the past two decades, and gathered a full head of steam last year. In March 2006, US president Bush visited India for a meeting with prime minister Manmohan Singh on increased global partnership between the two nations. This was well received and very successful. This meeting was followed by meetings of the CEO Forum, the Trade Policy Forum and the Commercial Dialogue and High Technology Group, a clear indication of the two countries’ desire to work together.

In May 2006, US IP rights coordinator Chris Israel visited India to discuss the Bush administration’s framework for engaging India in relation to IP and trade. The official explained that there are three key areas of the strategy, including bilateral cooperation, education and private sector engagement. Israel also visited India in November. Amongst other matters, he explained that the two countries want to double bilateral trade every three years. Bilateral trade between the two countries has now reached $25 billion, from 2.8 billion 25 years ago. Although US foreign direct investment in India reached $6.2 billion in 2004, there is room for improvement. The purchasing power of Indian consumers has expanded over the past ten years and American companies are keen to sell more goods in India.

However, IP protection and enforcement is of paramount importance to realize that target, as Franklin Lavin, US under secretary of commerce for international trade, outlined in December. He noted that India’s patent and copyright laws are outdated compared to the world standard.

The year ended on the highest note when the US under secretary of commerce for IP and the secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India signed an historic memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation on IP in December. The MOU is a direct response to the objectives of President Bush and Prime Minister Singh, and to the host of meetings on trade and cooperation conducted in the past year.

The MOU is considered to be the first between the US and India to be related to IP, and it is hoped that it will improve the sharing of best practices and other cooperation. The MOU should promote innovation and development through the establishment of a solid IP rights regime. Among the directives outlined are cooperation on capacity building, human resource development, and public awareness of intellectual property. The US will help train Indian patent and trade mark examiners, and also produce a manual outlining good patent practice for examiners and the public. To achieve this, action plans have been put into place to establish specific areas of cooperation, which may be reviewed and renewed every two years.