Union Minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs & Food & Public Distribution and Textiles Piyush Goyal recently falsely claimed that 14.2 lakh trademarks were registered in four years (2016-20) as compared to 11 lakh trademark registrations during 75 years (1940-2015). FactChecker had a few days ago fact-checked that the number of trademarks registered between FY 2015-16 and FY 2019-20 were in fact 11,61,953 and not 14.2 lakh.

Moreover, the total number of registered trademarks in the years before that (till December 2015) stood at 11,97,743, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade's 2015-16 annual report. This means trademarks registered between 2016 and 2020 are almost as much as those registered in the previous 75 years. So, although Goyal's claim was false, it highlighted this feat.

If the number of trademarks registered during FY 2020-21 are also added, it shows that in the last five years India has managed to register 14.17 lakh trademarks. Here is the year-wise breakup of how many trademarks were filed, examined, registered and disposed.

In FY 2015-16, 65,045 trademarks were registered, while in FY 2016-17, there were 2,50,070 trademark registrations, which is 3.8 times higher than the previous year. The number of trademarks registered in 2017-18 was 3,00,913, 3,16,798 in 2018-19, 2,94,172 in 2019-20 and 2,55,993 were registered in FY 2020-21. Before we look at how these numbers grew, let's first understand the registration process of a trademark.

Trademark Registration Process

According to Section 2 (zb) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999, a "trade mark means a mark capable of being represented graphically and which is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those of others and may include shape of goods, their packaging and combination of colours".

The process of trademark application is followed in accordance with the Trade Marks Act, 1999 and The Trade Marks Rules, 2017, mentioned Goyal in an answer given in the Lok Sabha on September 21, 2020.

Once a trademark application is submitted, be it online or physical submission, it is queued for examination. Once examined, an examination report is issued to the applicant with or without objections as per law. If there are no objections, the application goes further ahead in the pipeline and gets published in the Trade Mark Journal, after which any person may file opposition against the published mark within four months. Once published, and if there are no objections within the prescribed four months, then a registration certificate is issued to the applicant within three weeks.

In case of any objections, the applicant has to submit their response within a month. In this case, the opposition is required to be disposed in accordance with due process of law, which is a quasi-judicial proceeding, according to the Lok Sabha response.

Goyal also mentioned in the response that, "The registration certificate for trademark is normally granted to the applicant within seven months from the date of filing of application, if no office objections are noted and no opposition is received after its publication in the Trade Marks Journal."

What's Behind the Huge Hike?

FactChecker spoke to Debanjan Chakravarty, Senior Examiner of Trademarks and G.I. at the Trade Marks Office in Kolkata. He said the department could achieve this feat owing to not a single but a bunch of factors that were focused at simplifying the process.

"There was inclusion of contractual employees, along with increase in manpower of the department, digitisation, simplification of the system and the process as a whole. So, there are several contributing factors," Chakravarty told FactChecker.

Digitisation: The period of examination of new trademark applications was brought down from 13 months to less than 30 days, according to the Summary of Achievements by the office of Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks (2014-15 to 2019-20) report. Also, now, a trademark is registered in about six months, if there is no objection or opposition filed, as opposed to 3-5 years required earlier and about 50% of the applications are accepted in the first stage as against only 7% earlier, the report mentioned.

"Yes, a considerable number of applications are being accepted in the initial stage itself because now most of the applications are digitised and they can be accessed online. So, when the database is proper, your search becomes easier and naturally the acceptance increases," said Charkravarty.

"Basically, before the digitisation process set in, the acceptance was so low because searching for trademarks itself would take a lot of time. Now everything is online, and with the click of a button other similar marks can be observed," he added.

Pending requests of examination awaiting disposal at various stages of the process has reduced from 14 months to less than 1 month, according to DPIIT's 2016-17 Annual Report. Online applications also increased from approximately 80% of the total applications in 2016-17, to 93% in 2019-20, showed the department's annual reports.

"We, officers, work on modules, and those too were made very simple for operational purposes. Otherwise, in these internal processes, there were 3 to 4 hierarchical steps involved where approval was needed. Now, since everything is done online, this process can be done in minutes. The transformation of the registration process helped tremendously in multiplying registration numbers," said Chakravarty.

Manpower: For examination of trademarks, between 2015-16 and 2018-19, 88, 100, 75, and 71 examiners of trademarks were hired each year on a contractual basis to speed up the process, according to annual reports of DPIIT.

"For example, if 10 persons are doing 10 things, then of course 100 people would lead to the completion of 100 different things," Chakravarty said.

New provisions: The registration process was also streamlined through provisions implemented in accordance with the Trade Marks (Amendment) Rules 2017. For instance, the number of forms were reduced from 74 to 8, according to DPIIT's 2017-18 Annual Report. Other implemented provisions include

· Prescribing one application form for all types of trademark applications

· Providing concessions to startups, individuals, and small enterprises,

· Inclusion of email as a mode of service

· Restricting number of adjournments of hearing to two

· 10% concession in prescribed fee for online filing of applications

· Video conferencing for hearings allowed

· Allowing expedited processing for trademark prosecution procedure

Startups: The definition of start-up was incorporated by the Union government, through an amendment in the Trade Mark Rules, 2017, Goyal mentioned in a response in the Lok Sabha on March 10, 2021.

In India, a total of 52,391 entities are recognised as startups by the DPIIT, said Minister of State for Commerce & Industry Som Prakash in a response given in the Lok Sabha on July 28, 2021. To facilitate trademarks for startups, the DPIIT also gives a 50% concession in statutory fees for filing applications and until February 28, 2021, 13,703 trademark applications filed by startups had availed the benefit. Of these, trademarks were granted to 6,353 startups, said Goyal in the March 10 LS response.

Additionally, Scheme for Facilitating Startups Intellectual Property Protection (SIPP) was launched in 2016 on pilot basis for a year to help startups "in filing and subsequent processing of their applications in Patents, Designs and Trademarks". However, this scheme was in force till March 31, 2020 and then extended till March 2023.

To implement the scheme, facilitators were empanelled by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (CGPDTM). "As on February 28, 2021, more than 900 facilitators have been registered with the office of CGPDTM, of which 392 have been registered for facilitation of trademarks under the scheme," read the LS response. The facilitators helped startups file 2,546 applications and this service was availed at a cost refundable by the government.