Author: Siddharth Varshney
Citation: The Tribunal Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of service) Bill, 2021 <https://prsindia.org/files/bills_acts/bills_parliament/The%20Tribunals%20Reforms%20(Rationalisation%20and%20Conditions%20of%20Service)%20Bill,2021.pdf >
The Government of India in February 2021 introduced the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of service) Bill, 2021 in the House of the People (Lok Sabha), but the Bill could not be taken up for consideration in that House. Thereafter, the President, in exercise of his powers under Article 123(1) of the constitution has promulgated the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 (“the Ordinance”).
The Ordinance abolishes a number of tribunals including Intellectual Property Appellate Board (“IPAB”). The Ordinance aims to streamline the appeal process for IP disputes and provide a mechanism for filing appeals directly to the commercial court or the High Courts, as the case may be. This review of the said Bill will be exclusively focusing on scrapping of the IPAB and resultant changes in the appeal procedure for IP disputes.
Objects and Reasons of the Bill:
The Bill mentions, under its Statement of Objects and Reasons, that the decision to abolish the tribunals was taken after the government’s analysis of tribunals’ data for the last three years. The Bill mentions that tribunals in several sectors have not necessarily led to faster justice delivery, thus, working at a considerable expense to the exchequer. The Bill is driven by the object of streamlining the judicial process by increasing the delivery of justice and saving considerable expense to the exchequer.
More importantly, the Bill clarifies that the tribunals proposed to be abolished by the Bill are those which handle cases in which public at large is not a litigant or those which neither take away any significant workload from High Courts nor provide speedy disposal. The lack of achieving finality of orders by these tribunals and the further litigation to the High Courts and even the Supreme Court, thus increasing litigation, is stated to be another reason why the Bill seeks to abolish these tribunals. Moreover, separate tribunals require administrative action in terms of filling up of posts and such other matters, and any delay in such action further delays disposal of cases.
The observations by the government in the Objects and Reasons of the Bill are a welcome one and clearly showcases the seriousness of the government in halting inefficient expenditure of the public money as also in increasing the speed of justice delivery.
Shortcomings of IPAB:
The IPAB was constituted in 2003 to look into appeals from Registrar under The Patents Act, 1970, Trade Marks Act, 1999, Geographical Indication of Goods Act, 1999 & the Copyright Act, 1957.
Tribunals, including the IPAB, were established for the supposed expertise into technical matters and the consequent lessening of burden in regular courts. However, the opposite has stood to become true, especially of the IPAB. Considering the inefficiency of IPAB in delivering justice and in reducing significant workload from the High Courts which otherwise would have adjudicated such cases, the Bill proposes to scrap IPAB in its entirety and replace it with respective High Courts and Commercia Courts, as the case maybe.
The step to abolish IPAB is taken in view of increasing backlog of IP disputes and lack of timely disposal of the matters. This step also helps in speedy trial of the IP disputes at the High Courts, as IPAB acted just as an additional layer of litigation and many cases did not achieve finality at the tribunal level. Moreover, the exchequer can relocate the funds earlier utilized on the Appellate Board and its infrastructure to the High Courts for timely disposal of such matters.
Amendments enacted through the Ordinance:
The Ordinance substitutes the terms ‘Tribunal’ or ‘Appellate Board’ under the Copyright Act, 1957, the Patents Act, 1970, Trade Marks Act, 1999, Geographical Indication of Goods Act, 1999, and the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (“the Acts”) with the term ‘High Court’ in all relevant sections of these Acts. Accordingly, as per the Ordinance any appeal arising under the said Acts now lies with the High Courts, which has the jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter. The Ordinance has also repealed certain sections which specifically dealt with Appellate Tribunal in the said Acts.
Moreover, as per Clause 15 (viz. Transitional Provision) in the Ordinance, any appeal or application pending before IPAB are transferred to the Courts, under which such appeal, application would have been filed had this Ordinance been in force on the date of filing of such appeal or application. Further, the Ordinance has granted power to such Courts to deal with such transferred cases from the stage at which it stood before such transfer or from any earlier stage, as the Court may deem fit.
The move by the government to abolish several tribunals, including IPAB, is positive and based on a cogent analysis of the functioning of the tribunals in question. In the short term, though, the burden upon the High Courts is certainly set to rise owing to the transfer of files to the High Courts. This will increase the caseload on the already overburdened High Courts. It remains to be seen therefore, whether the move will achieve its intended objectives.
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