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Small Entity Status- Can Foreign Companies Claim It?

The government of India has been aggressively pushing for the development and promotion of entrepreneurship in the country. In the Intellectual Property Domain, various concessions have been made for small and upcoming entities. Organizations claiming a ”small entity” status or a “start-up” status while applying for registration are entitled to some additional benefits pertaining to fees and filing requirements.  Here, we briefly look upon the small entity status as per the Indian patent and design rules. 

Intellectual Property Related Government Initiatives to Encourage Small Entities & Startups

In 2020, the Scheme for Facilitating Start-ups Intellectual Property Protection, was launched as an experimental initiative to encourage start-ups to develop and protect their intellectual property, which was extended for a period of three years (April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2023).

Further, the Patent (Amendment) Rules, 2020[1] were notified on October 19, 2020 to simplify the procedure of submitting priority applications and their translations and filing of working statements under form 27. These changes were introduced in consequence to the Delhi High Court’s order in the case of Shamnd Bashir v UOI[2], that resulted in a stakeholder’s consultation.

On November 4, 2020 the Ministry of commerce and Industry[3], notified Patents (2nd Amendment) Rules, 2020[4], making additional filing and prosecution concessions for start-ups and small entities.  The status of start-ups was discussed critically, extending their life for up to ten years. These amendments are set to make protection of intellectual property affordable to every category and class of business. Finally, the government also notified Design Amendment Rules 2021,[5] which recognized start-ups as applicants. The current Locarno classification system[6] and simplified fee structure were introduced specifically to benefit small entities.


Categorization of ‘Entities’


1.1 Natural Person

Under the Indian Patent Act, natural person includes an individual human being. In this context, the patent application can be filed in the name of one or a group of individuals. Here, the inventorship and ownership lies solely with the inventor and he is entitled to:

  1. Sell
  2. Transfer
  3. License, or
  4. Commercialize their patent as per their want.

1.2 Small Entity

The Indian Patents Rule, 2003 under Rule 2(fa)[7] define ‘small entity’ as:

  • in case of an enterprise engaged in the manufacture or production of goods, an enterprise where the investment in plant and machinery does not exceed the limit specified for a medium enterprise under clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 7 of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006); and
  • in case of an enterprise engaged in providing or rendering of services, an enterprise where the investment in equipment is not more than the limit specified for medium enterprises under clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006).

In calculating the investment in plant and machinery, the cost of pollution control, research and development, industrial safety devices and such other things as may be specified by notification under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006), shall be excluded.

1.3 Start up:

A start-up is an entity recognized as a ‘startup’ by the competent authority under the Startup India initiative and fulfills all the criteria for the same.

A foreign entity shall fall under the category of start-up if it fulfills the criteria of turnover and specified period of incorporation/registration, and submission of a valid declaration to that effect as per the provisions of Start-up India initiative. (In calculating the turnover, reference rates of foreign currency of Reserve Bank of India shall prevail.)

As per the Notification of Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade[8], an entity is considered a start-up  

  1. Up to a period of ten years from the date of incorporation/ registration, if it is incorporated as a private limited company (as defined in the Companies Act, 2013) or registered as a partnership firm (registered under section 59 of the Partnership Act, 1932) or a limited liability partnership (under the Limited Liability Partnership Act, 2008) in India.
  1. Turnover of the entity for any of the financial years since incorporation/ registration has not exceeded one hundred crore rupees.
  2. Entity is working towards innovation, development or improvement of products or processes or services, or if it is a scalable business model with a high potential of employment generation or wealth creation.

Provided that an entity formed by splitting up or reconstruction of an existing business shall not be considered a ‘Startup’.

How to apply for Small Entity Status in India:


Any business can apply for the status of small entity under the MSME Development Act, 2006 at Subsequent to a successful registration the business shall be issued a Udyam registration certificate, that can be furnished as proof for availing various government subsidies and benefits. 

A foreign company can also register as an MSME on the same government portal. However, as a preceding step such a company shall register itself as per the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013[9].

Any Indian entity wishing to declare themselves as small entity for the purpose of Patent registration has to furnish the following documents:

  1. Form 28 of the Indian Patent Act:
  2. Proof of Registration Under MSME Act 2006 (Micro, small and medium enterprise development Act, 2006).
  3. Form 1 of the Indian Patent Act (if Fresh Patent Application is being filed).

Any Indian entity wishing to declare themselves as small entity for the purpose of Design registration:

  1. For an Indian entity to claim the status of small entity, it must be registered under the MSME Development Act, 2006.
  2. To file an application as a start-up, the entity should be recognized as startup by a competent authority under the Union government’s Start-up India Initiative.


Can a Foreign Company claim Small Entity Status in India?

On a plain interpretation of the requirements under the Patent rules and Design rules, it is clear that a foreign enterprise can claim the status of a small entity or a start-up, provided it is registered and incorporated in India and is engaged in the manufacture of goods and services as specified in the first schedule of the 2006 Act.[10]

Under the MSME Development Act, 2006 an enterprise is defined as:

enterprise” means an industrial undertaking or a business concern or any other establishment, by whatever name called, engaged in the manufacture or production of goods, in any manner, pertaining to any industry specified in the First Schedule to the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 (55 of 1951) or engaged in providing or rendering of any service or services;[11]

With an objective to incentivize the incorporation of OPC (One Person Companies), the Ministry of Corporate Affairs amended the Companies (Incorporation) Rules. The move empowers OPCs to grow without any restrictions on paid up capital and turnover, thereby facilitating their conversion into any other type of company at any time. Additionally, reducing the residency limit for an Indian citizen to set up an OPC from 182 days to 120 days and also allowing Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to incorporate OPCs in India has paved the way for foreign entities to enter Indian markets[12] [13].


Application Process for Small Entity Status in India? (Foreign Company):

Patent Rules

A foreign applicant seeking the status of ‘small entity’ for the purpose of filing patent in India, has to submit duly filled Form 28[14], along with the requisite documents of proof.

As per the requirements of Form 28, a foreign applicant has to attach evidentiary documents that verify their status as ‘small entity’ for the want of Rule 2 (fa) of the Patent Rules, 2003. For this purpose, the said documents can include a certified copy of financial statement from a Chartered Accountant, that proves that the investment in plant and machinery and the annual turnover of the entity on the date of filing the application does not exceed the limitations specifications under the MSME Development Act, 2006.

Design Rules

For the purpose of recognitions as a start-up the foreign entity should satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The entity must be a private limited company, limited liability partnership, or partnership firm.
  2. Its turnover at any point during the course of its business (from inception) should not exceed INR 100 crores (approximately USD 13.7 million as on date)
  3. The entity would be considered a start-up only for a period of 10 years from the date of incorporation.
  4. An entity formed by splitting up or reconstruction of an existing business shall not be considered a “Start-up”

For a foreign entity to claim the benefit of being a start-up, an affidavit (which under Indian practices would need to be notarized, although this has not been explicitly mentioned in the Amendment Rules) along with supporting documents must be submitted at the time of filing the application[15], to be submitted with Form 24[16] of the Designs Rules.



[2] writ petition No. WPC- 5590















Image Credits: Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels


On a plain interpretation of the requirements under the Patent rules and Design rules, it is clear that a foreign enterprise can claim the status of a small entity or a start-up, provided it incorporates itself under the relevant schemes and statutes and is able to furnish documents for proof to the same effect


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The Orphan Treatment of Orphan Drugs

“Orphan drugs” are pharmaceutical products used for the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of rare diseases. The definition of rare diseases varies from country to country. e.g. in the United States, a rare disease is defined as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people whereas in Europe it is less than one person per 2,000. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that a disease having fewer than 100 patients per 100,000 population is a rare disease. It is assessed that internationally, around 6000 to 8000 rare diseases are in existence with new ones being discovered quite regularly. Moreover, it is estimated that there are approx. 4000-5000 rare diseases for which there are no treatments available.

In India, the rare disease and disorder population is between 72 to 96 million and up to 450 rare diseases have been recognized[i]. Because rare diseases affect a very small population of individuals and the profit potential is poor, pharmaceutical companies often do not take much interest in developing molecules for the treatment of these diseases. The shelving of these molecules and ignorance of the small patient pool gave rise to the concept of ‘pharmaceutical orphans.’

Orphan drugs and policies in India

In India, almost all orphan drugs are imported. The primary reason being lack of infrastructure, high cost and time, no cost of return, and no clear policy on orphan drugs and rare diseases. Although the disquiet around the development of orphan drugs resulted in an Orphan Drugs Act as early as 1983 in the United States, India has lagged behind for decades with the first ‘National Policy on Treatment of Rare Diseases’ coming out as late as 2017. Further, there are no epidemiological data, no figures on the burden of rare diseases and morbidity and mortality associated with them. In fact, until last year, India did not even have a definition of ‘orphan drugs.’ The new Drugs & Clinical Trial Rules 2019 finally defined it as “a drug intended to treat a condition which affects not more than five lakh persons in India”.

Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019:

In March 2019 Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) released New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019. As per these new guidelines, local clinical trials (data) may not be required for orphan drugs permitted to be imported for sale or distribution. Further, the Expeditious Review Process could be sought for approval of a new drug after clinical development (applicable for Orphan Drugs). Furthermore, no fee shall be chargeable in respect of an application for conduct of clinical trial for orphan drugs.

New Drug Exemption Rule, 2019:

Further encouragement for orphan drug development could be seen in the New Drug Exemption rule released in January 2019. Under this rule, all new drugs patented in India were to be exempted from price control for five years. The five-year window starts from the date when the manufacturer starts commercial marketing in India. The Government has also exempted such drugs from price control that are used for the treatment of a disease that qualifies as Orphan Disease in the opinion of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (“Orphan Drug Exemption”). However, these rules are not devoid of shortcomings which may bring about issues during implementation. The requirement of the use of the exemption for five years from the “date of commencement of commercial marketing by the manufacturer in the country” is ambiguous as there is no legal definition of what amounts to ‘commercial or business marketing’ in India. The second issue that needs clarification is the exemption from price control available to ‘manufacturers’ of the patented new drug rather than the ‘drug’ itself. As a result, multiple manufacturers, importers, marketers of the same drug would seek to benefit from the exemption which could pose a challenge when the date of commercial marketing of different manufacturers would vary from each other. The third most important issue with absolute market exclusivity is that cost of orphan drugs per treatment episode could be extremely high.

Rare diseases as a public health issue

When a person contracts a rare disease, it not only puts an emotional strain on him/her, it also puts a heavy financial strain on his family. In addition to this, the unavailability of proper treatment remains a big challenge. Internationally, there are very few pharmaceutical companies, which are actively working on orphan drugs or rare diseases. And in India, the problem is more worrisome because there are hardly any pharmaceutical companies engaged in the development of these drugs. In addition, lack of awareness among the medical fraternity, lack of epidemiological data, lack of dedicated healthcare policies, schemes, and diagnostic facilities are some of the major hurdles that Indian pharmaceutical companies have to deal with.

The new drug exemption policy along with the CDSCO released new Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019 could provide the necessary impetus to the research and development of orphan drugs in India. However, there are still major strides that could be taken in line with other international governments which provide incentives ranging from tax credits to priority review vouchers in addition to fast track approvals by regulatory agencies, market exclusivity, fee reductions for regulatory approvals. Nevertheless, incentives should be balanced so as not to encourage pharmaceutical companies to exploit them to manufacture drugs for sub-categories of existing diseases to maximize profits by making existing drugs outrageously costly and inaccessible.

Hence, a more robust policy is imperative to devise a multipronged and multisectoral approach to build India’s capacity to tackle rare diseases comprehensively. Particularly, in areas of – obtaining requisite funding, creation of an extensive database, for cost estimation of the treatment; research and development for the treatment and diagnostic modalities, including through international/regional collaborations; training of health care providers; awareness generation; creating a conducive environment for drug development and measures for ensuring affordability of treatment, etc. With the necessary government action, hopefully, the orphan treatment of orphan drugs will minimize to give some respite to the patients.

A more robust policy is imperative to devise a multipronged and multisectoral approach to build India’s capacity to tackle rare diseases comprehensively.