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 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, that resulted in a stakeholder’s consultation.
On November 4, 2020 the Ministry of commerce and Industry, notified Patents (2nd Amendment) Rules, 2020, 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, which recognized start-ups as applicants. The current Locarno classification system 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:
- License, or
- Commercialize their patent as per their want.
1.2 Small Entity
The Indian Patents Rule, 2003 under Rule 2(fa) 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, an entity is considered a start-up
- 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.
- Turnover of the entity for any of the financial years since incorporation/ registration has not exceeded one hundred crore rupees.
- 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 udyamregistration.gov.in. 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.
Any Indian entity wishing to declare themselves as small entity for the purpose of Patent registration has to furnish the following documents:
- Form 28 of the Indian Patent Act:
- Proof of Registration Under MSME Act 2006 (Micro, small and medium enterprise development Act, 2006).
- 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:
- For an Indian entity to claim the status of small entity, it must be registered under the MSME Development Act, 2006.
- 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.
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;
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 .
Application Process for Small Entity Status in India? (Foreign Company):
A foreign applicant seeking the status of ‘small entity’ for the purpose of filing patent in India, has to submit duly filled Form 28, 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.
For the purpose of recognitions as a start-up the foreign entity should satisfy the following criteria:
- The entity must be a private limited company, limited liability partnership, or partnership firm.
- 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)
- The entity would be considered a start-up only for a period of 10 years from the date of incorporation.
- 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, to be submitted with Form 24 of the Designs Rules.
 writ petition No. WPC- 5590
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