Constitutional Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights in India

This article has been written by Deepseng Shyam. Deepseng is currently a student in NLU Assam.

Intellectual Property and India has a good long history dating back to the ancient years of Indus Valley Civilization. Evidences show that in the Ancient Era, especially during the Indus Valley Civilization era, activities of town planning, entertainment industries, musical industry and others were highly prevailing and also trademarks have been also used to differentiate the products of the producers from one from another. If we take a look at the present scenario, Intellectual Property like trademarks, are used mainly by every market competitors to differentiate ones product from another. So it is safe to say that the idea to protect one’s product or service from another has been prevailing since the ancient times in India. Intellectual Property Law was first brought to mainstream in India by the British Empire by implementing the British Patent Act, 1852 when an applicant named George A. DePennings made the first application for a patent in India in the year of 1856, which subsequently gave effect in the making of the Act VI of 1856[1]. The recognition of Intellectual Property as a property by the Indian Constitution is vague and unambiguous. The Constitution of India does not openly declare an Intellectual Property as a property but at the same time it also does not reject the same.

The Indian constitution in its preamble permits mixed economy system and recognises the economic liberty as one of the most important liberty. This has been ensured through property system. If the term “property” used in the Indian Constitution is analysed it may mean any tangible property but it has a wider concept. Though, it absolutely includes intellectual property but indirectly. There was a time when “Right to Property” was a fundamental right enshrined in the Indian Constitution under Article 19 (f) but later it was substituted through the 44th amendment. However the substitution of Article 19 (f) didn’t mean the end of “Right to Property”, the insertion of another Article i.e. Article 300A through the 44th Amendment, changed it to a Constitutional right from fundamental right and due to this change any legislation violating the constitutional “Right to Property” could now be challenged only in High Courts and not directly in the Supreme Court. However, Intellectual Property as a form of property can be put under Article 300A dealing with property and be entitled to a legal right. Unlike the Indian Constitution, the United States Constitution specifically protects the Intellectual Property (Article 1(8) of the U.S. Constitutions which provides “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”). However, there is no such Intellectual Property clause in the Indian Constitution. While this means that Intellectual Property does not have special Constitutional status, it also means that there are no Constitutional restrictions on the power to make laws on Intellectual Property. Article 300A of the Indian Constitution provides constitutional safeguards against unlawful deprivation of property it is Article 253 that plays an important role in the context of Intellectual Property Rights as it mandates the recognition of the international aspect of laws, legislations, and agreements and empowers the Indian parliament to enforce the international treaties through law making process. Certain provision in Article 372 also validates the pre-constitutional law subject to certain condition laid down in the provisions. For instance: Article 372 (1) states that: “Nothingwithstanding the repeal……………all the laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this constitution shall continue in force therein until altered or repealed or amended by a competent legislature or other competent authority”.

Thus due to the presence of these Articles it became possible for the pre-constitutional Intellectual Property Rights laws to be in force in India and the adoption of various International treaties on Intellectual Property laws by the Indian legislation. For example, the repealing of 1911 Patent Act and the passage of new Patent Act, 1970 was due to Article 372 (1) of the Indian Constitution which authorizes the legislature or any competent body to repeal, alter or amend the pre-constitutional laws. Also, majority of the present Intellectual Property laws are influenced by the international laws, such as the present patent laws is the result of various international instrument like Budapest treaty, TRIPS agreement, UN convention on Biodiversity and others.

Article 31A protected the legislations providing for acquisition of estate or any right therein or their modification on the ground that it took away or abridged any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution. Article 31B restricted the scope for challenge on the plea of violation of fundamental rights. Intellectual Property, in its literal sense, means the things manifested from the exercise of the human brain, a product emerging out of the Intellectual labour of a human being. The two chief items are the writings of authors, and inventions made by the inventors. In its broadest sense, the term “Intellectual Property” includes ideas, concepts know-how, and other creative abstractions, and also, the literary, artistic, or mechanical expressions that embody such abstractions.

The basic difference between this form of property and other forms is that, in Intellectual Property the focus is on the produce of the mind, and not on the product itself. For example, in literary property (copy right) it is not the book which is termed property, but the intellectual creation, which comprises ideas, conceptions, sentiments, thought etc, fixed in a particular form that is considered property for protection. Traditionally only a few items were included in the category of Intellectual Property. At present, generally copyright, designs, patents, and trade mark are classified as Intellectual Property. But by the development of arts, science and technology, many new items have been included in this category.

Further, the mention of Intellectual Property system in the Entries of the Indian Constitutional further provide us with clues that Intellectual Property is indeed recognized by the Indian Constitution. Entry 12, 13, 14 has been rightly included in the List 1 of the 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Entry 49 of List I happens to be the specific one which has been totally and exclusively devoted to intellectual property system. Entry 49 recognizes only patents designs, copyright, trademarks and others. However, it does not recognize the concept of traditional knowledge, biodiversity, geographical indications and others but these categories of intellectual property rights can be included within the existing one. If we look into entry 97 of List I which read as follows “any other matter not enumerated in List II or List III including any tax not mentioned in either of those Lists” and Article 248 reads as “parliament has exclusive power to make any law with respect to any matter not enumerated in the concurrent List or State List”. Thus, it is safe to assume that Traditional knowledge can be included among other Intellectual Properties and are recognized by the Indian Constitution as Intellectual property.


The Constitution of India provides the necessary safeguard to protect the right to property in general and the agricultural property in particular[2].  For example, The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Right Act, 2001 is framed to make available a number of special safeguard measures to protect and promote the interests of the farmers in order to encourage the accelerated growth of the agricultural sector which will ultimately result into the overall growth of the Indian economy. Also the Biodiversity Act, 2002 is framed to provide safeguards to various biological resources like “plants, animals and micro-organisms and their genetic material and by-products (excluding value added products) with actual or potential use or value, but not human genetic material against being misused and other unfair commercial or non-commercial activities. In general it is enacted to protect against bio-piracy[3]. A case of such bio-piracy occurred when the US Patent Office granted the patent (Patent No. 5, 401 and 504) for turmeric to two expatriate Indians at University of Mississippi Medical Centre in 1995 which was subsequently challenged by the Indian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on the ground of “prior art” or “existing public knowledge”[4]. Although, the CSIR won their battle, this incident shows how traditional knowledge is vulnerable to bio-piracy and thus the need to protect it has grown increasingly.

[1] History of Indian Patent System, available on the official website of Intellectual Property India.  Link:

[2] Article 300A and Article 31A.

[3] Section 2 of Bio-Diversity Act, 2002.

[4] Daima, Dinesh. “Class on Trade Mark Law and Traditional Knowledge”. National Law University, Assam, Guwahati. 5th November, 2016. Class Lecture.

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