Mera Bharat Innovative

na dashamalav bhaarat to
yuun chaand pe jaanaa mushkil tha
dharatii aur chaand kii duurii ka
andaaz lagaanaa mushkil tha 

India had not given the world the decimal, it would have been difficult to
estimate the distance between the earth and the moon)
(lyrics from the 1970 movie Purab aur Paschim) 

Was it
pure coincidence that someone was playing this song in the office during my
interaction on innovation with a Nasscom official?
It seems strange that India, which has had a history of innovation (at least
that’s what our history books and the Amar Chitra Katha comics told us), is
trying hard to make a name for itself as the innovators paradise. The big
question: Is innovation happening in India? And I will restrict myself to the IT
domain, for obvious reasons. The answer to the big questions is just a simple
word-Yes.  But… it’s not so
simple, obviously.

While innovation might
involve a lot of things from patents to process innovation to new products, I
will like to put it to a single benchmark called patents, as this is easily
quantifiable. And, while a large number of patents are being filed out of India
(that’s the good news), a majority of these come from MNCs (the not so good
news). As per DQ Top20, MNCs like TI, ST Micro, Cisco, and Intel head the list
of companies filing plus 100 patents, while Sasken seems to be the only Indian
company filing more than 50 patents over a period of time. While I am not
against MNCs filing a majority of the patents as they are developing the
necessary eco-system, and it will sooner or later spread to other
companies/startups. My concern is that the solutions/products that come out of
these centers are usually for problems specific to Western countries and may not
benefit India, with nearly one-fifth of the global population. Also, if the
solution has an India market component, it will usually be developed with a
similar outlook.

For instance, take our
aspiration of taking the PC to the people: one of the most talked solutions, the
Low-cost PC. Affordable but not useable and, hence, dud. Why can’t we look at
a 3-5k device, which can connect to TV and also be used as a PC? Incidentally,
Prof Jhunjhunwala is experimenting such a device in his campus.

So, what is stopping us
becoming an innovator’s paradise; not only solve global problems but also
local issues? Is it culture? Or do we blame lack of regulations for this? Hey
what about no market potential? Is funding the culprit?
I think it is a mix of all. Look at the culture issue. I think this is the key
and related to other issues like regulation. So, unlike the US, where there is a
clear regulation for technology transfer from research institutes to corporates,
in India, technology transfer is still in the grey area realm. Also, companies
with high R&D culture have embedded practices which gives a further fillip
to R&D. Apparently, in one of the leading mobile company’s R&D
department, a person who has filed more than 30 patents gets a gold plated edge
on his/her ID card. And more of these measures are practiced in other companies
with a high R&D culture. In academic institutes where such culture exists,
touch with reality is an issue. While intellectual property is being developed,
lack of industry participation ensures that such technologies do not move beyond
the campuses. However, in recent times, academia-industry participation has
started to happen, but it’s still a long way to go.

Finally, I think we, as
media, are also partly to blame. A TCS, Infosys and Wipro is certainly more
exciting news rather than few startups in the IITs. Even if a story is done
about interesting innovative companies, it is usually a one off event and then
conveniently forgotten till the next year.

DQ has started an
innovation section and will do regular coverage of innovative companies. Do let
me have your feedback on innovations around you, either companies doing exciting
work or innovative practices being followed by companies, and your suggestions
on how we can make ‘Mera Bharat Innovative’

Yograj Varma, associate editor, Dataquest

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