October 2017

'Frugal functionality and design is a pan-India cultural advantage'

Dr Gopichand Katragadda, group chief technology officer, Tata Sons, and member of the Government of India’s Task Force on Innovation, describes how India can develop and strengthen its innovation ecosystem.

The Government of India’s Task Force on Innovation has the mandate to enhance the innovation ecosystem in India and improve India’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index. How does it plan to achieve its objective?
The Global Innovation Index includes input metrics which are lead indicators of innovation, and output metrics which are tangible outcomes of innovation. The innovation task force members individually worked on specific input and output metrics for improvements in the Indian context. My inputs were in the area of knowledge creation, intellectual property, cultural and regulatory framework, leveraging Indian markets and pointers to state-level implementation.

Currently, NITI Ayog has undertaken an exercise to develop the India Innovation Index in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The India Innovation Index accounts for inputs from the Innovation Task Force, and aims to foster healthy competition among states to increase innovation. I am also a member of the advisory committee on this.

India has outperformed many of its peer countries and become an emerging centre of innovation in Asia. How can it further accelerate its progress?
In order to achieve India’s innovation potential, specific actions are required in four key areas related to knowledge and technical output:

  • Revamp education to include experiential learning
  • Speed up intellectual property processes
  • Create a regulatory framework to improve national work culture and to go beyond ideas to hands-on implementation
  • Leverage the power of Indian markets

To promote innovation, the education system must be inclusive, promote all-round capabilities, and produce the next generation of innovators who can overcome the hand-mind-market barrier. Graduate programmes should be revamped for research excellence with a mix of fundamental and applied research. A critical avenue for graduate programme excellence is enhanced industry-university partnerships. Today the government funding per researcher at these universities is on par with developed economies. It is time now for the government to mandate university-industry collaborations as criteria to access some of these funds and also use strategic intellectual property as a metric of success on these projects. The Government of India’s key programmes that will support India’s innovation capabilities are: Uchchatar Aviskhar Yojanaand Impacting Research, Innovation and Technology. These programmes mandate or encourage industry participation. The outcomes of these programmes should be monitored with clear metrics on intellectual property creation. The government should similarly mandate DRDO, CPRI, CSIR, and other such institutions to increase partnership with industry in developing technology of national importance.

  • Set up a programme similar to the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme. The SBIR programme is a highly competitive programme that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal research and development that has the potential for commercialisation. Through a competitive awards-based programme, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialisation. By including qualified small businesses in the nation's R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated and the nation gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs.
  • Identify a few (five) critical universities for research and innovation excellence. Create a roadmap for 25 years for the selected universities to rank in the global top 100 universities. Ensure adequate funding to meet global benchmarks. Create avenues to attract foreign students and women to create a diverse and idea-rich environment. Clear metrics should be made publicly available including publications, h-index, diversity and patents.
  • IITs need to be revamped to be more inclusive at the undergraduate level with entrance examinations that include subject, aptitude and hands-on tests.
  • 20% of government research funding to universities and government labs should mandate industry collaboration and applied research in the areas outlined in the goals. 80% of the funding can be devoted to pure science based research in areas of national importance.
  • Revitalise government schools across the country by upgrading the syllabus and learning content based on experiential learning. Leverage organisations like the Agastya Foundation and Pratham Foundation.
  • The Prime Minister’s Fellowship Scheme for Doctoral Research should be leveraged by the industry to drive innovation big bets for long-term advantage for the nation. Industry (through CII) to take a lead in publicising and ensuring sustainable quality of the programme.

Industry should participate in the Government of India’s National Policy for Skill Development and the National Vocational Education Qualifications Framework. Industry bodies (through CII) can take a lead in publicising and ensuring sustainable quality of the programme.

Intellectual property
The average pendency for a patent application to be granted in India is more than five years. This is not acceptable in a world of rapid innovation. Additional resource allocation to grant intellectual property rights in time and proper enforcement of the law are the need of the hour. To promote intellectual property, The Patent (Amendment) Rules, 2016 provides expedited patent examination on request. The newly added rule aims to reduce the application period from the prevailing 5-7 years to 18 months by March 2018 for tatkaal applications. This is an excellent initiative.

  • Use a model similar to the ‘Passport Seva third party services’ to expedite patent applications. All groundwork including novelty searches can be outsourced. Patent pendency should be reduced to 3 years across the board.
  • Policies on part-time legal education should be relaxed. This will help in creating a strong population of IP professionals.
  • Indian Patent Office databases need to be made more comprehensive and searchable. The data available to the public on the working of patents is a good example of digitisation by the India Patent Office.

Cultural and regulatory framework

  • Conduct a national pride advertisement campaign on work ethic, respect for artisans and hands-on work, gender diversity and women in engineering.
  • Revitalise industry partnerships with state and national bodies such as the Central Manufacturing Technology Institute and other equivalent Government of India societies. Create clearly articulated success measures and monitor effectiveness.
  • Map state or centre funded institutes in different parts of the country, who are mandated to boost industry and entrepreneurship in a particular region through R&D and other knowledge services (these institutes could be universities or any of the CSIR labs or state-funded entities like entrepreneurship development institutes). These bodies should additionally be referred to as innovation centres and their funding has to be restructured based on their linkages and collaborations with industry for driving industrial projects.
  • The innovation centres should help in facilitating the effective utilisation of government R&D funds. At this point the entrepreneurs eligible for this fund are either not aware of such a fund or do not know how to tap it for their benefit. Distribution of government R&D funds among innovators and entrepreneurs should be very transparent and the innovation centres have to ensure this transparency.
  • Create the national innovation fund and a proper mechanism for utilisation of the fund to generate more jobs and wealth.

Leverage markets

  • Identify a funded roadmap for reaching projected capacity for electricity generation and transmission and distribution.
  • Identify a funded roadmap for handling the water needs of India.
  • Identify a funded roadmap for providing affordable healthcare to all sections of society.
  • Identify technologies (such as low-cost, local, nutritious food bars) to develop affordable supplements of food for rural population to provide the required calorific and balanced intake. (Leverage organisations such as the Central Food Technological Research Institute and other premier institutes with a PPP model for developing technologies.). Devise a plan to improve the food grain storage in India.
  • Deregulate, as appropriate, to handle the scale of the problem in energy, water, transportation, healthcare and food security.

Do you also see a state-level contribution to develop the nation’s innovation ecosystem?
Yes. Chief ministers of states along with their chief secretaries have to provide visible leadership to the state innovation agenda. The leadership role includes funding decisions for infrastructure and skill development, holding accountable those agencies and companies who are receiving government support for engineering and innovation, and playing the role of innovation brand ambassadors within and outside the state. The chief ministers and chief secretaries have to constitute a chief minister’s innovation task force (within the purview of the state innovation council) along with industry participation to drive innovation at the state level. Responsibilities of the task force should include the following recommendations:

  1. Each state should identify its innovation advantage. The innovation advantage is based on unique differentiators such as cultural advantage, talent availability, university presence with unique capabilities, natural resource availability, and other aspects of an innovation ecosystem. (For example, frugal functionality and design is an example of a pan-India cultural advantage. IT and engineering is an advantage in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, analytics in West Bengal, and natural resource (coal, etc) in Bihar and Jharkhand.)
  2. Each state should pick specific areas for innovation focus and facilitate skill and infrastructure development. The choice of the innovation focus areas should be based on the state’s innovation advantage as described in the previous paragraph. (As an example, CII recommendation to the state of Delhi was to focus on the creative, life science and healthcare, and select services sectors.)
  3. The Government of India has announced a National Manufacturing Policy with the objective of enhancing the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25% within a decade and creating 100 million jobs. The National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs) are an important instrumentality of the manufacturing policy. Each state should set up and develop NIMZs based on identified innovation focus areas.
  4. Each state should map and make the existing innovation crown jewels more functional. (Examples for Karnataka would include Central Food Technological Research Institute, Indian Institute of Science, etc; for Maharashtra it would include the National Chemical Laboratory, IIT-B, etc) The idea is to revitalise the vision with which these institutes were set up and leverage it for driving the innovation agenda.
  5. Part of the issue for poor industry-university collaboration is the mistrust that exists on IP and royalty. CII through its PM fellowship scheme and Global Innovation & Technology Alliance through its bilateral R&D programmes should provide assistance to create standardisation of contracts, terms and conditions for IPR ownership and licensing, to overcome the difficult contract negotiations between industry and academia. This service should be available at the state level through the local CII offices.
  6. Each state should identify, protect, brand and market Geographic Indication (GI) as its intellectual property (examples include Darjeeling tea from West Bengal, Pochampalli ikat from Andhra Pradesh, and Kota doria from Rajasthan, etc). Also, new possibilities in areas such as Ayurveda / Siddha medicines, Indian fabrics and others should be explored. The benefit should target increased global sales and job creation. Cost of registration and maintenance of a GI are high, and should be funded by the state in collaboration with the appropriate agency (such as the Tea Board of India in the case of tea). Care in selecting the GIs with the greatest potential to meet specific policy goals will maximise public returns.
  7. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged by the state governments by keeping provisions for teaching entrepreneurship from school level and putting in place transparent processes to set up and run early stage ventures. At present, clearance processes followed by regulatory agencies are not transparent and timely. Industry bodies like CII and state governments may partner to create state-specific roadmaps for facilitating entrepreneurship, leading to creation of more wealth and employment.