are the measure of output of R&D labs. That is how an IBM or
an Intel publicises its research output. Even countries measure
their research output based on the number of patents. India started
appearing significantly on the radar only since 1998, the year when
statistical reports from the US patents office show a separate breakout.
The number of patents granted every year to companies in India has
been growing since-from 85 in 1998 to 131 in 2000 to 179 in 2001
to 342 in 2002 (according to data with the Director-General of the
Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research). That translates
into a whopping 91 per cent in the last year.
This is still very small compared to many other
countries, even companies. The US state of California filed 20,863
patents in 2001, Germany, 11,895 and IBM, 3,411. But take South
Korea-home to giants like Samsung and LG-which filed 3,763 patents
in 2001 or the red dragon that filed a very modest 266 patents in
2001 and the picture begins to look very different.
CSIR, which holds 42 per cent of Indian patents
granted in 2002, filed 728 foreign patents thus far this year. A
potential client list for 2003 of one of the patent lawyers in the
country lists 112 non-it companies, including Indian companies,
laboratories and MNCs. If MNCs, which have set up R&D centres
(about a 100 of them have), file patents, these will be accounted
India is still new to the patents game. Till
recently, academics and researchers in India were of the opinion
that publishing papers was the endgame of research and that knowledge
had to be free. The equation now is patents = productisable ideas
= wealth creation. And our scientists are now beginning to get it.
R.A. Mashelkar, who took over as Director of
National Chemical Laboratory in Pune in 1989, changed the slogan
from 'publish or perish' to 'patent, publish and prosper'. Four
scientists-current National Chemicals Laboratory Director Swaminathan
Sivaram was one of them-from the laboratory patented a polycarbonate
innovation. Now, polycarbonates are the playground of GE and the
MNC started working with NCL. When then GE CEO Jack Welch found
out about this, GE decided to set up shop in Bangalore. Now, the
Jack Welch Research Center is slated to grow from 1,600 scientists
to 2,400, at which point it will be the company's largest R&D
set-up anywhere in the world, including the US. By 2001, GE India
had been granted 17 US patents.
Mashelkar, the Director-General of CSIR, compares
the output from his 40 labs to that of Samsung; CSIR filed 184 pct
(patents cooperation treaty) applications and tied with the Korean
giant for the number one position for the number of pct applications
filed by companies in developing countries. And he is not the only
scientist who is looking to benchmark his output with that of global
private sector labs. The pioneering Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala
in IIT Madras asks: "If Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant,
could come out of nowhere as late as 1988 and get to be so big,
why can't we create a global company?" The good news is, his
research and the goal of the cluster of companies that he has created
is all towards reducing the cost of state-of-the-art telecom in
Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore has
changed rules so that its professors can be on the board of companies.
Strand Genomics in Bangalore is a result of that. Rudra Pratap,
a Cornell-returned professor of mechanical engineering has filed
for patents in MEMS (micro electro mechanical systems) and has lured
Cranes Software to fund his lab. "Why can't we build a wearable
ultrasound machine that will cost just Rs 3,000 and can be taken
to villages?" he asks. Academics in the Universities of Pune
and Delhi too are talking about creating wealth through innovation.
The other part of the picture is that investors
are now confident in their belief that India is not just about labour
arbitrage. They believe breakthrough innovations can come out of
India. There is now a small trickle of funds willing to fund seed-stage
companies in areas other than it. In a complete reversal, Mahesh
Murthy, head of tie (The Indus Entrepreneurs, a technology mentoring
forum) Mumbai, talks of organising a parade of VCs from across the
world to look at innovations in Indian labs here. There are individuals
who are willing to get into bed with labs early in the game (See
This Prince Thinks Small, Very Small). Funds like VenturEast, Opportunia
and 2icapital are now willing to listen to seed stage companies.
Even a traditional Indian business house like Tatas has invested
in Avestha Gengraine, a biotech start-up. So the picture might look
very very different 20 years from now.