Does India score poorly on innovation?

The technocrats and scientists at IIT- Kharagpur have developed Total Artificial Heart, TAH. It is very much affordable at Rs 1 lakh. The TAH will be of great help to patients whose heart muscles have become so weak that they need immediate transplantation.

The famous Rs 1 lakh car Nano, the innovation from Tata Motors is going to reach customers soon. On March 23, the booking starts. Nano has become a landmark of the innovations from India. Latest ‘Business Week’ has an article, ‘What Can Tata’s Nano Teach Detroit?’

Can on basis of these achievements and some more, India claim to be a leader in innovative nations? Ashok Parthsarathi in a recent column in Business Standard asks, “Who says we have not innovated?” Ashok Parthasarathi would put India ahead of both China and Brazil and for an India-China comparison, Ashok refers to a recent study by the US consulting firm, Zinnov, and Vishnu Saraf’s 2008 book India & China: Comparing the Incomparable.

Besides Nano, Ashok names the Xylo of Mahindras as examples of superb multi-dimensional innovation. According to him, Indica, Indigo, 407 LCV, ACE and HCVs of Tata Motors, including turbo-charged ones for the army, and the Scorpio of Mahindras and the tractors of Punjab Tractors were significantly worthy. Unfortunately, these innovations are just insignificant to become globally competitive innovation. India certainly needs many times more product innovations
Recently BCG, NAM and The Manufacturing Institute have come out with International Innovation Index 2009, a comparison of the innovation-friendliness of 110 nations.

India stands at 46 in overall ranking with China at 27, and even countries such as Thailand, South Africa, Italy, Malaysia and Australia better placed than India. Among the list of the large countries, India ranks at 15 while China is at 13 and South Korea at number 1.

India will have to consistently work harder to get nearer to the top few. However, there are many interesting and positive trends to be hopeful for India to grow and become a big innovative nation.
As per the BSG report, India is increasing investment in R&D by an average rate of 40 percent per year.

Heartening news is also the increasing mentoring by the institutes of national importance. At last count, there were around 125 start-up and spin-off companies from the IITs, government labs and companies in healthy operation in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune.

The performance of NRDC, the nodal commercialiser of some 2,000 technologies from over 200 S&T agencies, labs, IITs and universities, is also encouraging. It has led to not just product exports but technology exports as well. NRDC has been making sustained profits for the last 20 years.

The total annual R&D funding of academic institutions, government labs and industry through various programmes is around Rs 1,500 crore, and the output has been excellent at around Rs 15,000 crore, with an annual growth rate of around 30 per cent and many international patents. The research bodies such as CSIR and DRDO and institutes such as IITs and many more are trying to get more and more patents and get them commercialized. For example, IIT-B has about 130 patents under its belt. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, with a large network of the country’s public research institutes, is sitting on some 3,000 patents.

And there is more than these reasons to be hopeful. India has more than six lakh technology students. Each does a final-year project. Can’t these projects, at least a percentage of them, be turned into some innovations worth commercialization?

India with democracy and demography is best placed for getting into the league of the most innovative nations, as both accelerate the process.

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