Q. What are the top five challenges to innovating in India?
A. The first challenge is resources. We don’t have as much money as many other countries. The budget of a company like Pfizer is around $10 billion, whereas India’s entire R&D budget is less than $10 billion. So India does its research with a fraction of the money which is available to just one firm. This is a challenging situation in the competing world.
Second, we do not have critical mass. Suppose if I want to talk about some specific subject like Carbon nanotubes or graphene or Stem cell research, I do not find more than 5-10 people whom we can call world-class.
Lack of partnership between the industry and universities is another critical challenge. Many a time, inventions take place in universities but it requires a partnership with some company to convert an innovation into its successful use in practice. The industry needs to give students the research problems of their interest. Also, universities should choose problems that will have utility for the industry.
The fourth challenge is lack of awareness about patenting. If the innovation is not credited to your name, you will never be able to make profit out of it. You must own the rights of the innovations so that your work is respected, not copied, and credited to you.
The last challenge is the missing connect between Saraswati and Laxmi. We do Saraswati Puja and Laxmi Puja separately. Globally, there are a number of scientists, even Nobel laureates, who are academicians but have their own companies. However, none of our academicians owns a company; people like Ashok Jhunjhunwala being an exception.
You should be able to create wealth out of the knowledge. When the Indian government funds a research, it’s not your money, but the taxpayers’ money. So when a new idea comes from the taxpayers’ money, you should create wealth within the country for people of India.
Q. What has been the government’s take on innovations?
A. The government is very serious about this subject. Our prime minister has announced this decade (2011-20) as the decade of innovations. PM’s National Innovation Council (www.innovationcouncil.gov.in/aboutus/aboutnic.php) has been set up under the chairmanship of Sam Pitroda.
But we should not depend too much on the government. It’s also the responsibility of the industry. We must cultivate a spirit where young people don’t just seek jobs but carry an ambition to provide jobs by creating companies and enterprises.