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Tech innovation left in govt hands

- Industry funds elude research

New Delhi, Dec. 5: Government laboratories and academic institutions remain the drivers of innovation in India despite decades of efforts by scientific agencies to coax Indian industries to invest in research and development, says a new report released today.

The report, described as the first to analyse technology patent applications exclusively originating in India, has shown that government agencies such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) remain India’s top innovator organisations.

The state of innovation report has been released by the intellectual property and science business division of Thomson Reuters, a global information services company.

It has shown that more innovation happens in India’s pharmaceuticals sector than in any other, but much of it is incremental — new methods of making known drugs.

India has long been viewed as under-investing in innovation relative to other global economies. An analysis last year by the World Bank and other institutions had ranked India seventh in research and development. (See chart)

The new report has shown that, in 10 of the 12 technology sectors it covers, the CSIR was the top assignee last year for patent applications originating in India.

The DRDO, often criticised for undelivered projects or time overruns, figures in six of the 12 areas. The Indian Institutes of Technology and the public-sector Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited appear in five sectors each.

Among an estimated 40,000 patent applications filed in India last year, about 8,000 originated in India, meaning the innovation underlying those applications had been done in India. Thomson Reuters’ analysts focused on about 6,000 of the Indian-origin patent applications.

“Government organisations remain the big drivers of innovation,” said Vinay Singh, director of Thomson Reuters’ intellectual property and science business division in India.

Government agencies such as the department of science and technology have been urging Indian industry to invest in research and development through schemes where the government supports industrial research.

The CSIR too had initiated a “new millennium technology initiative” about a decade ago to encourage joint government-industry innovation.

Even in the pharmaceuticals sector — the largest zone of innovation activity by Indian companies — patent applications from the CSIR dominated, Singh said.

The second largest area of innovation was computing and control, followed by communications technologies, but the patent applications were filed by a mix of domestic and foreign patent holders.

“We’re looking at independent evidence generated by an international agency of the returns on decades of public investment in R&D,” said CSIR director-general Samir Brahmachari.

The report has revealed a clear pattern of two kinds of sectors. One is the traditional sector — such as pharmaceuticals, transportation, food and fermentation, general chemicals, cosmetics, disinfectants, and detergents — where Indian companies dominate.

The other relates to fast-moving, high-technology industries — such as computing and control — where the patent applications filed last year originated from both Indian and foreign companies.