The academic community of India was taken aback by the statement of Mr. Narayan Murthy when he said that no invention, technology or idea from India had set the world on fire in the last 60 years. The matter is under fierce discussion and many believe that India is lacking far behind on innovation index. In an attempt to write the Indian success story and to achieve the dream growth, people have a firm belief in the MAKE IN INDIA initiative but there are arguments that without innovation and frugal engineering practices the whole concept may fail to conceptualize. India even failed to secure a position in the Bloomberg Innovation Index 20151, so the question that how India will intellectualize the MAKE IN INDIA initiative is getting bigger day by day.

An Insight into Indian Patent Office Stats

Even endorsed records of the Indian Patent Office fashion a melancholy picture — while patent grants for foreign inventions increased by almost 300%, grants to Indian inventions rose by a measly 45%. In 2013-14, while as many as 42,951 patent applications were made, only 10,941 were made by Indian applicants. According to the patent office, maximum applications in 2012-13 were filed in mechanical (around 9,000), followed by chemical (7,000). While computer-related applications accounted for 4,500, about 4,300 were filed in the field of drugs, followed by 2,500 in electrical and close to 900 in biotech.

According to the World Intellectual Property Indicators (WIPO-2012) report, while China's contribution to the rise in patent applications globally has increased from 37.2% between 1995-2009 to 72.1% between 2009-11 India's contribution on same parameter decreased from 3.5% between 1995-2009 to 2.7%between 2009-2011. The report shows that while China topped the global list by filing 503,582 patent applications, India was ranked seventh with 42,291 applications2. India scores poorly in commercializing R&D from its universities and its regulators often create antitrust and taxation steeplechases in the effective exploitation of foreign-owned patents on Indian soil.

Analysis of India's Slide in the Innovation World

1. India spends way too little on research: India's total R&D budget is less $3 billion whereas General Motors' annual R&D budget is $10 billion.

2. Not enough research fodder number of students going for higher research education is low.

3. Lack of faith and initiatives: Indian services firms have been upgrading old products but not developing new lines and developing technology needs creation of culture that encourages risk-taking and innovation.

4. Too many ideas and too little implementation: Complete lack of will to put our money in research.

5. There are a million and half ways to improve engineering education in India, but implementation is nil.

What Can Be Done?

1. Strategically linked corporate research: Encourage and help Indian companies with revenues greater than $50 million to create research organizations that are strategically linked to their business products.

2. Exploiting university research: It is cheap, but researchers have little understanding of business ground realities and needs of businesses. Allow tie-ups of small companies with R&D departments of universities.

3. Changing work cultures: Promotion of work culture that increases innovation, and also tries to increase the impact of innovation.

4. Rewarding good ideas and research: Rewarding risk taking and research accomplishments at all levels can help engender path breaking work in India.

5. Indian Institutional Investments in India: There is a clearly a paucity of NGOs who can help identify grass root innovations and ease their path to success.

6. The experiences and insights of Indian researchers and scientists in Europe and US need to be leveraged better as many would like to contribute back to India.

Another picture that speaks volumes about the strength of Indian engineering is - frugal innovation - from the cheaper than auto fare Mangalayan to cheapest car Nano, we have been developing products and ideas that are highly innovative, customer and pocket friendly. Given the revolution in product-design and process-design philosophy that such innovation embodies, if used systematically it can become the fulcrum of India's domestic innovation culture. The government should join India Inc in patronizing research and training in codified frugal-engineering practices and brand it as a globally-relevant business methodology.

Government is required to not only support these kinds of innovations but also find a solution to enable them to fight the global research and development processes and to be more and more competitive.


India, instead of having manufacturing centered development policy, must have a balanced ecosystem of innovation and design along with manufacturing and the focus should be on both R&D and manufacturing. A design thinking approach is the call of the hour and we should adopt policies that will say "MADE IN INDIA" rather than MAKE IN INDIA - only this approach can lead us to a sustainable development path.

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