Indian IT industrialist and co-founder of Infosys, Narayana Murthy, mentioned some time ago that there is no ‘earth shaking’ idea that India has given to the world in last 60 years.
In 2014, India filed 1,428 international patent applications as against 57,385 by US, 25,548 by China and 13,117 by South Korea, according to World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a number that has not aged well. (source )
A lot of people think innovations in India are not super scientific but coming from jugads (bodge) at the grassroot level. It’s ironic that a country so proud of its ancestral innovations seems to have had its creativity frozen in time. (Yourstory) It somehow seems we have lost the grip of innovation and always come back to talking about how India gave 0 to the world. We have absolutely ZERO contribution in new forms of power like nuclear fission at a very small scale or even nuclear fusion. Whereas there are Chinese are developing small scale nuclear fission reactors and MIT testing out nuclear fusion. Energy is just a small sector, but be it blockchain, drones, autonomous cars, AI or deep-learning to rocket launches, we are seemingly behind the world by a decade to a century in a lot of key areas.
The current stage
The RnD budget of a remotely large company in India is hardly 5% of their balance sheet. SpaceX reportedly spent 660 crores in development of the Falcon 9 rocket whereas the entire budget of ISRO (the GOVT organisation) is 700 crores . Not only is SpaceX very efficient about spending its budget and at right places, it seemingly does accomplish big feats, some straight out of science fiction.
If it were in India 80% of the budget would be spent on feeding the upper head bureaucrats, lobbying to allow them such developments. It is also a very key observation in Indian society, that failures are not appreciated. People do not look at what we learnt from failing, but just stash the budget because it didn’t bring any “substantial” result. Also, why do we have some weird obsession with government owned entities, let the free market do its thing.
We also now have random highly restrictive policies on autonomous drone testing , which has suddenly now restricted many startups in the field; with requirements to need permission from DRDO, or just fly it till you see it. Also, don’t get me started on how far behind we are in any kind of silicon chip manufacturing - we are running in 150 nm range (highly inefficient and behind) compared to IBM who launched a 2nm architecture , with not a single economic advantage with chips manufactured here. After finally deciding that banning crypto is bad idea, we still left it up to banks, who have previously banned accounts if they hold crypto .
What about Quantum Mechanics , we have not even started anything yet. OpenAI has launched state of the art language model , ability to create images from sentences , and what do we have, no company is incentivised to research and create such highly technological advanced developments in the field of AI. Government is just restricting too much, which creates a trust issue- what if I am cancelled tomorrow?
People say, oh wow! we have now digital India and bank audits are signed using digital signatures, etc. I am not saying it is bad that we are implementing digital tech, but none of that is true innovation. A 12 year old made a blind-man helping stick using ultrasonic sensors, oh let us call it an innovation and market it everywhere. There is a difference between a good and useful idea that can help lives, and something called innovation.
It all starts with the youth (the young minds), the future of our country.
Say, you live in a small village and discover and developed a hand pump, that is unique and new for your village, but that might be also discovered in some other village you are not aware about. The definition of uniqueness should not be what is available everywhere, but based on what you are aware, of innovation can be defined one.
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A lot of times journey to Innovation also matters. People always see the final thing, but the story behind it depicts how long it would go. Let’s consider a simple school project, two guys made same thing, but one Googled and chapavam (copied), The one that made the same thing by observing the problem, and finding out solution himself without knowing such a thing existed, is the mindset we need. In the future the mindset to research and self-learn will go a long way. But today in most aspects we just judge the final thing and are destination oriented and don’t realise cherishing important journey.
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IPR (Intellectual Property Right )
Getting an patent or a copyright and then enforcing it is so highly impossible, that a lot of genuine innovative ideas cannot be legally given protection. This results in cheap knockoffs being sold, and the founder getting dejected.
A lot of startups seemingly try to solve problems that do not exist. It is not that such startups are doomed to fail, you can easily create a new category of products and dominate it (Ex. Apple with iPhones). But a lot of them especially those that are funded and marketed by government startup accelerators, seemingly solve a problem that is not there in the first place. If I get a cool idea I can definitely build it, but calling it an innovation, highly depends on what is defined as innovation.
Whatever we build should be addressing a real problem, if it actually revolutionizes a field, then calling it an innovation will be appropriate. Even if it helps anyone, or addresses an actual problem that people have, then it’s a successful innovation. And the best way to achieve this is to first observe and understand the problems that people face.
Every startup need not be innovation, and every innovation need not be a startup.
We need to promote a mindset of innovation-cult, rather than a mere toxic race of having a startup as seen in several college admissions (as focus shifts from just academic scores to Extra-curricular activities). We need the innovators of today to shape our tomorrow, rather than just being mere motivational speakers (/s). The youth needs to explore, observe the world around them carefully; understand the problems the society they live in faces, and then find a solution. Copying Arduino code from a YouTube video is not an innovation, the idea and the problem it addresses is.
Firstly the problem starts with the fact that, how and where we expect innovation to come from, we want children to solve problems because they are creative (a clean page if you will), but the fact we forget is innovation generally comes from an mindset, and most importantly one child can’t go ahead without much context to solve the next global problems. Children can definitely innovate, but the problem is expecting everyone will innovate. World changing innovation at age of 10 is wrong, it isn’t feasible, some will, most won’t. And our marketing is about how a 6 year old can potential build the next Google. It is about the mindset, be it starting from approach to a small question or a school project.
How students and youth ( a small minority of ) are also encouraged, sometimes in wrong way
When the youth does come up with viable solutions for real problems, the marketing is focused on the innovator and fame rather than the innovation. At this tender age most get under the burden of fame and never really explore beyond that and this becomes their peak and saturation. What it leads to is that we as a society loose a potential innovator, if we value a deserving innovation over a not that impactful project by a 12 year old. We are promoting this ideology - It doesn’t matter how good your project is but how fast and at younger age you develop it. As a consequence, this hampers the growth of that innovation, leading to a stagnated development. Thus, this mindset needs to change
A lot of people suddenly to get into MIT or other such colleges have started to make startups which are “innovative” from solving he hunger crisis to establishing an NGO, the teen has done everything. The problem with this approach is that when a teen at a young age, gets a lot of credibility (in most cases) without a real product in hand, because of the burden you cannot go ahead and explore further.
Food for thought- Why Bal Shakti Puraskar awardees do not receive Bharat Ratna, or so on in other fields?