India, though trying to be nearer to its innovation destination, just keeps slip slidin' away.
On the other hand, there are these sporadic news events about innovation coming in. There was this article on frugal innovation on www.cnn.com where it was reported that at the forefront of the "frugal innovation" movement was Professor Anil Gupta, who, for the last 20 years, has been traveling across India in search of local inventors whose creativity has had a positive impact on rural poverty. In 1989, Gupta founded the Honey Bee Network, an organization that uncovers grassroots inventors, and helps bring their inventions to the world.
But somewhere in between these two parameters there is a huge gap.
According to industry experts, the one thing missing is the linkage between the government, industry, and academia. Each acts in a silo and unless there is a close connection, the kind of innovation we are talking about can never happen. Top tier institutes like IITs have their own incubation centers and now even Tier II colleges are coming up with innovation centers, but most of the ideas through which they get best innovation awards, etc., fizzle out real fast when they come into contact with the real world, which offers no support -- funding or otherwise.
Recently, Ron Summers, president of the US-India Business Council, wrote an interesting article on www.rediff.com. He said India ranked 147th out of 181 countries in the most recent United Nations Education Index and fewer than 10 percent of Indians have regular access to the Internet.
India struggles with energy security, having one of the lowest per-capita utilization rates regarding access to reliable electricity. According to Indian statistics, every major river in India is grossly polluted and India will soon overtake China as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases.
All these were stark reminders that underscore how India's progress must be accelerated. But progress at the appropriate scale can only be achieved by innovation.
"To foster innovation, India must become the beacon, the safe haven that respects and rewards intellectual property, a society that upholds and strengthens international commitments, and one that protects intellectual property rights with a vengeance to spur and incentivise innovation," he said in the report.
India for investment
Ron Summers and others who look at India for investment voice grave concerns about intellectual property protection in India, despite the fact that the Indian government released its draft National IPR strategy, which was quite comprehensive. Summers continued in the report:
Still, over the same period, India has erected barriers to international trade and investment across the full range of IP-intensive industries. Its limitations on foreign direct investment and preferential market access policies have limited investment in critical ICT infrastructure development and trade in high-tech products, limiting India's ability to compete in the global innovation economy.
That is one take from a foreigner.
The other take from local entrepreneurs is the lack of support and funding. Although almost every VC claims they are willing to fund good business plans, the ground reality is very different.
Two co-founders of a semiconductor startup who have now given up following their dream and have become teaching faculty in Kolkata, a city in eastern India, say:
The VCs say they would fund business plans but we have been running around for investment for the past three years. Unless you are well networked with the VC community, it is difficult to get any support at all. All I can say, is that the only great innovation India has given to the global community is the invention of zero.
Sure, there are ongoing projects from companies like GE and Siemens and a few successes in e-commerce, but when you look at individual startups in product space or designs space, there are very few successful ones. Many of them are copy-cat versions of large players, tweaked for local consumption and not likely to make any kind of a global impact.
Finally, the last word on innovation: The Indian government, recognizing the power of innovation to kick-start socio-economic transformation, had declared 2010 through 2020 as the "Decade of Innovation." When I asked a few people about it, they just laughed it off -- a decade is too long a period for them to envision, I suppose.
So, let's see how it goes, year-over-year -- a decade or decayed version of innovation.