India lags behind
Japan, Korea and China in IPR commercialization
CEO, i2india Ventures, Bangalore
I2india Ventures, the
Indian arm of Imperial Innovations, UK, the technology
commercialization venture of Imperial College London, works in
partnership with research and innovation centers, to create an
ecosystem for early stage technology commercialization. In India,
i2india has signed agreements and is working with leading institutions
such as IITs, IISc, and has conducted over an year of field studies to
understand the opportunities and challenges in this space.
In an exclusive
interview with BioSpectrum, Deepam Mishra, CEO, i2india Ventures,
speaks about the problems in intellectual property rights (IPR)
commercialization in India.
What ails the Indian
The concept of risk taking is different in India and most
government service companies are risk-averse in nature. Companies have
to make a calculated bet before launching a new product in the market.
The product-business strategy followed by the Indian companies are
completely different and the mindset of major biotech
companies are largely service-centric. They work on outsourced model
which requires less investment. Indian biotech companies
cannot afford huge investment that is needed for
establishing a product manufacturing company.
Secondly, people who have not had any interaction with Indian
scientists think that scientists work on pure sciences and they cannot
develop anything that is important to the real world. Many scientists
have interesting technology, but they are not sure about its relevance
to the industry. The reason why our science is not often usable is
because the industry that is quite often related does not provide any
feedback to our scientists.
Thirdly, our science and research establishments have not had
commercial focus for a very long time. If you look at the history of
research in India, after
independence and until recently we have been doing only reverse
engineering to reduce our dependence on imports and forex. Also, we had
not signed any international patent laws deliberately because we wanted
to do reverse engineering and provide technologies at a much lower cost
to our population.
Now, fortunately we have integrated ourself in the global
biotech industry and in order to generate 8-9 percent or higher growth,
we have to generate our own intellectual property. We should have a
capitalistic mindset which requires our scientists to think of
profiting from IP.
How do you identify
the technologies and what is your level of interaction with the labs
At this point, we are putting in great efforts to convince scientists
and labs to share their technology with us. However, things are not so
easy. Some front office people are not aware of what is happening in
their labs. Most research is not even databased—so it is
difficult to know what is happening in Kolkata from Bangalore. I have
spent the whole year and met several hundred scientists in about 20-30
institutes and understood what is happening at their research labs.
Many a times, these government institutions do not share ideas because
they are worried that a government funded technology might be stolen by
a private agency and they get blamed for that. Our government is still
taking risk-averse stance. Our scientists get penalized for making
mistakes but not rewarded for taking risks. We promise scientists that
we will not make any money unless you make money. Several leading
scientists are part of our advisory board. We have good relationship
with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Council for Scientific and
Industrial Research (CSIR), and the Department of Science and
Technology (DST); they help us to enhance our activities. Once we have
access to the technologies, then the hard task is to identify the
relevant technology. We have a very refined process which we have been
doing in the UK for 10-15 years. We have a team of 45-50 people
including experienced entrepreneurs, and patent and market
research experts to guide our activities.
Are Indian scientists
aware of IPR and do they worry about the government restrictions?
Indian scientists do worry about the government restrictions, however
their awareness level is mixed. Good news is that everyone is aware
about why they need to think about IPR. Scientists have realized the
need of filing a patent as it has certain claims and they are given
rights to those claims, which have value. Many scientists are not fully
aware of the intricacies of what patent to file, when to file and what
is the optimal way of filing. In many cases, without proper awareness
scientists just publish the paper and the technology goes away. That is
a big problem right now and the government recognizes that and the DBT
is trying to plug the gap between awareness and understanding.
It’s not going to happen overnight but the good news is that
scientists today care about commercializing their technologies.
How is the mindset of
young scientists in India?
About 35-40 percent young scientists are aware of the process involved
in getting IPR and ask us to conduct seminars so that they can learn
more about IPR. They have a desire to see their technology being used
by the industry. Other than publishing papers, the young scientists
want to move on, they want to impact the world, gain recognition and
look for higher financial returns.
What is the level of
work happening in India in the last one year that you have been around?
The research works carried out in several institutions in India are
better than any other country in the world. Scientists at the most
institutions are doing world-class research. There are a few
institutions in India that provide good work culture, and those
institutes depend on the incentive system. Scientists are still rated
on the number of papers published and not on the patents granted. They
are also not rated on how their technology leads to downstream value in
the industry. This is one area where the government needs to play a
bigger role. Once we introduce performance-based incentive, we will
start seeing the right kind of behavior. Most of our scientists are
internally motivated rather than motivated by incentives, while most of
the scientists are frustrated because they are under appreciated. Many
Indian scientists are willing to return to India if they get the right
kind of incentive.
Tell us about
Strengths: We have few areas of science where India is the real
leader— nanotechnology, micro-electro-mechanical systems
(MEMS), enzyme technology, certain types of medical devices, biofuels
and low-cost engineering.
Weaknesses: Much larger gap between industry and academic research,
poor incentive structure for scientists, red-tapism and government
Opportunities: We can create certain world-class IPR-driven product
Threats: If these weaknesses are not addressed, we may become
commoditized and be branded as low-cost providers. The service element
may not sustain the industry alone. Unless we make ourself
knowledge-based IPR-driven country, we may lose our competitive
advantage in the biotech sector. Most of the hurdles are of self
creation, there are no major structural issues that prevent us from
doing what we want to do. We need to do away with internally imposed
and culturally handed-down constraints, if India needs to become an IPR
What is the level of
awareness about the venture capitalists (VCs) amongst the Indian
In India, VCs, with few exceptions, are not interacting with
scientists, as very few scientists have industry experience. India is
missing the ecosystem where entrepreneurs scout for ideas from research
labs, hence the VCs are wary of talking to the scientists. The
government has asked the DBT to explore a public-private model. The
government is good in capacity building and education but not in risk
taking investments, which should be handled by the VCs.
How far is India
lagging behind other Asian countries?
India is lagging behind Japan, South Korea and China in IPR. In China,
the government has put unjustifiable amounts of money in creating and
commercializing IPR. In India, there’s a myth amongst
scientists that they can’t put science and commerce together.
So often Indian scientists believe that they have to either publish or
perish. However the current global economic conditions have shown that
you can publish and prosper. There are examples to show that good
science and good business can happen together without the scientists
having to take time off from their job. You can do good business with
partnership models. The government too has a huge role to
play—in terms of incentive structure for the
scientists. I’m sure things will change once we
have a few success stories.