Corpus required to encourage innovation and research

Updated: Jan 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
The National Innovation Foundation (NIF), set up in March 2000, has triggered tremendous enthusiasm all over the country and even in other countries. By January 31, in two years of its existence, we have more than 10,000 innovations and traditional knowledge examples.

Our appeal to the finance minister is that the innovation movement, which started under the leadership of Dr R A Mashelkar, has to gather momentum and needs continued support from the government. Otherwise, we would be betraying the confidence of thousands of creative people who are expecting us to add value to their innovations, help them diffuse these through commercial and non-commercial channels and generate benefits for them, their communities and the rest of the society.

Furthermore, NIF has decided to set up four more GIANs (Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network), apart from expanding Gujarat GIAN to GIAN west. All this would need an incubation fund to contract research at various public and private labs. In view of this, it is proposed that a dedicated R&D (research and development) fund of Rs 100 crore be created, from the interest of which we can sponsor research by innovators. Alternatively, we should provide Rs 10 crore every year for sponsoring research. A Rs 5 crore corpus is also required for each of the five GIANs to make these incubators self-supporting.

Also, thousands of herbal technologies have to be valorised for generating globally valuable intellectual property. For this, we need to create dedicated facilities for high throughput screening at institutions like NBRI so that time bound results can be generated.

Without risk capital, it is inconceivable how innovation, investment and enterprises can be linked. It has been very difficult, if not impossible, to mobilise financial support for even those innovators who have done commercial business of Rs 50-60 lakh during the last few years just because they did not have enough physical property to mortgage. The concept of valuation of intellectual property and financing against it for microlevel innovations requiring Rs 5-50 lakh is very difficult. In light of this, we propose that a Rs 100 crore micro venture fund be created to provide risk capital to selected innovations that can be managed by the NIF board.

The mobilisation of risk capital for augmenting grassroots innovations would require a special innovations patent system, which I have been pleading for the last 10 years. This will ensure that local communities and other inventors have incentives to disclose their innovations to NIF.

In addition, we also need a dedicated programme to valorise innovations by women and for women so that the drudgery involved in their daily chores can be eliminated. There is also need to rethink the priorities of agricultural research with a greater focus on non-chemical input-based technologies.

Finally, there is a need for differential charge to farmer innovators for testing and certification of their technologies since our experience shows that formal agricultural research system charges the same fees for testing a new herbal product to an NGO or small farmer as it would charge a large multinational corporation.

The writer is Professor, Centre for Management in Agriculture, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and Executive Vice Chairperson, National Innovation Foundation)