7,500 patents & counting…How Samsung’s Bengaluru centre fires up innovation

“We also look into multiple team-based ideation workshops, whereby a couple of people work together on products already in the field but with room for innovation. That’s also part of my job.”

When it comes to its own employees, the success rate has been much higher for obvious reasons. “If we look into last five years, I see the 50% of the people are first-time innovators and about 27% have less than five years of experience.”
When it comes to its own employees, the success rate has been much higher for obvious reasons. “If we look into last five years, I see the 50% of the people are first-time innovators and about 27% have less than five years of experience.”

Over 7,500 patents globally and more than 3,500 patents just in India. This is not the count of a global university with top of the line research facilities but the Samsung Research Institute in Bengaluru, the Korean tech giant’s largest R&D centre outside South Korea, which has been able to inculcate a culture of innovation among its engineers.

Dr Aloknath De, CTO of the institute, says this trend has been on the upswing with 100% growth registered over the past four years. “In 2017, we closed about 450 patents and this year we have done about 1,000,” he tells indianexpress.com over a call.

Dr De says this growth has not happened just by linear thinking and inside people. “As new people join – from freshers to people from other places – we have made a systematic process so that they can become co-inventors in a reasonable time. A lot of millennials and Gen Z have knowledge and we have been able to convert them into good co-inventors in a 3-5 year time frame,” says Dr De, an alumnus of IIT (Kharagpur) and IISc (Bangalore) with a PhD from McGill University, Montreal.

Dr De is also proud of the fact that this is not all purely academic and the institute has of late seen a “surge” in patent to product linkage as well. “Now, 25% of our patents are going into products.”

A lot of the work as SRI has been in advanced communication where they have created two centres of excellence. “From 2G to 3G, 4G and 5G…we have taken that journey, whether it is on the terminal side or devices that are 5G-enabled, the network side or even the standards that go into the layers,” adds Dr De.

It is also well-know how Samsung’s Bengaluru centre has been very strong in the vision and camera technology that has gone into most of Samsung’s top-end products over recent times. “Adding more and more AI to this vision technology has resulted in newer kinds of innovative solutions. And then AI taking it to voice technology or text has kind of proliferated.”

The SRI team has also done extensive work around communication and multimedia processors, the “core for any individual device”. “We know when you connect them, you can also bring in AI technologies and IoT connectivity. That’s how you innovate in a connected world context,” he adds.

Samsung has also created a funnel to bring in the best minds to its R&D centre. “We have a Prism programme in which we have been working with almost 3,000 students across various tier-II and tier-III institutes. It is a six-month project with student and faculty mentorships,” Dr De says.

When it comes to its own employees, the success rate has been much higher for obvious reasons. “If we look into last five years, I see the 50% of the people are first-time innovators and about 27% have less than five years of experience.”

Dr De calls the new crop of engineers in India as those with “Native AI” capabilites, thanks to their theoretical knowledge from campus. “But they have not done any product whereas those inside with up to 25 years of experience are seasoned and understand the product, what works, what doesn’t work and how to make it commercialised,” Dr De says, adding how this combination has worked well for SRI.

Dr De says the culture inside the centre is such that they bring up intellectual property creation on Day One itself for new joinees. “Subsequently, we have our programmes on basic invention creation, and advanced inventive step training and top quality invention. Then we might ask them to go for the other kinds of training,” he explains the “systemic in-house training programmes” with central team of inventors to give the right guidance.

“We also look into multiple team-based ideation workshops, whereby a couple of people work together on products already in the field but with room for innovation. That’s also part of my job.”

Dr De explains that a lot of innovation does stem from solving problems on existing products, but many also work on cutting-edge ideas where they look at possibilities in existing technologies a couple of years down the line. There is also a third stream. “They bring out their own ideas and new technologies not yet connected to product.”

Dr De has seen how India has stared progressing as an innovation hub. “When we got the first national IP award in 2015, we were clear winners. Even subsequently we have been winning, but we see there are others coming up now,” he says. Dr De also cites the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) ranking where India was ranked 81 in 2015-16, but has now become 46. “There is a lot of effort going into the ecosystem. But it is a step by step process and needs work between academia, start-ups, Indian R&D, MNCs and all of the entities.”

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