A Paris-based private equity firm that invests in environmental technologies focused on Asia recently approached IIT-Bombay to fund innovation products that are still at a nascent stage. The engineering institute is likely to soon sign a deal to commercialise some of its innovation products and make them market-ready, according to a person familiar with the deal. Like IIT-Bombay, several other higher education institutes, including some IIMs and IISc, Bangalore are increasing their focus on commercialising innovation, which includes developing innovation products, garnering funding for early-stage projects and crossfunctional tie-ups to bring management expertise and technical know-how together.
"Commercialising innovation products is a very important aspect for the institutes. Usually, funding agencies or companies want an idea to be market-ready to be willing to invest in it. The ideas and intellectual property that come out in India are not market-ready," says Rangan Banerjee, dean, Research and Development at IIT-Bombay.
An increase in the number of licensing in the past two years has prompted the institute to incorporate revenue from licensing as a separate item under annual research revenue. "Our licensing revenue in total research revenue has gone up significantly in recent time. We are targeting revenue of more than Rs 10 crore from licensing in FY13 compared with Rs 50-60 lakh a couple of years ago," says Banerjee. The institute garnered annual research revenue of Rs 194 crore in FY12.
IIM-Bangalore, on its part, is taking its yearlong collaboration with IISc to the next level to commercialise the latter's innovation products. "We are in the process of identifying areas to develop focused programme to market IISc's innovation products," says G Sabarinathan, associate professor - finance and control. The business school is also looking for similar tie-ups with other technology and scientific research institutes. It is in talks to collaborate with a technology institute and provide management expertise to market their products and technologies. The deal is likely to be announced by September.
"Global institutes like Stanford, MIT and Cambridge have advanced strategies, resources and infrastructure to market innovation products. In India, we don't have that luxury. But we have world-class institutes that can bring complementary strengths together," says Sabarinathan.
The strengthening of innovation architecture at IIT-Bombay led to a big jump in patent filing over the past two years. The institute filed 66 patents in India in 2011 compared with 46 in 2010, which is a sharp rise from the average 10-12 patents a year in the past decade. "This is a result of streamlining and simplifying our processes. We are now on track to commercialise our patent filings," adds Banerjee.
"There are angel funds willing to put in about Rs 50 lakh - Rs 1 crore for innovation ventures in India," says Sabarinathan, who is also chairperson of NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at IIM-Bangalore. The enhanced focus on the innovation in India's higher education system comes at a time when both within the country and globally governments are putting innovation at the centre of their growth strategies.
However, according to a recent report by Insead and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) - Global Innovation Index 2012: 'Stronger innovation linkages for global growth', India's major weakness in innovation is its institutions, human capital and research. Though India ranked 64 in GII, it ranked 125 in institutions and 131 in human capital and research. However, India ranks second, behind China, in innovation efficiency index, indicating a great ability to translate products into innovation outputs amid the frugal infrastructure.
"We need to create awareness and the appropriate ecosystem wherever innovation can emerge. It is not just about going to a place where innovation can originate, but go to school, college, etc, to talk about the need for innovative thinking at every level," says Deepak Chandra, deputy dean, ISB, Hyderabad. ISB is working on developing an executive programme that focuses on ways to convert research and innovation of scientists and professors into commercial products.
"Absence of diversity in our educational institutions often results in efforts that are suboptimal... We should stop compartmentalisation in innovation research. And our policy needs to create a platform to bring institutes across disciplines at par," says Rakesh Basant, professor of economics and chairperson, Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship at IIM-Ahmedabad.
The focus on a stronger innovation ecosystem is also leading to the need for more trained professionals to teach innovation practices. Recognising this need, IIM-A is in talks to launch a programme on innovation for management teachers.