The list of scientific/technological breakthroughs in India is a long and impressive one. What is interesting for me personally are India inventions in the post patent era. Notable amongst these would be the works of JC Bose. A long standing controversy has been over whether Bose ought to be credited as the first inventor of the “wireless”. See this note by Varun Aggarwal which begins with:
“The aim of the present article is to acquaint the younger generation that the real inventor of wireless was not Guglielmo Marconi (Italy), but Jagadish Chandra Bose (India). The classic paper of Dr. P. K. Bondopadhyay  published by the IEEE has now established this fact.”
Bose’s antipathy towards patents is well known, although he is credited with being the first Indian to ever have filed a patent (thanks largely due to the compulsions of two of his friends). Prof Kochhar, in a note states:
“In May 1901, Bose wrote to his friend Rabindranath Tagore: “…the proprietor of a reputed telegraph company…came himself with a Patent form in hand…He proposed to take half of the profit and finance the business in the bargain. This multi-millionaire came to me abegging. My friend, I wish you could see that terrible attachment for gain in this country, that all engaging lucre, that lust for money and more money. Once caught in that trap there would have been no way out for me.”
If only Bose had understood the real value of patents and used it strategically to create wealth for the country!! Had he appreciated that a government cannot indefinitely fund R&D, he might have commercialised his inventions and used the money to fund more research and perhaps even to build more scientific infrastructure in the country –without necessarily falling into the “lust for money” trap. Particularly so, when his fellow scientists were not as charitable with their knowledge, but were using it strategically. Professor Kochar notes:
“There can be no doubt, as P.C. Ray reminded the audiance assembled in 1916 to greet Bose on his knighthood, that “If he had taken out patents for the apparatus and instruments which he had invented, he could have made millions by their sale”. More importantly, he would perhaps have become an Indian role-model for production of wealth through science. As it is, Bose abandoned radio waves altogether, there were no trained students to continue the research; and India’s tryst with technical physics came to a premature end.”
Anyway, an interesting counterfactual to pose would be:
What if JC Bose had patented his inventions? Would this have helped him gain recognition as the true and first inventor of the wireless? More importantly, would this have changed things in terms of how and to what extent wireless technology (and other technologies with which he is credited) might have developed in India and abroad. And would his have influenced the direction of science/technology in India and more importantly, the attitude of Indian scientists towards patents? I’d be intereted in hearing your views.