I had earlier introduced Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, 2013 (“Policy”). I shall analyse the Policy in this post.
An encouraging but incomplete policy document
The Policy is quite an encouraging policy document. It marks a significant shift in the approach of the government vis-à-vis its earlier policies – Scientific Policy Resolution of 1958, Technology Policy Statement of 1983 and Science and Technology Policy of 2003. As I had stated earlier, the Policy comes in the light of the realization that treating innovation and S&T as two disconnected realms was a serious lacuna especially when the former has now assumed centre stage in the developmental goals of countries around the world. The Policy, unlike the earlier policy documents, recognizes the synergistic linkages among them. Prof. Shamnad Basheer succinctly summarized the necessity for a policy change when he stated in ‘India’s Innovation Czar’ (Editorial in Livemint dated 06 December 2009): “For, despite India’s rapid economic progress and technological proficiency, it has failed to produce any real innovation on its soil. Consider our software industry, which continues to remain content with a cyber coolie “services” model, and our pharmaceutical industry that thrives on a copycat generic model. What is most puzzling is the fact that the very same brains that fail to create on Indian soil do so the moment they land on foreign shores. What ails? Do we really lack an innovation culture? How is it that a country that boasts of Sushruta and rudimentary cataract surgery as far back as 600 BC does not have a single blockbuster drug to its credit?” I cannot agree more.
The Policy intends to position India among the top five global scientific powers by 2020, facilitate S&T-based high-risk innovations through new mechanisms; facilitate partnerships among stake holders for scaling successes of R&D; and trigger changes in the mindset and value systems to recognize, respect and reward performances which create wealth from S&T derived knowledge. It engrains the principle of social inclusion and private participation for achieving its objectives. It also sets out the need for nurturing a conducive STI ecosystem. In short, it intends to “accelerate the pace of discovery and delivery of science-led solutions for serving the aspirational goals of India for faster, sustainable and inclusive growth”– a strong and viable Science, Research and Innovation System for High Technology-led path for India (SRISHTI).
The Policy also expresses pragmatism when it states that it intends to tap global resources including Indian diaspora for accelerating the pace of technology-led development. The objective is in consonance with the extant government policy of leveraging the Indian diaspora – a policy which is expressly set out in the objective statement of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
The Policy recognises the extant fragile innovation ecosystem. The Policy notes that India’s R&D investment is less than 2.5% of the global investments. It has been under 1% of the GDP. It observes that achieving the target of increasing Gross Expenditure in Research and Development (GERD) to 2% of the GDP in the next five years is realizable provided the private sector matches India’s public investment and the ratio of public to private sector investments in R&D changes from the current 3:1 to 1:1 within the next five years. The Policy notes that supply side interventions have hitherto been the main strategy for public investment in R&D. The Policy calls for equal emphasis on both supply side interventions and demand based investments. While public investments in R&D shall maintain the current rates of growth, private investment has to increase significantly for translating R&D outputs into commercial outcomes. The Policy also seeks to raise Full-Time Equivalent of R&D personnel by at least 66% of the present strength for matching the enhanced level of private sector investments in R&D and maintaining the tempo of public sector investments. The Policy also sets out a new initiative – Public Private Partnership (“PPP”). A National Science, Technology and Innovation Foundation will be established as a PPP for investing critical levels of resources for innovative and ambitious projects. The Policy also calls for facilitating S&T based high-risk innovations and creating an environment conducive for enhancing private sector investment in R&D. According to the Policy, “India’s innovation machinery should aim to lead rather than to follow safe paths of discovery.” These policy statements are quite forthcoming considering the extant state of affairs in the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Though Indian pharmaceutical industry is considered to be a leader in generic drugs market, it has not made any appreciable progress as far as discovery of new drug molecules is concerned. [I had earlier posted on the state of R&D of new drugs in the Indian pharmaceutical industry here]. I must, however, note that the Policy does not elaborate the initiatives.
On the whole, I am inclined to appreciate the temperament of the Policy. It is encouraging and sets the ball in motion. I am, however, inclined to perceive it as an incomplete document for the reasons mentioned below:
‘One-size, fit-all’ approach
Prof. Shamnad Basheer, in his interview to The Hindu (2008) titled ‘Encourage Innovation with holistic approach’, advocated for a ‘comprehensive and holistic framework for encouraging innovation’ rather than a piecemeal approach which has hitherto been the norm. Unfortunately, the Policy adopts a ‘one-size, fit-all’ approach towards STI. Though the basic policy tools may remain the same across the board, customized policy tools may be required for each sector. For instance, the policy framework conducive for biotechnology may differ from that of software which in turn may differ from that of electronics. It is understandable that a master policy document may not be able to set out all the sector-specific policies. However, the Policy could have at least set out the contours of its approach. It is pertinent as putting forward a policy initiative completely oblivious of sector-specific concerns may turn out to be ineffectual in the long run.
Leveraging Traditional Knowledge (“TK”)
The Policy has totally overlooked Traditional Knowledge (“TK”) especially when the potential is untapped. There is ample scope for leveraging our TK for achieving the larger objectives of the Policy. The Policy fails to integrate the aforesaid aspect into its framework. I shall cite an example for making the argument clearer. Most of us have must have eaten or at least heard about jackfruit. But not many of us may know about the various value-added products such as jackfruit payasam, jackfruit cutlet, jackfruit sandwich, jackfruit dosa, jackfruit halwa, jackfruit ice cream (which is now available in Natural’s)….The list is endless!! [For more, see here] A major obstacle in the marketing and export of value added products of jackfruit is their short shelf period (which in turn is linked to the livelihood of those involved in this venture). Osmo-dehydration is quite a useful technology in this regard. According to NIIR Project Consultancy Services, the technology is still not well-established in India. One reason may be the costs involved in this project – which is more than three crores (according to NIIR) and therefore, unaffordable to the small farmers. It is to be noted that the presence of a low cost, accessible and effective technology goes a long way in ensuring social inclusion which is one of the stated objectives of the Policy. Therefore, it is high time that we leverage upon our TK by blending it with STI. It is to be noted that the Policy seeks to “vertically integrate all dimensions of STI into the socio-economic processes” and promote “inclusive innovation”. The Policy, further, states that the focus is on “both people for science and science for people”. Perceived in this context, its muted approach towards leveraging TK is perturbing.
As rightly pointed out by Prashant in ‘National Science Day – The good and bad of Indian policy initiatives for scientific research and innovation’, several forthcoming initiatives of the government are stalled either at Parliament or in Ministry of S&T. Further, as Prashant had pointed out in his excellent article in Business Standard ‘The regulatory mess in Indian science’, there exists regulatory deficit in Indian science which is a debilitating factor for any forthcoming wholesome and sustainable progress in STI. The Policy should have called for a quick review and implementation of the same as these delays dent the objectives stated to be achieved.
Approach towards Intellectual Property Rights (“IPR”)
The Policy does not clearly put forward its approach vis-à-vis IPR. It also does not explore the linkage between traditional IP protection and innovation. The Policy states that it will modify “IPR policy to provide for marching rights for social good when supported by public funds and for co-sharing IPRs generated under PPP.” It does not define the expression “marching rights”. Considering the context, it is likely to mean that where public funds are used, IPRs will be modified to direct the benefits of the innovation towards social good. I must note that the aforesaid objective is couched in abstract terms and the Policy does not set out or at least provide an outline for achieving the aforesaid objective. Further, the Policy merely puts forward mechanisms such as “Small Idea-Small Money” and “Risky Idea Fund” for supporting innovation incubators without elaborating upon them.
Informal IP norms
SPICY IP has always maintained that IPR particularly patents is not an end by itself. In fact, they are means to an end. They are a set of tools for incentivizing innovation. As Prof. Shamnad Basheer pointed out [here], “… any measure that looks more holistically at “innovation” and moves away from an exclusive IP centric view is a welcome one.” The Policy reflects the aforesaid perspective to a great extent, for instance by setting out its intention to nurture a favourable innovation ecosystem. It is to be highlighted that the Policy acknowledges open source discoveries as an “interesting innovation system”. Further, it recognizes that knowledge commons is an emerging theme for managing IPRs created through multi-stake holder participation. I perceive it as a step in the right direction towards appreciation of informal IP norms. As Prof. Shamnad Basheer opined in his editorial in Livemint titled ‘Creating Informal IP norms’ (2008), “Newer IP regimes in India, such as the protection of geographical indications and plant varieties, throw the relevance of “informal communities” into sharper focus, dealing as they do with communities of farmers and artisans. Similarly, as India moves to devise norms for protecting and leveraging its ancient “traditional” and indigenous knowledge, it will again have to cater predominantly to informal communities that live on the fringes of the existing IP regime. This regime, largely a Western heritage gifted to us by our colonial masters, and further entrenched with the help of an inequitable international instrument called TRIPS, is very “individualistic” in tone and focuses specifically on identifiable inventors and authors. This sits in sharp contrast with the “community” focus in India, where things like traditional medicinal knowledge and folklore have no clearly identifiable authors or inventors, but have been preserved by indigenous communities over hundreds of years.” Unfortunately, the Policy has not articulated its approach towards informal IP norms. It merely touches upon some of the informal IP norms.
Research infrastructure in Indian universities
As noted by Priyamvada Natarajan in ‘Bridging India’s knowledge gap’ in ‘The Business Line’ (16 January 2013), “Historically, the set-up of the Indian S&T enterprise stemmed from the Nehruvian vision of the significant role expected of S&T in the country’s development. With Nehru’s patronage, the renowned scientists of that generation such as Meghnad Saha, Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, and C. V. Raman all pushed for building scientific research as a high priority in order to rapidly cultivate a homegrown scientific community and achieve technical self-sufficiency with expediency. Scarce resources were therefore directed to a few elite research centres inspired by the model in the USSR; a few national laboratories in specific subjects.…….Research universities are the backbone of invention and innovation in the US. The tight coupling of undergraduate and graduate training, along with a strong research base, has provided natural incubators to nurture new ideas that could potentially translate immediately into applications, as well as more long-term basic science research that might not produce immediate commercial benefits. However, as a consequence of this initial historic cleavage in India, university research has failed to garner adequate support and the structural changes required to invigorate and reshape universities to do so, never took root. In the meantime, more and more research institutes have been created in the sciences and social sciences outside the university system.” The corrective steps advocated by the author include reintegrating research and teaching; encouraging collaborations with colleagues at research institutes; targeted grants programme and giving adequate attention to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The Policy approaches this issue in an altogether different manner. Rather than focusing on enhancing the R&D facilities in universities (which should have received the primary focus), it intends to multiply inter-university centres “to enable a wide cross section of university researchers to access advanced research facilities and equipment which are otherwise not available in university environments.”
As I had stated earlier, the Policy is quite an encouraging policy document of the government. It, however, sets out abstract ideas and overlooks some crucial aspects. Notably, it does not clearly articulate its approach towards IPR – an exercise which would have demonstrated clarity of thought on the part of the government. Had these drawbacks been addressed, it would have been a comprehensive document. On the whole, I appreciate the temperament of the document.
[For a related post titled ‘First set up the labs, then dream the Nobel’, see here.]
Tags: STI Policy