Forging a culture of innovation

Forging a culture of innovation


India’s innovation policy has to shift beyond a mere focus on R&D spending to transforming the ecosystem

On paper

  • India should be in a good position in terms of research and development (R&D) spending on paper
  • Our pipeline of researchers seems undiminished; we are ranked third in the world in number of science and technology PhDs awarded and have improved our ranking in the Global Innovation Index, from 66 to 60

The issue

There is no Indian university in the top hundred (QS World University Rankings, 2018) and only 46,904 patents were filed in India in 2016 (China filed over a million patents)

India’s R&D spending

  • Not market focussed: The government’s R&D spending is equivalent to an Amazon or Alphabet’s R&D spend, while only 26 Indian companies figure in the list of top 2,500 companies globally by R&D spend
  • It’s Low and not accessible:
    • India’s R&D spending, as a percentage of GDP, still lags significantly, at 0.69% in 2015 this share has been stagnating for the last decade
    • Over 90% of Indian start-ups face a risk of failure in their initial failure, partially due to a lack of access to financing

Translation of R&D spend into patents affected by institutional constraints

Only 28% of patents registered for applications are eventually filed

  • High patent pendency times
    • Patent pendency times in India are among the highest in the major economies, with a patent taking about 6-7 years between a request for examination and a final office action
    • In comparison, South Korea and China have pendency timings of 16 and 22 months, respectively.
  • IPR amendments needed: India’s intellectual property rights (IPR) policy is ripe for transformation requiring an amendment encouraging start-ups to utilise filed patents on an initial no-royalty basis, with revenue sharing occurring once significant commercialisation is achieved

No transformative innovation across Indian industry

Over 77% of Indian venture capitalists believe that India lacks unique business models or new technologies

  • R&D fails to attract top talent: R&D, as a professional function, fails to attract top talent our 216 researchers per million compare with China’s 1,177, Russia’s 3,131 and the U.S.’s 4,232
  • Rise in bogus publications: With India’s share of global research publications rising from 2.2% in 2000 to 3.7% in 2013, over 35% of publications in “bogus journals” comes from India
  • Quantity over quality: The hoarding of patents has a significant cost; acquiring a higher number of patents, without due regard for quality, has become an institutional mark of success, to up our index of innovation.

What needs to be done?

  • A focus on building an innovation culture is necessary
  • Our innovation policy has to shift beyond a focus on increasing R&D spending to inculcating a mindset of “out-of-the-box” thinking in our universities, start-ups and corporates.

Reforming educational policies:

  • Elimination of rote learning: India’s educational policies need to be redesigned, with a focus on building cognitive abilities, beyond rote learning and focus on quantitative subjects
  • Need to use Data analytics boom: Need to focus on taking advantage of the data analytics boom, improving educational qualities beyond our existing islands of excellence to the whole university system
  • Greater access to public data to build innovative applications: A supporting ecosystem for this will require providing greater access to public data, through the Right to Information Act and a push to providing public data (for example, on train punctuality, water scarcity, air pollution metrics) for building innovative applications on a real-time basis.


For a nation whose public debate is often given to recalling innovations in our historical and mythological past, the future state of India’s R&D activities demands significant attention.

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