Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Making IIT Bombay the next Stanford

IITs and IISc have been at the forefront of technological innovation in India. However, the kind of wealth they have created for India has been limited. The reason is not that there are not enough good people with them, but that the focus is not oriented towards creation of solid value for the society.

On the other hand, US universities like Stanford and MIT have created robust ecosystem of innovation around them. These ecosystems ensure conversion of research into products and thus contribute to growth of their country (US).

Over past 10 weeks, this has slowly become a passion I am strongly pursuing - how to make IIT Bombay's research more productive for a common man. The answer is Technology Transfer. Technology Transfer process in almost every Indian institute is weak. It is more a result of conditioning than conscious decisions that institutes or government made.

Good Indian institutes (like IITs and IISc) only focussed on doing research and their focus on taking the research further into creation of products, so that the entire society can benefit from it, was limited. It slowly changed in early 1990s with creation of a new patent regime. At the moment, the awareness about IP creation and protection is high in IIT Bombay. There are about 80 patents that institute faculty has filed so far.

There is a a problem with patents, however. Although they signify innovation, as many as 90% of them have no direct commercial value as they cannot directly result in innovative products. It take some finite time and effort to convert an innovative idea into a prototype and eventually test for performance improvements in real life usage. It is only at this stage that someone can pick this up and build a business around it - either by licensing it or by starting a new venture around this product.

Most Indian institutes have limited focus on technology transfer. There are multiple problems not just in transfering the technology but also in creation of ready prototypes that can be transfered off-the-shelf.

For one, the need to transfer technology is not well understood by many faculty members. They still live in the time-warp of being business-averse, treating academics as the only logical conclusion of research. This places strong handicaps in path of those even wish to work towards this cause. Then, there is limited support for prototyping and testing of an innovative idea. And what is even more surprising is that IIT Bombay does not even push transfer of technology aggressively. Most of the transfer happens is through faculty member's own contact and influence!

We have formed a team of enthusiastic students which is creating a technology transfer policy proposal for IIT Bombay. We intend to do at least one event next month showcasing institute's technological prowess to industry, seeking collaboration.

One of the aims we are pursuing is to create a more conducive policy atmosphere for faculty members to work for technology transfer. And also to create a Technology Licensing Office for IIT Bombay to aggressively sell IIT's technology, on lines of Stanford's OTL.

It is a lofty aim. But surely one to live for! :)

Ask more questions if something does not make sense. Support us by spreading the word around among IIT Bombay faculty, staff, students and alumni or media. And, wish us luck! :)