India is Innovating Faster than Before - and That’s Good News

India needs to radically rethink and modernize delivery of various public services to improve reach, scale, and quality. I believe this process, which began a decade ago, has gathered momentum in recent days. This, I believe, is the direct result of our innovation ecosystem maturing and scaling rapidly. Two news reports I recently read have reinforced my belief that not only has the pace of technology-led innovation has picked up across sectors in India, it has also become more broad-based.

The first report was on how Narayana Healthcare (founded by renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty) has fitted 700 beds at its cardiac hospital in Bangalore with sensors. When connected to patients using these beds, these sensors can monitor vital parameters. Data such as each patient’s temperature, blood pressure, SPO2/oxygen levels, pulse rate, ECG, breathing etc. are regularly measured and transmitted to dedicated computers and smartphones. Nurses and doctors can monitor each patient’s health and take quick action as and when necessary.

The idea is not new, as many factories in India (and elsewhere) that have embraced “Industry 4.0” have already gone down a similar path. Real-time data from an array of sensors fitted to various machines on shop floors are securely streamed to devices so that supervisors and managers are instantly alerted to breakdowns, abnormal variations in energy consumption or sub-optimal performance in terms of productivity or quality.

What is perhaps new- or at least becoming more visible across India- is the ability to cross-pollinate ideas and best practices across industries and evolve innovative solutions that are powered by technology so that reliability is improved. Dr. Shetty has often spoken about the impending shortage of healthcare professionals in India, and the need to train youth for jobs as medical technicians, so that the load on doctors is reduced and more patients can get their attention for treatment instead of performing tasks such as conducting tests etc. Dr. Shetty also pointed out that with this new system, nurses will no longer need to awaken sleeping patients just to measure and record vital signs. When innovations like this are replicated across hospitals in India, the quality of care will improve- even in government hospitals. The initial investment too will come down as more companies offer such automated, real-time health monitoring solutions.

A second report that provides evidence in support of my view was on drone startups. Thanks to an expanding vista of applications (e-commerce delivery, telecom, energy, disaster management, defence etc.) and various government policies (PLI, Drone Shakti etc.), this sector is attracting significant investments. Reports suggest that the twelve months ending 30 June 2022 saw twice the number of VC deals related to drones as in the preceding twelve-month period. At an estimated US$87 Million, the quantum of investment too in the 1 July 2021- 30 June 2022 period was more than 3.6X the US$24 Million invested in the preceding year. Trends indicate that India will soon be home to a rapidly-growing vibrant drone industry.

As our world grapples with multiple threats including climate change, a reduced emphasis on traditional models of globalization and new geopolitical fault lines, new technologies in critical areas emerging rapidly. These technologies will soon alter societies and security paradigms. In such a milieu, no country can afford to remain dependent on foreign technology. India must ensure that we build a large, robust and sustainable base of domestic capabilities in areas such as AI/ML, robotics, drones, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing etc.

To keep up with the changes (including in laws, business models/strategies, hybrid working arrangements, war for talent etc.), professional services firms too need to evolve to up their game. Siloed capabilities and solution approaches that worked even five years ago are no longer enough- but that’s perhaps a topic for a future write-up.

India must ensure that we build a large, robust and sustainable base of domestic capabilities in areas such as AI/ML, robotics, drones, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing etc.

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A Shot in the Arm for Innovation and IP: Budget 2022

The past two years have brought to the forefront the paramount importance of technology. The Economic Survey 2021-22 was a precursor to the Union Budget that built a foundation for a wave of innovations by incorporating a tech-forward and futuristic outlook across various relevant sectors. Drone technology, artificial intelligence, blockchain and the issuance of a Central Backed Digital Currency (“CBDC”) were a few of the issues that were highlighted.

The Finance Minister mentioned the word ‘Atma Nirbhar’ approximately six (6) times in her address. The vision of self-reliance, or ‘Atma Nirbhar’, has been a rallying call for the government in the last few years, hence manifesting the importance of this philosophy.

Green India

 
There has been increased awareness of both the ill effects of climate change as well as the various pollutants that are damaging the environment. The Union Budget took note of this with announcements for the implementation of Energy Service Models (ESCO) as well as the development of business models for batteries or energy as a service. The Finance Ministers’ mention of a battery swapping policy as well as interoperability standards for charging electric vehicles indicates an urgency for innovation in this space to reduce the carbon footprint. With an increased focus on electronic vehicles, the future is indeed bright for battery makers to bring forth further innovation to reduce costs for battery replacement as well as tackle the inadequacy of public charging infrastructure. Such innovation will lead to an increase in patented technology in the field of green energy. In addition, the impetus given through the additional allocation towards solar equipment manufacturing and the issuance of green bonds for boosting green infrastructure are big steps towards a green economy driven by technological enablement.


The 5G connection

 

The much-anticipated 5G spectrum auctions are set to be conducted in 2022 to facilitate the rollout of 5G mobile services. As a part of the PLI Scheme, a designed-led manufacturing framework is proposed to be launched to build a strong 5G ecosystem in the country. The technology will be a catalyst to innovation in several sectors such as healthcare, automotive, research, defence, manufacturing etc. Additionally, 5G and R&D shall prove to be a stepping stone into the new era of businesses being more appreciative of the complexities and importance of the IP regime to gain maximum benefits amidst a growing tech-friendly and driven market.

Wearables

 

With the announcement of a graded rate structure of the customs duty rates, the focus on ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ is very much prevalent to facilitate further domestic manufacturing of wearables. This can be an impetus for further innovation from both existing domestic companies as well as the genesis of newer ones. Wearables have garnered a lot of attention in recent times and there is a lot of scope for newer players in this field with unique trademarks whose innovations will give rise to numerous patents.

Eye in the Sky

 

Climate change has adversely impacted the farming sector and the need of the hour is sustainable land management and a change is required in the manner of farming. The announcement of the ‘Drone Shakti’ scheme as well as the use of drones to assist in spraying of insecticides and nutrients and for crop assessment heralds the advent of e-agriculture which is important for an agriculture-based country like India. A drone can assist farmers with crop production, early warning systems and disaster risk reduction. Additionally, the drones–as–a–service (DRaaS) model will act as a fillip for startups in this nascent sphere of activity and increase innovation and adoption of drone technology for e-agriculture in the coming years.

Blockchain Technology

 

Months of uncertainty ended with the announcement of the CBDC, which will act as an impetus to the digital economy. The CBDC will be based on blockchain technology, thus also welcoming the use of blockchain technology in the future as a building block for the digital economy. The introduction of the digital yuan in China heralded the incorporation of new mechanisms to adopt CBDC’s among apps and providers of payment solutions. The government intends to launch the digital rupee from 2022- 2023 and therefore, this year will be a watershed moment for the adoption of blockchain technology.

The advent of the blockchain will increase its utility in various other sectors as well such as sports, NFT’s, smart contracts, etc.

 

Edtech

 

Education has moved from the erstwhile hallowed classrooms to the living room in the last two years. Classrooms became virtual and education too was touched by the Digital India initiatives. Into this space came EdTech companies with tie-ups and a range of courses to upskill not only students but professionals as well. The Union Budget proposed the launch of a digital university to enable access to education to all at one’s doorstep. Additionally, the Budget announced a skill-development initiative in a digital ecosystem called the DESH stack e portal. The use of technology in the education sector will not only increase, but we will see further innovation in both the medium of dissemination of information as well as the advent of artificial intelligence-based learning tools and the issuance of certificates via the use of blockchain technology to name a few changes one could see. With each platform wanting to garner the largest consumer base, the protection of intellectual property will be at the forefront of this sector.

HealthTech

 

The pandemic has not just intensified the need for health-related technological innovation, but the digital support offered by AI and automation during the crucial period has also punctuated the future of HealthTech with burgeoning prospects. This has been acknowledged in the budget with the introduction of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem consisting of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, a unique health identity, consent framework, and universal access to health facilities. This would legitimize, increase access as well as boost consumer confidence in the sector’s offerings, thus leading to more investment and more innovation. Moreover, the recognition of mental health issues, as well as the support system, proposed to be established to address them in the form of a ‘National Tele Mental Health Programme’ and Tele-mental health centres of excellence makes this discipline, which was hitherto marred by discomfiture, lucrative.

The Future

 

With path-breaking changes in both the technology at use as well as the improvements in the current technology at use, we will see a huge number of intellectual properties being created. The renewed focus on ‘Atma Nirbhar’ will encourage startups to push forward with innovation in varied fields that will optimise a market ecosystem that deploys the use of drones, e-agriculture, EdTech, blockchain etc.

There has always been a direct correlation between innovation and the protection of intellectual property. The views of John Locke through the Labour Theory and Hegel through the Personality Theory are of utmost relevance considering this forward-looking union budget. Intellectual Property and its protection will not only reward the creator for their work, but will also protect their personality in the work, resulting in continued innovation.

With the stage set for some landmark innovations in the upcoming years, and various actors waiting in the wings, intellectual property and the challenges of enforcement will take centre stage.

References:

Image Credits: Photo by kiquebg from Pixabay 

There has always been a direct correlation between innovation and the protection of intellectual property. With the stage set for some landmark innovations in the upcoming years, and various actors waiting in the wings, intellectual property and the challenges of enforcement will take centre stage.

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Being COVID Sanguine: Some Silver Linings to the Pandemic

Given the devastating effects the COVID 19 pandemic has had on the world in general and India in particular, you’re probably wondering about the title of this blog. Don’t get me wrong- I am in no way trying to diminish the massive damage to life, livelihoods and health that the pandemic has brought upon millions of people in India and around the world. Had I seen a similar title even 4 months ago, I too would probably have experienced thoughts similar to what you felt. 

So what has changed in a matter of a few weeks? There has been a major drop in the number of cases around the country; instances of serious infections requiring ICU care have also declined. The vaccination drive is going from strength to strength, with as many as 10 million people being vaccinated across India on a single day.

But the biggest change is in my own perspective. Earlier, I always saw only the negative and the bleak, but now I am beginning to see some positives. And that’s what prompted me to write this piece. Here are five specific areas in which I see positives.

Our people exhibited phenomenal resolve and resilience

The second wave (March-June 2021) was especially brutal on India. Our healthcare infrastructure was stretched beyond breaking point. Oxygen was in short supply, as were critical drugs. Medical experts were trying to firm up treatment protocols. Although vaccinations had begun for some people, the Cowin portal was glitchy and even vaccine supply chains were far from streamlined.

But we saw hundreds of self-help groups come up on platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram. Volunteers would man them 24×7 to ensure that across India, patients and their families got access to critical resources including food, oxygen cylinders and medicines. These supplemented (and often replaced) government measures. Technology was used to the fullest, to ensure that people knew where vaccine doses were available, so they could quickly register.

The pandemic has powered a surge of innovations

Almost every day, there were/are media reports around some innovative activity in India. Some emanate from the government sector: for example, in many cities, stadia and large school buildings were converted into makeshift hospitals or Covid Care Centres.

There are many examples of innovation emerging from private enterprise too. For example, given the large quantities of PPE waste being generated, someone came up with a way to convert used PPE kits (which would otherwise have to be incinerated or buried safely in landfills) into briquettes that can be used for constructing low-cost housing.

Around the country, different teams developed prototypes of low-cost oxygenators and ventilators. This will be a source of great benefit to the country because it reduces dependence on imports. And as we have seen, geopolitical triggers or maritime issues (like the ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal) can wreak havoc with global supplies.

Recently, I read about a woman-led team in Hyderabad inventing a fabric that has anti-virus and anti-bacterial properties. Imagine the wide range of applications at home, in workplaces and public spaces for such a versatile invention.

 

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) redefined

The notion of Public-Private Partnerships too has changed in the last 18 months or so. Whether this is a direct result of the pandemic or more the outcome of policy changes is perhaps hard to separate. But India as a nation is seeing much higher levels of collaboration between government laboratories and infrastructure and the private sector. DRDO collaborating with start-ups for developing drones that can be used for vaccine delivery is one example. Another is ISRO encouraging startups and even students to design satellites. A third is ICMR collaborating with Bharat Biotec in the development of Covaxin, India’s first indigenous Covid vaccine.

Passions are changing into professions, creating employment opportunities

On the one hand, the pandemic has killed many livelihoods. But with many people looking at new, home-based business ventures- and using digital channels to market themselves and deliver their products (and in some cases, services too), one can hope that they will be able to scale and over time, some job losses can be offset. Examples include food delivery, baking, making pickles etc.  Of course, India still needs contact-based industries, such as construction and manufacturing, to pick up and get back on track.

Attempts to harness the creative talent of our youth

This may not be directly linked to the pandemic, but I believe that greater participation will result because of the restrictions imposed by it. The government is looking for innovative ideas from our youth. The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) and The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) recently announced Manthan 21, a “hackathon” aimed at getting our country’s youth to come up with innovative solutions to address the challenges faced by our intelligence and security agencies. Specific areas have been identified. (more details are available here: https://manthan.mic.gov.in/about-intellithon.php).

 

Experts say that the world around us has changed for ever, and there’s a “new normal” in the wake of the pandemic. There is no doubt about that. But hybrid working models or other changes visible in the organized sector (especially in larger firms and companies) are not the only changes to our world resulting from the pandemic. The impact of the less visible changes described above too will be felt by India and the world in the years ahead.

 

The second wave (March-June 2021) was especially brutal on India. But we saw hundreds of self-help groups come up on platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram. Volunteers would man them 24×7 to ensure that across India, patients and their families got access to critical resources including food, oxygen cylinders and medicines. 

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India Needs New Regulations - But Simplification of Compliance is Just as Critical

In earlier posts, I have touched upon the need for Indian laws to be updated to better reflect the current environment and foreseeable changes to it brought about by various forces, primarily technology-led innovation. This is not just because of the need to plug legal loopholes that are exploited to the nation’s detriment but also with the objectives of streamlining compliance and better enforcement.

 

Recently, the union government did exactly this when it announced a new set of rules to govern the operations of drones in India. A new draft of the Drone Rules, 2021, now out for public consultation, will, when approved and notified, replace the UAS Rules, 2021, which were announced in March 2021. The fact that the government has come out with a new set of rules within 4 months of issuing the earlier version is a welcome sign of change, as it signals recognition of a rapidly-changing environment as well as the importance of timely and appropriate responses.

Changes are aimed at simplification and less regulatory control

The new rules are remarkable for other reasons as well. At about 15 pages in length, the new rules are only a tenth of the earlier rules. The changes are not limited to the form; there are substantive changes too. The new rules seek to do away with a large number of approvals (e.g., Unique Authorization Number, Unique Prototype Identification Number etc.).  Licensing for micro drones for non-commercial use has been done away with. Recognizing the immense potential for drones to revolutionize our society and economy, the government proposes to develop “drone corridors” for cargo delivery. Prior authorization of drone-related R&D organizations is being removed. A drone promotion council is to be set up, in order to create a business-friendly regulatory regime that spurs innovation and use of drones. All this augurs well for the development of a robust drone ecosystem in India.

Implementing the “spirit” of underlying regulations is vital

The change to the drone rules is a welcome step- just as the consolidation of 29 of the country’s labour laws into four Codes during 2019 and 2020 was. But rationalization becomes futile if there is no element of reform- e.g., doing away with requirements that have outlived their utility or need significant changes to remain relevant in the current environment? There were many expectations around the Labour Codes, but in the months that followed, it is fair to say that there was also much disillusionment amongst industry stakeholders because sticky issues, such as the distinction between “employees” and “workers”, payment of overtime, role of facilitator-cum-inspector etc., remained.

Simplifying compliance is necessary to improve “ease of doing business” further

The World Bank’s 2020 “ease of doing business” report ranks India 63rd; we were ranked 130 in 2016. The 2020 report considered three areas: business regulatory reforms (starting a business, paying taxes, resolving insolvency etc.); contracting with the government, and employing workers. 

But there are miles to go before we sleep. To ensure that India’s entrepreneurial energies and creative intelligence are directed to areas that will be critical in the years to come- e.g., space, AI, robotics, electric vehicles, clean energy etc. all need new regulations or revamp of existing legislations and rules. But this alone will not suffice. Implementing the spirit, and not just the letter of the law and rules and the simplification of regulatory compliance are important angles that government must pay attention to. These are going to be key determinants in improving our “ease of doing business”.

 

Technology is a necessary enabler but it is not sufficient

All regulatory filings- whether for approvals or compliance- should ideally be enabled in digital format. Digital dashboards in the government and other regulatory bodies should facilitate real-time monitoring. Only exceptions or violations should need further actions. To be sure, the government has initiated some steps in this direction- e,g., “faceless” interactions between business and the Income Tax authorities with the intention to reduce human interventions and thus, the possibility of corruption. But if the underlying income tax portal itself is not working properly, as was widely reported soon after it was launched, the desired outcomes will not be achieved.

Moreover, it is not just about having the right technology platforms in place. It is equally critical to bring about a mindset change in the administrative machinery that helps political leadership formulate policy and thereafter, enable implementation and performance monitoring.

Given India’s large domestic market and attractiveness as a base for exports, we as a nation stand on the threshold of a phase of significant economic growth. Many Indian entrepreneurs are establishing businesses overseas; this means that the benefits of jobs, tax revenues and IPR creation all move to other jurisdictions. The longer anachronistic and irrelevant laws remain on our books, and the harder regulatory compliance remains, the more we stand to lose. In a world where global investment flows, trade and supply chains are facing significant change under the influence of numerous forces, it would truly be unfortunate if India loses out largely because of continued difficulties in regulatory compliance.

Image Credits: Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

The longer anachronistic and irrelevant laws remain on our books, and the harder regulatory compliance remains, the more we stand to lose. In a world where global investment flows, trade and supply chains are facing significant change under the influence of numerous forces, it would truly be unfortunate if India loses out largely because of continued difficulties in regulatory compliance.

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Why filing of Provisional Patent Application keeps you ahead in the Patenting race?

With an additional focus to build an Innovation based entrepreneurial eco system, innovation is happening at the drop of a hat. However, the floodgate of invention around the race does not seem to be limited to an ingenious mind but also requires a go-getter attitude. As we know, Patent protection works on a “first to file” basis and not on “first to invent” which means it is granted to the one who files the Patent application first, subject to fulfilling other patentability criteria.

A Patent application has to be filed along with certain Specifications (details/working of the invention). These specifications are of two types i.e. Provisional and Complete. Therefore, the application can be filed along with the Provisional or Complete Specification. If filed with Provisional, the Complete specification needs to be filed within 12 months.

 

Provisional Specification is very basic in nature and does not require details about the invention, unlike Complete Specification. Perhaps the difference between the two specifications is clear from the preambles of the specifications itself i.e.:

Preamble of the Provisional Application: “The following specification describes the invention”.

Preamble of the Complete Specification: “The following specification describes the invention and the manner in which it is to be performed.”

 

Even though, the Provisional Specification does not require claims, detailed descriptions, drawings etc., however, due care needs to be taken to ensure that the specification is broad enough so the objectives of the invention is covered as Complete Specification cannot be broader than what was disclosed in the Provisional.

 

Many times, during the office action as well as during the infringement or revocation attack, it is the provisional specification, which is first scrutinized to check if the invention was covered clearly. Therefore, even though it is provisional, taking professional guidance while drafting would be advisable to avoid possible mishaps in the future.

 

In order to stay ahead in the competition of technological advancement, R&D companies and other IP sophisticated companies around the globe, work on new inventions and file applications with the bare minimum information to get a priority date for their inventions. This is done before deep diving into specifics such as looking at the prior art or doing the feasibility test for the product/process etc.

 

Ideally, if an inventor comes up with an invention, she should not wait for the invention to be fully developed or for the feasibility test to be done. Needless to mention, millions of researchers around the globe are working on similar subjects and one never knows who might be coming up with similar invention in some part of the world and perhaps may be moving faster to file the patent application to claim priority.

 

Post filing of a Patent Application along with the Provisional Specification, an inventor has 12 months’ time to complete the research and file the Complete Specification. Since this option has been provided under the Patent law, availing it to claim the priority date would be a wise thing to do rather than wait for the research to complete where one would be running the risk of losing everything if someone else files before them. 

 

Ideally these 12 months period are given so one can carry out the patentability/ prior art search, which help the inventors tremendously in working around similar inventions.  Further, the Companies/inventors could also use the (provisional) Patent Application number to discuss the invention with potential investors, partners, licensee, etc. with due caution. 

 

In a situation where the inventor is unable to file the Complete Specification within the due date due to unavoidable circumstances, there is an option to file a request to post-date the application for a maximum period of six months subject to non-disclosure of the invention in the public domain.  

 

Considering these obvious advantages, filing a Patent Application along with a Provisional Specification could and would prevent a genuine effort from being a day late and a dollar short.

 

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Post filing of a Patent Application along with the Provisional Specification, an inventor has 12 months’ time to complete the research and file the Complete Specification. Since this option has been provided under the Patent law, availing it to claim the priority date would be a wise thing to do rather than wait for the research to complete where one would be running the risk of losing everything if someone else files before them. 

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