Making research the key

Professor Prasanna M. Mujumdar and Dr. Padma Satish have led IIT Bombay towards increased patent filing establishing it as a institution of advanced technology research

Professor Prasanna M. Mujumdar and Dr. Padma Satish explain how creating an environment supportive of innovation can encourage students and faculty to put on their thinking caps, create new technologies and file patents. Their approach to research and development has led to a phenomenal increase in the patents filed by IIT Bombay.

The 5WH in brief

Who: Professor Prasanna M. Mujumdar, current Dean R&D, and Dr. Padma Satish, Chief Technical Officer, R&D office, Industrial Research and Consultancy Centre (IRCC), IIT Bombay (IITB)

What: Are improving the pace of patent filing to enhance IITB’s reputation as an institution of advanced technology research

When: Since 2010

Why: To ensure that students’ and faculty’s technology innovations are made available for the greater public good

Where: Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

How: By adopting a proactive approach to patent filing and creating an environment supportive of innovation

Research is the hallmark of technology institutions. It results in the generation of new know-how, understanding and mechanisms, which become the base for new technologies, processes and products that make a difference to society and life. Research helps enhance and improve the quality of teaching and promotes the emergence of innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship.

IIT Bombay (IITB) places special emphasis on Research and Development (R&D). “We aim to become a leading global institution in advanced technology research. We take up research that addresses pressing social needs of the country and makes a difference to Indian society and lifestyles. We aim at training quality manpower through learning by doing, providing improved products, technology and know-how to the country, and providing thought leadership in science and technology,” says Professor Mujumdar.

Innovation barriers

Becoming a leading global institution in technology research is easier said than done. The experience of developed nations show that nurturing a spirit of inquiry from childhood and encouraging innovation from early on in higher education helps to generate a culture of innovation and promote meaningful R&D. In those countries many students enter the portals of tech institutes with the burning desire to create technologies and build upon those innovations after completing their study. That explains the large number of tech entrepreneurs in the US and in Europe. To the contrary, India is only beginning to develop a start-up culture.

Awareness about intellectual property rights (IPR) is low in India, and this deters innovation. Availability of high-end research infrastructure is another challenge.

Overcoming obstacles

At IITB, the Industrial Research and Consultancy Centre (IRCC) co-ordinates and facilitates R&D activities and the Intellectual Property (IP) management. Here are some of its initiatives in the direction of IP management:

CREATE AWARENESS ABOUT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: To spread awareness about patenting among students, IITB orients new undergraduate and postgraduate students on IP issues. It also conducts workshops and seminars.

Formal knowledge about IPR is imparted through the Shailesh J.Mehta School of Management—it conducts an elective course in IPR fundamentals to enhance capability and awareness. Students undergoing this course become aware of the legalities of IP protection and importance of innovation leading to new technologies and licensing.

Inventors are advised to file for protection of any innovation made by them and also submission of publications drafts before disseminating their work in journals/conferences/other public fora. Otherwise, innovations may be precluded from patenting due to legal provisions.

CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT FOSTERING INNOVATION: IITB has set up an in-house office to handle all aspects of IP management such as setting up processes for invention disclosures, handling IP filing including patenting and other IP applications, technology licensing and deployment and incentivising researchers. The institute has established a fair and simple Intellectual Property policy which promotes innovation and support for researchers through protection, deployment and incentivising them for taking up meaningful R&D.

Overall as an institution, IITB has been continuously enhancing its research facilities and their access. An in-house professional patent search facility has been set up to help inventors assess the novelty of their work, prior to disclosing their inventions for review.

SET UP A SIMPLE PATENT REVIEW PROCESS: Students, faculty and staff are advised to disclose their inventions keeping in mind the patentability criteria of novelty, non-obviousness and industrial utility. They must provide full details of their invention, including technical information on the innovation, information regarding the solution proposed vis-à-vis existing knowledge, novelty of the invention vis-à-vis prior art, source of funds for the generation of the IP, any collaborations / encumbrance related issues, any terms and conditions governing the generation of the IP, possible users of the IP etc.

Technical staff at the office conduct due diligence and review the disclosures. They also check encumbrance-related issues to ensure that the IP is not bound by any terms of agreement regarding its ownership or commitments to agencies sponsoring such research. Where the IP is jointly owned, partner sponsors are involved in the process. For instance, a patent for polymer based sensors was filed jointly with Bigtec, and one for a three-dimensional core holder was filed jointly with ONGC.

SET UP A PANEL OF PATENT ATTORNEYS: Inventions that pass muster are forwarded to one of the patent attorneys on the institute’s panel for the possible filing of an Indian patent application in the first instance. Foreign filings are also taken up after further review and assessment of the commercialisation potential of the invention. 

MONETARY INCENTIVES: Income from inventions is an incentive for faculty. It helps students see their innovations as a foundation on which to build a career. As such, although any IP generated out of research carried out by faculty, students and staff at IITB belongs to the institute, IITB’s IP policy provides that any revenue generated from the licensing of IP is shared by the institute with the inventor team in the ratio of 30% to IITB and 70% to the inventor team.

“IITB’s share is utilised to support the academic entities where such IPs have been generated, defray costs of utilising the institutes facilities and infrastructure and to meet the overhead costs of the R&D office,” explains Professor Mujumdar.

ALL OUT APPROACH:  IITB is making an all out effort to boost innovation, patenting and deployment. R&D office personnel proactively assess the abstracts of the reports of M.Tech project work every year, to ferret out innovations that may qualify for patenting. Shortlisted work is reviewed in consultation with the researchers. Some such technologies are technology for saving power for mobile and other portable scenario, microfluidic devices for biological separation etc.

MAKE EFFORTS TO GET THE WORD OUT: Research is only as valuable as it is put to use. To this end, IITB disseminates information regarding technologies developed at IITB and available for licensing. “We circulate fliers and brochures to visitors and industry associations such as CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM, NASSCOM and so on, place newspaper advertisements, list the technologies on our web portal, participate in pan IIT meets and off campus exhibitions conducted by CII, FICCI etc,” shares Dr. Padma Satish, Chief Technical Officer in the R&D office.

Patenting success

IITB has made remarkable progress in patent filing in recent years. Whereas 19 patents were filed in 2008, 70 Indian patents, six US patents and one patent each in Brazil and the EU were filed in 2012. In 2013, IIT B filed nearly 60 Indian patent applications and 14 in foreign countries, including US, the EU and Hong Kong.

Patents filed by IITB include inventions by students as well as faculty and staff. Examples of student patents include technology for auto tuning of lenses, distributed oscillator for generating high frequency signals for high power output, etc.  

Professor Mujumdar expects patenting activity to grow further. To this end, IITB is open to purposeful discussions with industry to collaborate and develop / license technologies for commercialisation. “The visible outcomes we are targeting include developing technologies which will be more impactful for the jobs they create and for addressing societal needs. The number of patents filed is one of the indicators of our R&D performance especially in respect of work translating to direct impact on society,” he finishes.

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