On scratching the surface, one would realize that while there have been innovations and breakthroughs that have aided economic and social upliftment in India, the road has been bumpy. Let us consider the example of the GE’s Mac 400, a hand-held ECG unit. Priced at just 40% of the original value, the portable unit reduces the cost of an ECG test to just around INR 45. Termed as Reverse Innovation, this has been widely cited in literature to exemplify the innovative potential in India and as a means of driving down medical costs not just in the underdeveloped and developing world but also in the developed countries.
Now, re-imagine the above scenario where the invention of ECG hadn’t been introduced to medical institutions in India or had there been no portable ticketing machines, which in fact was the inspiration for Mac 400. In either case, this innovation or its benefits wouldn’t have materialized.
Another example is the re-engineering of Bosch’s PF diesel engine in India which could comply with tighter emission norms in Europe and reduce repair and maintenance costs in India. One innovation by Bosch India had benefited two markets catering to highly specific needs of each. A little more research can perhaps throw up more such results but the end to this argument is that for incremental, frugal innovation to happen, introduction of inventions is beneficial, not just for the country/organization which introduces but also for the country/organization which is being introduced with, especially if the country is India.
I am not purporting that Indian innovation is dependent on technology transfer from abroad as I am well aware of the Indian potential to innovate as exemplified by organizations like Honey Bee network and Barefoot College. Rather I intend to focus my argument on what India has to offer to the world through Reverse Innovation, a case of Invention IN, Innovation OUT. Certainly, the RoI of this is huge for either party involved i.e., the inventors as well as the innovators as described above.
What is hindering this process is the persistent issue of IPR and incomprehensible patent laws, which even after being amended five times since their introduction, have failed to generate enough confidence in foreign technology companies and here lies the problem. If the ideal case of Invention IN, Innovation OUT is to be made real then Indian IPR and patent lawmakers need to arrive at a broad consensus which does not compromise with the Indian entrepreneurial spirit and neither does it deprive foreign firms the fair share of benefit. I hope this happens soon.