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[NEW DELHI] India and a group of ten South-East Asian countries plan to improve cooperation in converting locally-developed technologies into competitively priced products for sale on the international market.

The decision was made at a three-day workshop on the management of technology innovation in Delhi, India, last week, in which scientists and foreign trade experts from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India participated.

India's Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council under the Department of Science and Technology will serve as the central agency for this collaboration, Deepak Bhatnagar, advisor at the council, told SciDev.Net.

The two sides have agreed to focus on helping build each other's institutional capacities in technology management, and synergising their efforts to improve living standards by using science and technology.

Technology management is one of five areas of existing science collaboration between India and ASEAN. The others are advanced materials, biotechnology, information technology and space science.

Another key issue for discussion between the regions is intellectual property rights, said ASEAN delegates at last week's meeting.

"Fostering growth of innovative enterprises requires in-depth discussions on intellectual property rights," Amelia Ancong, former deputy minister for science and technology in the Philippines and currently member of the governing board of the Philippine National Research Council, told the workshop.

Ancong added that intellectual property rights were often not integrated into the research and development programmes of developing countries.

Last month's tsunami highlighted the need for South and South-East Asian countries use technology to minimise damage from natural disasters, pointed out Rajagopala Chidambaram, principal scientific advisor to the Indian Government, who opened the workshop on 12 January.

As economic links between India and South-East Asia grow, they will need to assess science and technology policy and management from regional perspectives, Chidambaram said.

He added that India could learn from the successful innovation-driven enterprises in ASEAN countries, whereas ASEAN could benefit from India's vast network of scientific institutions covering almost every science discipline, as well as the country's successful interaction between academia and industry, and precision engineering capabilities.

Small and medium enterprises might be better vehicles for innovation than large companies, Chidambaram noted. Such small and medium enterprise clusters need to be technologically upgraded to reach global standards in order to compete in the present era of globalisation.

He said that even developed countries were facing an 'innovation backlog' – technologies are emerging rapidly but are not being converted quickly enough into marketable products.

Cooperation in science and technology between India and ASEAN has grown considerably since 1993. An initial focus on materials, biotechnology and information technology has expanded since then to include science and technology policy development, and technology management.

Valingam Ramamurthy, secretary of India's Department of Science and Technology, noted there has been a regular exchange of scientists and data between the regions.

Ramamurthy added that as well as sharing a similar culture, climate and biodiversity, India and ASEAN countries are increasingly facing common problems such as last December's tsunami, a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 2003 SARS outbreak, all of which required regional cooperation.

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