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[NEW DELHI] India is not realising its potential for innovation, warn experts, because its education and research institutes do not encourage a culture of experimentation and the exchange of ideas between disciplines.

Although India's potential is high, it is not nurturing innovation, Sri Krishna Joshi, scientist emeritus at India's National Physical Laboratory, told delegates at a conference on inventions and innovations in Delhi, India today (15 October).

India's education system "kills any spirit of innovation" by failing to close the gap between industry and academia, said S. Srinavasa Murthy, professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

He said very few PhD theses in technical institutes are linked to industry and innovations, and the bulk of academics — even at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology — are not industry-savvy because their promotions are only linked to publications in peer-reviewed journals.

A World Bank report released this month (4 October) also warned that, despite an impressive growth rate of eight per cent in gross domestic product since 2004, India's full innovation potential remains unrealised.

Of the top 50 applicants for patents in India between 1995 and 2005, 44 were foreign firms, while only six were Indian. 

Only 16 per cent of Indian manufacturing firms offer in-house training, compared with 92 per cent in China and 42 per cent in South Korea.

The report notes that India is lagging behind China, the European Union, Korea and the United States in telecommunication and Internet connectivity.

It recommends that India should encourage stronger competition among enterprises, commercialise new knowledge, and foster research and development for poor and grass-root enterprises.

The report also calls for more early-stage funding for new technology enterprises. For example, in 2005 there were only enough funds (US$25–35 million) to start 75–100 new ventures in India — far fewer than 450–600 start-ups needed for adequate growth.

Joshi says the major challenge in India is to find innovative solutions that help rural enterprises survive global competition. "If innovation leaves out the rural sector, we are leaving most of India out," he said.