ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Road Map for Agricultural Technology Transfer and Commercialisation

Manoj P Samuel (manojpsamuel@gmail.com) is with the ICAR-Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, Kochi, Kerala. Karim Maredia is with the Michigan State University, East Lansing, United States. R Kalpana Sastry is with the ICAR-National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad, India.

The management and transfer of agricultural technologies for commercialisation purposes is considered to be a new concept in India. However, there is an upward surge in the technology protection, incubation and other commercialisation activities in recent times. This can be attributed to the recent transformation of the agribusiness ecosystem in the country due to policy initiatives and more focused research in applied and frontier areas.

The authors acknowledge the reviewer for their comments and suggestions to improve the article.
 

Technologies developed in research or academic institutions are typically transferred through an agreement in which the university or the research institution grants to a third party a licence to use its intellectual property in the defined technology, sometimes for a particular field of use and/or region of the world. The technology transfer process promotes commercialisation, reach of better products to the market and job generation. The expenses incurred towards intellectual property protection and its maintenance can be justified in view of introduction of better products, increased completion in the market, enhanced customer satisfaction, and more revenue and tax generation.

India became a signatory to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) in 1998. As a result, patent filings have increased exponentially. Considerable changes have been made in the patenting procedure through the introduction of Patents Rules, 2003, which were further amended in 2005 and 2006, resulting in new practices and procedure (OCGPDT 2011). In recent years, the Indian government introduced many schemes, began to provide soft loans and promote venture capital funds to foster its national innovation system through project-based programmes. The current trends in respect of filing of intellectual property applications are depicted in Figure 1 (OCGPDT 2014).

Current Status

Agricultural extension system: Public extension played a major role in ushering in the green revolution in Indian agriculture. Though agriculture development in India is basically a state subject and the agricultural sector plays a crucial role from the perspective of ensuring food and livelihood security of its large population, the central government plays a major role in formulating policies that has direct bearing on the growth of the agricultural sector. The programmes conceived at the national level are mainly implemented by the states through its development departments. Besides, state governments also formulate regional-level agricultural extension programmes. Similarly, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is an apex body at the national level that supports research and extension activities to evolve effective transfer of technology (ToT) models. The state agricultural universities (SAUs) also contemplate to develop extension models suitable to take up ToT besides implementing the models evolved by the ICAR system. Training and visit (T&V) system, broad-based extension system (BBES), district-level agricultural technology management agency model (ATMA), decentralised extension network—Raitha Samparka Kendra (RSK), Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) also known as the Farm Science Centre—are some of the innovative agricultural extension programmes that were implemented over the years.

ITMU, ZTMU and business planning and development units: During the Eleventh Five Year Plan of Government of India, the ICAR has mooted a three-tier intellectual property and technology management system towards developing an institutional set-up for agricultural technology transfer and commercialisation (ICAR 2006). Accordingly, ICAR established in all its institutes a single-window mechanism, namely Institute Technology Management Units (ITMUs) to showcase the intellectual assets of the institute and pursue matters related to intellectual property management and transfer/commercialisation. Along with this, mid-tier mechanisms called zonal technology management and business planning and development (ZTM&BPD) units were established, in synergy with the ITMUs, in various zones of the country. The Twelfth Five Year Plan brought in more innovations in the existing system with the introduction of the National Agricultural Innovation Fund (NAIF) and establishment of agribusiness incubation (abi) units in many agricultural research institutes for promotion of grassroots innovations at micro level.

The ZTMC and ABI units function as business facilitation centres and provide the physical infrastructure necessary for technology incubation and new business/ start-ups, including offices and lab space. They will also offer hand-holding services and ensure availability of shared resources such as specialised equipment and technical support services (OCGPDT 2014).

Agrinnovate India and technology business incubators: In addition to the existing mechanisms, a new initiative, namely Agrinnovate India was established as a registered company under the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) (ICAR 2006). It aims to work on the strengths of ICAR and promote the development and spread of research and development outcomes through intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection, commercialisation and forging partnerships both in the country and outside for public benefit. Apart from this, technology business incubators (tbis) targeting big scale incubation and commercialisation process with funding from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India have been established in a few ICAR institutes and SAUs.

Potential Institutional Innovations

In view of ever-increasing competition in the technology landscape, it is inevitable for the ICAR to conceive and strategise mechanisms to strengthen its intellectual property portfolio management. The researchers and academicians should be encouraged to develop, protect and commercialise their innovations for the benefit of the farming community focusing on end-to-end income generation. A few suggestions for strengthening the transfer of technology and commercialisation capacity of the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) in India are listed below.

Sensitising SAUs and ICAR institutes on intellectual property management and technology commercialisation: Sensitising the institutions under NARS network and educating its scientists/faculty about the ever dynamic and complex environment of IPR and technology management is vital. They should be made aware about the various tools, techniques, protection measures, issues and challenges in relation to IPR and technology management and also about the changing boundaries of industry landscape. The provisions of rewards for technology commercialisation, both financial and professional, may attract the research fraternity towards better intellectual property management and subsequent commercialisation for the benefit of the larger farming community.

Establishing institutional mechanism for technology transfer and commercialisation: As the market forces emerge and the intellectual property regime gets strengthened, more transparency, accountability, and overall performance are warranted especially from the public-funded research organisations and state universities. An institutional mechanism, in tandem with the existing ZTMU–ITMU–ABI trio has to be developed for better and speedy process of intellectual property protection, technology transfer and commercialisation. Bigger firms and investors across the globe can be approached and facilitated through the recently launched business innovation–incubation systems like Agrinnovate India and TBI under the NARS itself. A model for the same is depicted in Figure 2. Provision should also be made to protect the interest of the farming community to a larger extent. The established mechanism should also address questions from the society on the moral and ethical issues of commercialising outputs from the public-funded research projects, which otherwise would be available free of cost on public domain.

Establishment of technology managers’ networking platform: A networking platform of researchers and managers working on technology management and commercialisation in SAUs and ICAR institutes under the common umbrella of a registered society will be helpful in networking relations and exchange of information related to intellectual property management and technology commercialisation in agriculture. Such a platform can be connected to similar organisations in other countries like the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) in the United States (US), which functions to promote technology transfer between universities, industry and/or the government (AUTM 2013). The avenues of international technology transfer and commercialisation could be explored by such a global network. The platform can also be used to engage with the industry for effective commercialisation and to foster public–private partnerships (PPPs).

Bringing an act in Parliament like Bayh-Dole Act in the US: The US Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 allows universities and other non-profit institutions to have ownership rights to discoveries resulting from federally-funded research, provided certain obligations are met. Crafting Indian legislation analogous to the Bayh-Dole Act in the us will ensure more legal clarity and support, lower transaction costs, and facilitate more efficient channels for technology transfer. The main focus of this act should be on changing the institutional governance and culture which grant ownership of intellectual property to public research organisations and further promote the transfer and commercialisation of developed technologies. The act should be drafted in such a way that it enables public research institutions and universities to compete with the private sector and also pave the way for more transparent and dynamic PPPs and a vibrant Indian innovation system. India today is thus much closer to a functioning technology transfer system that was the us in 1980 as a matter of statute, but away as far as matters of institutional governance and institutional culture are concerned (Abramson 2007).

Concerted approach for promoting business incubation and start-ups: By default, agricultural technologies are low-cost technologies, and entrepreneurs consider them less enterprising because of the lower purchasing power of the target market. Therefore, ICAR and SAUs should initiate facilities for incubation of new business ideas based on innovative agricultural technologies by providing cheap space, facilities and required information and research inputs. The ABI programme is envisaged to support the entrepreneurs and start-ups by offering business consulting services to agriculture-related businesses and also helps to develop a strategic business plan. Apart from guidance and consultancy services, the new mechanism should also assist in making venture capital funds and funds from angel investors available to the start-ups.

Support mechanisms: In spite of the many agencies, schemes and government departments in the country that act as support mechanisms for intellectual property protection and subsequent commercialisation, the benefits have not been reaching to needy entrepreneurs, especially in the case of micro, small and medium scale agribusinesses. An umbrella-like, consortia-based structure should be conceived and established for convergence of all schemes and financial aid programmes offered by both governmental and non-governmental agencies, and directing them to appropriate agri-enterprises and start-ups.

Strengthening agricultural extension system: In Indian agriculture research and education system, for decades, the role of technology transfer manager is played by the extension personnel. However, the present extension systems appear to be inadequate to address the challenges faced by the farmers in the context of the changing agricultural scenario. More training and education needs to be given to the grass-roots level extension workers through capacity-building programmes on IPR and technology management. The visibility of viable decentralised, democratic, farmer-centric, demand-driven, vibrant and participatory institutional mechanisms has to be ensured at the lowest cutting-edge administrative level (panchayat-level institutions) to cater to the needs of the farming community and rural youth and sensitise them on technology management.

Creating university licensing corporations/licensing companies: University licensing corporations, which inject private sector thinking into public and non-profit institutions, can play an important role in helping those institutions negotiate deals that serve both public and private interests. They could aid in translating technology into business ventures, creating incubation opportunities from scientific innovation and attract funds from venture capitalists, investors and other providers. The ICAR’s initiative on creation of the company, Agrinnovate India, is the right step towards that direction. They can forge strategic alliances with global business houses and their counterparts in foreign universities.

Encourage public–public and public–private partnerships for intellectual property management: To increase industrial competitiveness in India, possibilities of new partnerships should be explored among the research producers, technology providers, users (including start-ups), and funders. With the introduction of many new bio-parks and bioinformatic centres, the scope of ppps in agriculture, biotechnology and food technology has attained a peak in recent years. With 65% of the population in India still looking at agriculture for their livelihoods, there is enormous potential for PPP in agriculture-related technology development, protection, transfer and commercialisation. The partnership opportunities are particularly huge in areas of seed sector, farm machinery, food and fertiliser industries. At the same time, innovations are required in the existing research ecosystem under NARS that allow public institutions and private firms to develop and own patentable innovations jointly. Though a number of governmental and semi-governmental organisations are working on technology development and management, the integrated effort of all these agencies is hardly taking place. Hence, a national-level umbrella consortium can be mooted for coordinating and converging the individual initiatives to an integrated and focused effort. Governmental and non-governmental departments and agencies like the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), ICAR, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and various innovation and incubation hubs, etc, should be brought under the said consortia for making sure of constant flow of information, effective technological interventions, timely consultancy services and speedy delivery mechanisms for the benefit of the grass-roots level agripreneurs.

Changes in existing research ecosystem: ICAR’s and SAUs’s policies have to be modified in such a way that will encourage public institutions to share patent revenues with individual inventors or researchers. It should also encourage universities and research institutes to patent all patentable discoveries and make it mandatory for all public research institutions to set aside a portion of royalty revenues to maintain internal systems for updating innovation, filing new patent applications, litigating, licensing, and building intellectual property awareness and competence. A national innovation fund can be created with seed money from the government, and a portion of royalties that a public institution receives from patents derived through public research grants should flow back to a national public innovation fund to fund future research. The ICAR institutions/SAUs should also facilitate the resources necessary to file patents, establish intellectual property offices, train personnel in patenting, draft licensing programmes, and negotiate partnerships with corporate collaborators.

Catalyse change in legal system and industrial culture: Apart from strengthening the institutional innovations and delivery mechanism, the NARS can also play a vital role in strengthening intellectual property laws and regulations in India with respect to agriculture, plant variety, geographical indicators, biodiversity and traditional knowledge. It can also moot new guidelines for IPR policies within and outside NARS for issues related to agriculture, food and water. A stronger intellectual property enforcement and providing more timely resolution of infringement complaints can help combat intellectual property theft, which is not uncommon in India.

Innovative ideas in technology transfer/commercialisation: A few innovative and novel ideas for technology management and entrepreneurship promotion from the US system like hatching (for early development of entrepreneurship culture among students), CEO mentors (facilitating well-experienced CEOs as mentors of student start-ups) (MSU 2015), Derisking(MSU 2015) (real time systems to reduce the gap between an early-stage invention and its commercial viability), Innovation club (which provides a new forum for professionals to share andexplore ideas in a positive and supportive environment), economic gardening (Masahiro 2012) (economic development model that focuses on strengthening existing local companies)(Zucker and Darby 2009; MSu 2015), kitchen incubator (MSU 2015) (providing production services and marketing support of food products), spin-off companies (Bacchiocchi and Montobbio 2009) (creation of an independent company through the sale or distribution of new shares of an existing business/division of a parent company), gap funding (MSU 2015) (funding to bridge the difference between the money required to begin or continue operations, and the money currently accessible), etc, may be adopted with required modifications for Indian conditions.

Conclusions

Early implementation of a strong agriculture/veterinary patent regime would strengthen India’s agricultural research and development sector, attract more foreign investment, and provide a better working environment for Indian firms. More concerted approaches of state and private players through effective ppps are required to revitalise the Indian agricultural scenario to a more profit-oriented, technology savvy and productive one. Innovative institutional mechanisms should be designed for promoting intellectual property protection and technology commercialisation among researchers and academia. Legal and other supportive framework should also be strengthened to support the ever-changing intellectual property regime. The role of a strong intellectual property education among agricultural, business and law schools is also important in the present-day scenario. More open and pragmatic approaches would aid in developing a strong intellectual property platform for Indian agricultural research system.

Forming protocols and guidelines for operating patents derived through public research funds coupled with appropriate innovations in institutional governance will enhance the prospects for technology transfer from laboratories to commercial markets. Appropriate policies should combine the concern with international norms with the specifics of India’s economic and social needs.

References

Abramson Bruce (2007): “India’s Journey toward an Effective Patent System,” Policy Research Working Paper 4301, World Bank, South Asia Region, Finance and Private Sector
Development Unit.

AUTM (2013): Licensing Activity Survey, FY 2012, Association of University Technology Managers, US.

Bacchiocchi, E and F Montobbio (2009): “Knowledge Diffusion from University and Public Research, A Comparison between US Japan and Europe Using Patent Citations,” Journal of Technology Transfer, Vol 34 (2), pp 169–81.

ICAR (2006): ICAR Guidelines for Intellectual Property Management and Technology Transfer and Commercialization, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, p 68.

MSU (2015): MSU Innovation Centre Annual Report, Michigan State University.

Masahiro Samejima (2012): “Making Intellectual Property A National Priority: Helping SMEs Make the Most of Their InventionsLooking Ahead,” International report—IP management helps SMEs maintain a competitive edge, Uchida & Samejima Law Firm, Japan, http://www.iam magazine.com/reports/Detail.aspx?g=2d
de700a-6f5c-45e4-912a 7054906315c1.

OCGPDT (2011): Manual of Patent Office Practice and Procedures, Office of Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, Mumbai.

— (2014): Annual Report 2013–14, Office of Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, Mumbai.

Zucker, L G and M R Darby (2009): “Capturing Technological Opportunity via Japan’s Star Scientists: Evidence from Japanese Firms’ Biotech Patents and Products,” Journal of Technology Transfer, Vol 26, Nos 1 & 2, pp 37–58.

Updated On : 26th Oct, 2019

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