India Emerging (Maybe) as Major R&D Center

Article excerpt

In September 2007, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences held a two-day meeting entitled, "The Dragon and the Elephant: Understanding the Development of Innovation Capacity in China and India." Why was India accorded equal billing with China? Certainly, China's phenomenal economic growth and huge investments in R&D have positioned it to play a much more influential role in the coming decade than in the recent past. Less talked about is India's phenomenal economic growth rate that is drawing even with China. India is predicted by some to surpass China in the next year or two to become the top growth performer in Asia.

While much has been written on the emergence of the "dragon," much less is available on the "elephant." What are the current trends in Indian science and technology (S&T), and what is its long-term potential? India today presents a very mixed story compared to other emerging Asian economies. It is a major emerging center for research and development yet its domestic infrastructure and expenditures do not fully support its ambitions.

The Positives

India's S&T policy is similar to that of many other emerging economies. The most recent restatement of S&T policy in 2003 contains a vision of building a new and resurgent India participating as an equal global player in generating and harnessing advances in science and technology (1).

The policy statement shows a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished. It stresses the promotion of close and productive interaction among private and public institutions. It focuses on key sectors, especially sectors that leverage others such as information technology and biotechnology. It also highlights the roles that international cooperation and human resource development must play in creating the new and resurgent India. In addition, it shows that India's leaders are cognizant of the need to take into account India's "enormous diversity and plurality," and to promote sustainability (1).

Basic research

Several important factors are working in India's favor. One of the most important is India's strong basic research capacity. Institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology perform world-class scientific research, although like many universities and institutes it needs to upgrade the quality of facilities and expand teaching staff. This capacity is important because many other Asian nations, including Japan, worry (whether true or not) that they do not have sufficient creative basic research to support future innovation.

In addition, India has one of the highest number of expatriate scientists and engineers whom, if tapped into to a greater extent through joint research projects, can make an enormous contribution to India's knowledge base. Similar to South Korea, India is pursuing not only how to increase joint research with its expatriates but also entice them back home, reversing a long-standing brain drain to North America and elsewhere.

India ranks fairly high in terms of scientific and technical publications, accounting for approximately 1.8 percent globally. It recorded a 31 percent increase in publications, going from 9.8 million in 1993 to 12.8 million in 2003, with the physical sciences accounting for over half. India, along with Brazil, China, Russia, and Taiwan, has produced two-thirds of all scientific and technical articles published outside of OECD countries.

Indian companies also do relatively well in patenting, receiving 376 U.S. patents in 2003-04, which compares very favorably with other non-OECD countries like China and Russia that received 597 and 173 patents, respectively. In addition, U.S. companies filed for 244 patents for work done in India. More impressive according to the World Bank is that it took a much lower R&D expenditure ($15.6 million) for India to develop a patent granted in the United States than in other major non-OECD competitors, e.g., Brazil ($376. …