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Foreign firms drive surge in tech patents

Foreign firms drive surge in tech patents
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First Published: Sun, Jun 08 2008. 11 56 PM IST

Updated: Sun, Jun 08 2008. 11 56 PM IST
Bangalore: Texas Instruments Inc., or TI, one of the world’s largest chip makers, flies down patent attorneys from its US headquarters to Bangalore once a quarter to conduct workshops aimed at creating awareness among its employees on protecting their intellectual property (IP) and patenting it.
Similarly, at the India research and development, or R&D, centre of Cisco Systems Inc., the world’s largest networking gear maker, so-called “nerd lunches” for engineers are a weekly feature, where a technical leader speaks on an area of expertise, sharing experiences on developing IP and protecting it so that others can gain from it.
As India becomes an important centre of innovation, Indian and global technology firms are increasing efforts to spread the message of the need to protect and patent the intellectual property developed locally. The effort seems to be paying off as multinationals such as TI, Cisco, and NXP Semiconductors of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, see a surge in patent applications, both local and US, being filed from their research units in the country. The trend is, in part, driven by the more complex and critical R&D assignments being taken on by the Indian units and cash incentives offered to encourage employees to create IP.
“Writing a patent is not easy,” says Biswadip Mitra, managing director of Texas Instruments India. “Many a time, people have ideas, but they don’t know how to file it (as a patent). Our philosophy is simple. Just write and we have subject experts to help you out,” Mitra adds.
TI has seen an increase in patents being filed from India in recent years, with around 70 applications for US patents filed in 2007. The Bangalore unit has filed more than 500 applications from Indian in the US since 1985, when it became the first multinational technology firm to set up a development centre in the southern city. The company wouldn’t disclose the number of patents filed in 2006.
TI’s competitor NXP Semiconductors, a spin-off from Royal Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands, also has a similar story to share. The company has seen a spurt in patent applications after it started encouraging innovation among its employees here, says Nagavolu Murty, director of technology management at NXP Semiconductors India Pvt. Ltd. NXP has seen a fourfold rise in patent applications filed by its employees in India—to around 20 Indian and US ones a year, up from about less than five—some three years ago, Murty adds.
“The awareness to protect intellectual property has definitely increased over the past three years,” says Kalyan C. Kankanala, chief knowledge officer of Brain League, a Bangalore-based IP services firm that assists companies such as Sterlite Optical Technologies in filing patents.
Patent applications filed by firms in India grew annually by around 20% to 35,000 in 2007-08, according to the Indian Patent Office. Details of the number of US patent applications being filed for work done locally were not available.
Aravind Sitaram, vice-president and managing director of Cisco Development Organization, the Indian R&D outfit of the San Jose, California-based company, says the firm has been granted 110 US patents for the 450 applications filed so far from India.
In filing patent applications, the local subsidiaries of large multinationals such as International Business Machines Corp., Microsoft Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Samsung Electronics are ahead of the Indian services firms such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, or TCS, Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd.
TCS, India's largest software services firm, was granted 17 US and Indian patents last fiscal year against 26 applications. The company has a total of 37 US and Indian patents to its credit and about 100 are in the process, said a company spokesperson.
Infosys, which has filed an aggregate of 119 US patent applications till date, was recently granted two patents by the US Patent and Trademark office in areas of holography and mobile communications.
Such patents, Infosys hopes, will help it grow its business—predominantly services—faster. “IP forms the most important part of growing non-linear revenues,” says Subu Goparaju, head of the Software Engineering and Technology Lab (SETLabs), Infosys’ research arm. Much of the business of Indian software services firms is linear, meaning that a growth in revenues is accompanied by a corresponding growth in number of employees.
Wipro Technologies, the technology services arm of Wipro, has filed more than 100 US and Indian patent applications till date—the majority in the past few years—of which 38 have been approved, mainly in the US. “Patenting IP helps a services company like Wipro to prove thought leadership and credibility in the marketplace,” says I. Vijayakumar, chief technology officer, Wipro.
The company has been filing 25-30 patents a year in information technology and the firm’s IP-led licensing revenue accounts for between 3% and 4% of the total earnings from technology business.
The Microsoft India Development Centre (MSIDC) in Hyderabad, the largest product development centre outside Redmond for the world's largest software firm, has contributed to generating 180 US patents for Microsoft in India in last three years, says Srini Koppulu, vice-president, MSIDC.
Philips Electronics has filed about 130 US and Indian patent applications from India over the last six years. “The India development operations accounts for 10-15% of the total patents filed by the parent company globally on an annual basis, up from 4-5% five years ago,” said Viswanathan Seshan, country manager, IP and Standards at Philips Innovation Campus, the R&D centre for Philips in India. “As we mature as a R&D unit, the quality of work that comes here has increased and that has definitely contributed to the rise in (the number of) patents being filed.”
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First Published: Sun, Jun 08 2008. 11 56 PM IST