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Govt portal to help solve firms’ research problems by outsiders

Govt portal to help solve firms’ research problems by outsiders

New Delhi: The country’s department of science and technology (DST) expects to shortly launch a website that facilitates interaction between companies facing hard-to-crack research problems and outsiders who can solve such problems for a fee.

“IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay will maintain the site for us," said A.S. Rao, a senior scientist at DST, who is involved in the project to launch the website. “It (the site) should be up in the next few weeks."

DST, which funds civilian research programmes in the country, falls under the Union ministry of science and technology.

“It’s for first time that the government will be working on something like this," Rao said.

Since the beginning of this century, companies, especially those in the developed countries, have increasingly posted their research problems that couldn’t be solved in-house on free-to-access websites—such as the ones run by US-based firms InnoCentive Inc. and NineSigma Inc.—so that outsiders could solve them for a fee.

Rao said DST is in talks with the research wing of General Electric Co. (GE) in India, for this project.

“GE Research has an initiative where they get students to solve technology problems. We are in discussions with them to post these problems on our (proposed) website," he added.

GE didn’t respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment on this issue.

A spokesperson for InnoCentive, which was launched in 2001, said as of April, nearly half of the 800-odd problems posted on its website have been solved.

“We have given away nearly $4.1 million (nearly Rs20.6 crore today) as prize money for about 175,000 solvers across the world," the spokesperson said in an email.

In India, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the country’s largest publicly funded research body, had last year launched a similar website as part of the so-called Open Source Drug Discovery programme, in which several research institutes and firms have tied up to develop a new drug for tuberculosis.

Some experts have welcomed the move.

“Most research and development organizations have now realized that the solutions to their problems lie outside their companies," said Anil Gupta, who heads the National Innovation Foundation, a government organization that helps rural inventors commercialize their inventions.

“This is certainly a good start, but I doubt if some big-time breakthroughs will come about any time soon," Gupta added.

The website could also help businessmen peddling new ideas, said a lawyer.

“Entrepreneurs have good ideas, but they don’t know how to market them. Several of them are new to the concept of intellectual property, which is a big hurdle to taking a product to the market," said A.S. Dhiman, a Delhi-based intellectual property lawyer.


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