With over 650,000 employees worldwide and 2016 revenues of $100 billion plus, the Tata Group is among India’s biggest conglomerates. It is also one of the most IP-savvy. Speaking at the first-ever IPBC India, taking place today at the Taj Land’s End Hotel in Mumbai, its chief technology officer Gopichand Katragadda was positively evangelical not only about the importance of IP to the various Tata businesses – which encompass areas as diverse as steel, business consulting and hospitality – but also to the Indian economy more generally.
“There has never been a better time to create IP,” Katragadda stated, having already given patents his seal of approval when telling the 200-plus delegates: “If you are going to encourage innovation, you need to provide incentives; and patents are a fantastic way to incentivise.” Of course, those inside the IP community will need no persuading that this is the case, but to hear it from the mouth of someone so senior working on the R&D side of a major corporation was encouraging, to say the least.
Katragadda – who holds five patents himself and is married to a registered US patent agent (dinner conversations often have an IP element to them, he noted) – detailed the ways in which Tata has embraced the power of IP. A central function under his control and tailored groups for individual Tata operations demonstrate that strategic IP considerations are now at the centre of decision-making. They have also led to a sharp uptick in patent filings over recent years – activity in 2014 and 2015 doubled Tata’s overall published patent count. Katragadda forecast that one area in which patenting is set to explode, at least from a Tata perspective, is at the intersection between biology, computing and materials.
Beyond Tata, Katragadda also observed India’s inventive power has manifested itself throughout history and continues to do so in the 21st century. A fascinating slide demonstrated just how important Indian inventors are to many big name companies. For example, of the 29,000 patent granted to GE between 1st January 2011 and 31st March 2016, 6.8% (or 1,966) name at least one inventor from the country; over at IBM, meanwhile, 1,894 grants, or 4.1% of the total, do the same. Among other companies in which Indian nationals are playing a significant inventing role are Intel, Google, Samsung, Qualcomm and Amazon. Big American technology businesses, and to a lesser extent those based in Asia, are making hay with Indian talent; but it was notable how few European companies are doing the same.
Even more notable, though, is the absence of Indian companies among the lists of big patent filers, not only in key foreign markets, but also at home. Clearly, Tata does see the benefits that patents and other forms of IP bring, but right now it is one of the few Indian entities that does. If the Americans appreciate the resources that India can bring to the table, surely business leaders based in the country – as well as its government and other decision-making authorities - must too. A talent drain may suit Silicon Valley, but it cannot be in India’s best interests. It’s hard to believe that persuading the country’s brightest scientific, engineering and computing stars that they are best off working at home for local businesses will not bear substantial fruit further down the line. Just ask Tata and its CTO.