As India's globalisation continues apace, middlemen from Europe and the US are showing up in insular government laboratories and have already sealed the first multi-million-dollar deals -- on a diverse variety of scientific advances -- to sell Indian ideas to global clients.
Facing growing queries from agents in the US, the UK or the Netherlands, Pune scientists are forming an aggressive patent strategy to be modelled across the 38 laboratories of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) across India.
"This is the first time we found a foreign market for mathematical formulas," S Sivaram, director, National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) in Pune, told HT. In July, it clinched a deal to license two math formulas (for which it holds US patents) for safety control in chemical plants. A US company bought the formulas, for an undisclosed fee.
Buoyed by this success, Sivaram said the lab is forming an internal process to create market value for its patents even before it files patent applications. "We'll patent only ideas that have market value," he said.
The director of Bangalore's Indian Institute of Science, P Balaram, said its young patent cell is "evolving" to help the faculty file patents. Even latecomers like the Indian Council of Medical Research are now discussing how to start patenting.
And government labs increasingly refer to international agents for no-risk negotiations till the middleman finds the right buyer, right price. "After a year, we're free to look elsewhere for a buyer if the deal doesn't materialise," said Sivaram.
"A growing number of US corporations are recognising that Indian labs are becoming increasingly competitive," one such middleman, David Martin, CEO, M-Cam, told HT from Virginia, US. M-Cam trains CSIR scientists on licensing strategies.
The NCL laboratories, India's ideas factories, are spending almost Rs 4 crore annually on patenting. For 2005-06, NCL bagged 29 US patents. But scientists confess that they lacked negotiating skills in the 22 US patents they licensed since 1995.
"These are new games. We were naïve initially," said Raghunath Mashelkar, director-general, CSIR. "The next step is smart patenting."