At a time when the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) is vying for the tag of Institute of Eminence (IoE), a position awarded by the University Grants Commission (UGC), a record of the patents sought by university researchers, and their fate, may not exactly bolster its case.
In the period between 2008 and 2018, researchers in the SPPU’s science faculty have filed only 30 patent applications, the university has revealed in response to a Right to Information (RTI) plea by The Indian Express.
Of these, only 16 technologies were awarded patents by an Indian or international agency, as per the RTI response.
Why patent process is crucial but cumbersome
The number of patents filed by universities, and the number of patents granted, are important benchmarks for evaluating their rankings by the National Institutional Ranking Framework. These are considered for receiving affirmations from National Assessment and Accreditation Council as well. Though the government now bears a part of the sum towards filing of patent applications and has eased filing procedures, lack of enough patent professionals means many university professors still find the processes cumbersome and not worthwhile.
The SPPU has 25 departments in its science faculty.
The maximum number of patents — 14 — went to researchers from the Department of Technology. The same department filed the maximum number of patent applications, 19.
The other patent applications were filed by the departments of Botany (3), Zoology (1), Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology (3), Microbiology (3) and Instrumentation Science (1).
Several SPPU science departments — School of Basic Medicinal Sciences, Electronic Science, Instrumentation Science, Mathematics, Environment Science, Geography, Geology, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Media and Communication Studies, School of Health Science, School of Energy Studies, Centre for Information and Network Security and Centre for Modelling and Simulation — have filed no patent applications in the last decade.
R R Hirwani, former director of city-based CSIR-Unit for Research and Development of Information Products (URDIP), pointed out that start-ups and incubates associated with higher education institutes were filing more patent applications than individual researchers.
The long and cumbersome process of filing a patent application in India, and the time required to process each application, could be another factor that hinders researchers. “Once an application is filed, a decision can be expected after three to five years. Efforts have been made in recent times to cut down this time, with digitisation of the process and appointment of more patent-examining officers,” said Hirwani.
Internationally, the time required for a decision on patents is between 18 and 24 months.
The proposed National Education Policy, currently a work in progress, promises to bring more funding and plans for time-bound research. The policy may also relieve researchers of routine academic teaching and other responsibilities.