India slips two places in Global Innovation Index, ranked 66th

 Sunny Sen        Last Updated: July 18, 2013  | 13:40 IST

Sunny Sen
Sunny Sen
India, famous for its information technology industry, is losing ground as an innovation hub. The country has slipped two places in the Global Innovation Index 2013 to the 66th rank. Switzerland topped the 142-nation list, launched in Shenzhen, China. The host nation is ranked 35th, and other emerging economies Brazil and Russia are also ahead of India.

The index ranks countries on innovation, based on a survey done by INSEAD, Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The index is now in its sixth edition, and this is the first time that it has partnered with an Asian company - Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei -- as a knowledge partner.

Shenzhen, where Huawei is headquartered, was a fishermen's village three decades ago. It is now being praised as China's innovation hub. Where did Bangalore vanish, India's information technology hub? "Bangalore was designed as an IT innovation hub, but innovation is a mindset when you cut it across talent and culture," says Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director at INSEAD. "For Bangalore the challenge is to build an IT hub which is multi-sectoral, and not only based on (IT) services."

Is the IT services industry a dying breed in the new era of digitisation and mobility? Maybe, maybe not. India has not produced an Apple, which revolutionised the music industry with the iPod, the mobile phone industry with the iPhone, and the tablet industry with the iPad. India did not produce a game like Angry Birds, which saw more than 200 million downloads. India has not seen the building of a $35 billion information and communication technology company like Huawei.

India filed about 40,000 patents in 2010/11. This is equal to what Huawei filed in China alone last year. It filed another 14,000 patents outside its home country. "We are making policies which are favourable and will help local companies in Shenzhen to set foot in the global arena," says Lu Jian, Director General of Science, Technology and Innovation Commission of Shenzhen.

There is still hope for India to make a comeback. India ranks third in the lower-middle income group category in the innovation survey. The new buzzwords are mobile and applications, but it will take a lot to understand customers. According to recent estimates, the world has more than six billion mobile phone users, and clearly there is a lot of opportunity to address this market. India being the fastest-growing and the second-largest market of mobile phone users has some inherent strength. It has more than 50 million smartphone users, which can bring a lot of customer understanding. But to change things, Indian companies will have to go beyond services.

"When you talk about innovation, we should not forget about invention and creation, which is an ongoing process," says Wang Binying, Deputy Director General of WIPO. "Innovation is the milestone for the knowledge economy."

Meanwhile, Ken Hu, Deputy Chairman and rotating CEO of Huawei Technologies, is happy. He smiles at the crowd at the index's launch and switches between English and Chinese speeches. For the CEO of a company riddled with a mysterious past and accused for its association with the Chinese government, the association with the Global Innovation Index is a milestone. He doesn't talk about it, but shares the company's innovation strategy. "Huawei's innovation is customer-centric," he says. "It will begin where customers' need starts and end where the customers' need ends."

(The writer is in Shenzhen on an invitation from Huawei.)

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