Background

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The National Institute of  Technology, Calicut (NIT -C), earlier known as Regional Engineering College, Calicut (REC – C) celebrated its golden jubilee in August 2011. This saw the participation and engagement of a large number of the college alumni at Cochin and also at Calicut to review the various alumni association activities and to identify new opportunities to work together to make some relevant societal contributions. It was noted that the various NIT-Calicut Alumni Associations (NITCAA) established across the world have made significant contributions to the wellbeing and integration of the alumni through various social events and some construction projects. These are important achievements to consolidate the common heritage and memories of the alma mater.

In the various meetings of the sub-groups that came together, there was a general consensus that the alumni are sufficiently established to venture into an area beyond the established domain of alumni associations. Among the various options considered, one was to focus on the emerging needs of India where the wide spectrum of experience of the alumni could be synergised along with contributions from the wider society to bring about some tangible results. The alumni have done well in the area of quality education, but not in terms of innovative spirit. Despite the world class educational and research institutions, the number of patents filed in India is only six percent of that in the United States and ten percent of that in China.

Recognising that the primary expertise of the alumni is in Engineering and Management, some preliminary discussions were held to form an organisation to promote innovations in India as part of the activities of  the network of  NITCAA, but with a distinct identity, to integrate and direct the resources and efforts of the alumni.

The Innovation Promotion Society (TIPS) is the outcome of these discussions. TIPS is a not-for-profit organisation under Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960, Registration number DRB-S/SOR/623/2011-12, with a registered office in Bangalore. This constitutes an initiative to form an organisation with a larger objective beyond the social and cultural needs of the alumni themselves, but still keeping within the core strengths of the alumni and their background to address an emerging national need along with involvement and contributions from other experts.

Innovation encompasses all aspects of human endeavour and it is important that the domain of TIPS is sufficiently focussed to make its presence felt. In this context, it is relevant to make the distinction between invention and innovation, even though it is widely used in an interchangeable manner. For the purpose of TIPS activities, we do need a definition of innovation, however imperfect it may be.

“Invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process, while innovation is the first attempt to carry it out into practice”.  An invention can remain on paper. Innovation on the other hand is putting into practice of new ideas to make a societal impact and may incorporate several inventions and ideas. Typically, inventions are considered to be patentable while the innovations may not have any patentable elements, it may just be a unique combination of several earlier ideas.  The most often quoted example of this is the IBM Personal Computer (IBM-PC) which did not incorporate any patents, but was a hugely innovative product.  Tata Nano car is another example, a highly innovative product, but hardly any product patents: most of the patent claims for Nano relates to manufacturing process to reduce costs. An innovation can simply be an improvement on a product in the market place.

In India most of the inventions and innovations are carried out in the corporate sector and in large research organisations. Almost all of the government funding and financial incentives have been for this sector. Innovations in this sector are characterised by significant research and development requirements and large budgets with the organisations typically self sufficient to carry out these tasks.

Another area that has received much attention recently is the grass roots level inventions, supported primarily by the governments and educational institutions.  Significant organisations providing support for this type of innovations are listed in the section “Useful Links”. These are low technology endeavours, primarily originating from the rural areas, and addressing rural issues from the grass roots. Project based funding and incubation supports are primarily targeted at this sector.

The focus of TIPS will be in the mid range of the innovation regime noted above where there is neither the large corporate sector nor the grass root government programs providing support. These are primarily small and medium enterprises operating at a regional level and in the manufacturing sector. 

There is a noticeable absence of innovative products from India, denoting a lack of innovative spirit amongst us. There are numerous factors that have contributed to this, worth several books and controversies. But one thing is certain; a lasting change to this situation can only come from the young; activities of TIPS will have a high level of involvement by the young. It is recognised that innovations are needed in all walks of life, but the strength of the REC/NIT alumni being in engineering, the focus of TIPS will be in inculcating and stimulating innovation spirit in engineering fields, targeting technical students of both degree and non-degree programs.

The primary focus of TIPS will be in the spheres of information exchange, education and training to instil and encourage new ideas and ways of thinking that encourages innovation in their own spheres of activities. A well developed website, lectures and workshops covering a wide range of engineering specialities will be used to achieve these objectives.

Of late there have been some encouraging signs that some of the engineering and technical educational institutions are promoting design and fabrication of innovative products as part of the academic programs. TIPS will encourage this by instituting awards and providing wider publicity for these achievements. Academic projects where there is a high level of innovative elements; TIPS will provide assistance where feasible.

Considering the wide background of the persons involved, TIPS can greatly facilitate the liaison between industry and academic institutions for innovative product development including prototype manufacture. Various alumni chapters and facilities at NIT shall be synergised to promote innovation.

 Only the founding members are listed in this web site, more of the involved persons will be added progressively. It is important to emphasise that TIPS membership is open to all who intent to support the objectives of TIPS.

 

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