|Monday, 11 August 2003|
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Encouraging local inventors
Many man-made things that we take for granted, have once been just an idea in someone's mind. We go home by car or bus, switch a bulb on, read a newspaper or watch television. We telephone a relative on the other side of the world. We reheat leftover food in the microwave. We cannot imagine a world without these gadgets - but someone invented them first.
We tend to think that everything we want has been invented by now. Far from it. Invention is a constant process. People think of new ideas all the time. Some go ahead and turn them into reality.
The inventions do not necessarily have to be exotic contraptions that take years to master. They can be simple things that make life easier. Take, for example, the stringhopper machine that has just been developed by a Sri Lankan student that takes the chore out of making strings or the safe kerosene bottle lamp developed by a Sri Lankan doctor that has saved many lives over the years.
These inventions might not have the glitz surrounding the latest electronic gadgets from Japan, but they are alluring to the local consumer in their own way. For example, they require no mains power, so any household can use them. Rewarding these individuals for their innovative streak is essential, as is the commercialisation of their inventions. In this context, the presentation of Presidential and National Awards for Inventions is a timely and commendable move.
Their products must be patented locally and at international patent offices, so that no other individual or company can claim to have invented them. Priority should be given to local companies in the case of commercialisation - for example, a local industrial concern well known for its kitchen products is now manufacturing an advanced coconut scraper invented by a student. The same goes for pure research at universities, institutions of higher learning and specialised research institutions. These findings must be copyrighted and published in international journals to thwart any attempt at research piracy.
Government agencies must play a pivotal role in encouraging and where possible, funding inventors to realise their full potential. Institutions such as the Science and Technology Ministry, Industrial Development Board, Industrial Technology Institute and the Sri Lanka Standards Institution should formulate plans to support inventors and bring their inventions into the mainstream. Some inventors would also be able to begin self-employment ventures with proper financial and expert backing.
All these will be in vain if the society itself does not embrace locally invented products. Unfortunately, most Sri Lankans believe that foreign products are always superior to local ones. Thus they pay far more for a foreign product, be it butter or a refrigerator or anything in between, simply because it is made in a country other than Sri Lanka. This attitude must be changed by introducing quality 'Made in Sri Lanka' goods that are on par with foreign ones.
This is especially important, because protectionism is out of the question in an open economic scenario. We cannot stop foreign goods coming in, but we can make our products better.
We should not be content with turning out local products that fare well only in the home market. Inventors and government agencies must explore the possibility of finding overseas markets for innovative Sri Lankan products through trade fairs and other such opportunities. South Asia is an ideal test market for some of our local products and the rest of the world is not that far away.
Produced by Lake House