|Wednesday, 26 November 2003|
Commercialization of local inventions and innovations
Keynote address at Silver Jubilee - University of Ruhuna October 07,2003 by Dr. L.M.K. Tillekeratne, Commissioner, Sri Lanka Inventors Commission and Director, Rubber Research Institute
Today, our commission is displaying some of the inventions and innovations commercialised in Sri Lanka during the past couple of years while the relevant inventors are also present, who can help the public visiting the exhibition to find out from them, how they were able to develop their inventions and what kind of support they received from the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission (SLIC) and from the Presidents Fund in commercialising them.
Further, Ruhunu University is the 2nd university even though it is one of the youngest universities in the country where an undergraduate Inventors Club was formed among the 13 universities in Sri Lanka.
They have already been able to win several awards at the national level for their inventions and with the encouragement given by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Senaratne and the great interest taken by the staff members specially Prof. Weerasinghe and Prof. Dharmaratne, I have no doubt that this university will be able to win awards at the presidential level and at the international levels in the future bringing lots of credit to the nation while helping to improve the economy of the country by commercialising their inventions at international levels. Hence, I start my speech by congratulating Prof. Senaratne and his team of able staff members for this very important step taken towards encouraging local inventors commercialise their inventions.
The SLIC was established under the Sri Lanka inventors incentives Act No. 53 of 1979. This commission is functioning under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
The mission of the SLIC is the promotion and encouragement of inventions among Sri Lankans by providing technical, financial and legal assistance.
As much as helping inventors to commercialise their inventions, it is equally important for the inventors to obtain intellectual property protection (commonly known as Patent Certificates) for their inventions or innovations, When the Trips Agreement came into effect in year 2000, obtaining patent certificates for inventions is essential. Under this act in over 100 member countries, infringing the patented innovations of another in their own country or overseas is a punishable offence.
However, during the past many innovations of Sri Lankans have been commercialised in other countries without paying any royalty to them,because; most of them were not patented by the inventors due to lack of knowledge and also due to lack of money. But now the intellectual property office in Colombo is educating Sri Lankan citizens, of this important legal protection for inventions and advising them to patent their inventions to avoid infringing by others. Not only for patented inventions; but even for registered trade marks and copyright of books and songs etc., this agreement provides legal protection universally.
What is an invention? When we talk of an invention the opinion most of the people get in their mind is a sophisticated electrical or electronic device which can help to shoot a rocket into the moon or constructing a modern scientific invention such as a television or an electronic communication devise. But in the whole world, inventions which are commercialised are very simple in nature.
However, they are of high utility value. According to the definition, an invention is a product or process that produces a new way of doing something or offer a new technical solution to a problem, but not necessarily a sophisticated device.
Annually, the SLIC is conducting a Presidential and National Awards Ceremony to identify inventors islandwide, by calling applications in newspapers. Applications entertained for the Presidential Award should have a patent certificate already obtained, while it is not essential for the National Awards, which are mainly produced by the school children. The best inventions selected by a panel of experts in the relevant fields selected by the Presidential Secretariat will be granted the 1st 2nd and 3rd prizes of Presidential Awards.
A similar panel of experts selected by the Commission from all fields representing engineering, medicine and from general science and agriculture will select the prize winners for the presentation of National Awards among school children. For these schools inventions, applications are sent mainly by the members of the young Inventors Clubs formed in schools all over Sri Lanka; including in North and East, by the SLIC.
Further, winners of presidential awards will also be sent to Geneva to participate in the International Inventions Exhibition. Already, the Sri Lankan participants at this Geneva Exhibition have been able to win several gold medals to the country while in three occasions they were able to win the prestigious WIPO medal too, given by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva for the best invention of the developing country thereby bringing lot of credit and recognition to Sri Lanka.
In selecting local inventions, panels mainly look into the utility value of the inventions which are capable of solving day to day problems in local industry or in general households. Based on this criteria, a machine for extracting cashew kernels, a rubber tapping machine, coconut plucking machine,and a tea plucking machine have been given awards already.
In the recent past two school inventions have been commercialised through the famous kitchen utensils manufacturers, Odiris and Co. of Kohuwala namely a pedal type coconut scraping machine and a corn seed removing device developed by two school children of age below 18 years. Both these inventions were patented by paying patent fees through the Presidential Fund money. Most of these equipment have already been marketed through Sathosa, STC and Mahapola sales outlets on a direction given by the Minister of Commerce Ravi Karunanayaka.
The other requirement for an invention to be considered for an award are:
It should be a new idea, the use of local raw materials for the invention and environmental friendliness of the invention.
At the beginning of this invention Promotion Exhibition conducted by the SLIC there were many electrical and electronic based inventions of schoolchildren with lot of blinking lights. But now the above selection criteria has gone into the minds of the school children as well as the teachers in charge and hence, the number of inventions presented to these exhibitions are simple inventions of some utility value.
The SLIC while helping the award winning school inventors to further develop their inventions through the incubators set up at the Arthur C Clarke Centre for electrical and electronic based inventions, and at the NERD Centre for mechanical and general science based inventions. Money is also provided, for the award winners to obtain patent certificates for their inventions.
For both school inventors as well as adult inventors money is provided for commercialisation by the special Presidential Fund for commercialising inventions. In order to obtain a Presidential grant or a soft loan or both from this fund, applications are called by a newspaper advertisement.
The applications are then subjected to a careful selection mainly based on the abovementioned criteria by panels of judges appointed by the Presidential Fund Committee with the concurrence of the President's Office. Already several of the inventions supported by this scheme have reached the world market, thereby earning foreign exchange to the country. Some of commercialised inventions have been derived from sources of rejected materials, which had no commercial value earlier.
One good example for this type of an invention is the development of the Flexpo Ltd., which converts coir dust into an environmentally friendly packing material.
As a result this unwanted material earlier known as an environmental menus have now been recognized as a valuable commodity and a bag of coir dust in many areas is now sold at Rs. 20-30. As a result of developing the cashew kernel extracting machine by a technically skilled person with talents but without a degree or a similar certificate has now been able to reawaken the Cashew Industry which was dying away mainly due to the difficulties encountered in extracting cashew kernels by the traditional method . But with this new invention of the inventor, extracting kernels of cashew nuts have now become a clean job which does not stain palms fingertips or clothes of the nut extractors.
Similarly in order to ease the way of removing seeds from corn, a simple device developed by a 6th standard student of Yakalla Maha Vidyalaya, Anuradhapura will be available in the market soon. This machine not only makes the process easy, but also improve the germination of corn seeds extracted this way rather than by hammering corn put in a bag with a heavy mallet. In this later process seeds get damaged and does not germinate when planted in the field.
From these points, it is clear that there are several inventions developed by Sri Lankans, which can help our traditional industries in the country to over come their practical problems. But most of these born talents are not reaching the needy people, mainly because our inventors do not know the procedure to follow in commercialising them. Also they don't have financial and legal support needed for the same.
This effort of Ruhunu University particularly the Faculty of Agriculture, will have a big role to play in the future to find ways and means of helping the agriculture sector in the country by developing our own technology to help local industries. Hence, it should be praised again and the scientists and the students involved in this exercise should be congratulated for their efforts to solve problems in day to day life and in the industry of Sri Lanka.
Then only we the Sri Lankans can develop our industries by using the correct and appropriate technology created by country men. When I say this it reminds me the great statement made by late Munidasa Cumaratunga over 50 years ago.
He stated that "the development of a nation depends on the new inventions developed by the people of the country". We at the SLIC are all out to help such inventors to develop their inventions to reach the level of commercialising them with the support extended to us by the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Support solicited by the University of Ruhunu to achieve this goal is commended again.
Produced by Lake House