SLIC: bringing young and old inventors to the fore | Daily News

SLIC: bringing young and old inventors to the fore

Sri Lanka happens to be a home to an underrated, unsung population of talented inventors and innovators – from a boy from Wattala who invented an automatic machine that produces string hoppers, to the one from Moneragala who created a device that could predict landslides. But faced with funding issues, lack of access to legal support, markets and technology, the journey for these out of the box thinkers is still difficult.

However, the revival of the Sri Lankan Inventors Commission(SLIC) of the Ministry of Science, Technology & Research, is gradually breathing in a new life to novel ideas, encouraging inventors young and old to do what they do best, think big and think different. The Commission which begun in 1979, was revamped two years ago under the leadership of Commissioner Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, while Budget 2016 promised to specially focus on supporting the inventors in terms of patenting and funding.

This had turned out to be good news for students such as D. M. Amalka Vibhuthi of Mahanama Central College, Moneragala, whose project was funded by his parents. His invention, a landslide security system which could monitor landslides an entire day before it occurs, was placed in the technical category at the Sahasak Nimavum this year. Amalka’s device could warn the weather department and the authorities concerned to initiate steps for immediate evacuation.

“I have currently registered for the patent rights for my invention and I am expecting my license soon. I am currently working on merging this with an earthquake detecting device,” he enthusiastically added.

Inventors in the calibre of Amalka should be encouraged, says the current Commissioner of the Sri Lankan Inventors Commission Dr Mahesh Edirisinghe, who was appointed at the beginning of this month.

“We need to build a culture in Sri Lanka that supports inventors. The corporate sector could help,” he said.

“There are three important steps to be followed in the process of inventing – idea generation, idea conversion and the invention’s commercialization. The conversion of the idea into a prototype or working module has to be supported.”

Funding is always a challenge to inventors, particularly, the most experienced persons who possess more experience in official procedures. M. A. Prince Chandrasena of Mawathagama, another award winner this year who invented the Electronic Traffic Robot said, “The reason why I invented the robot was to solve the issue of traffic caused by schools – it is hard for the police to manage the the flow of traffic by themselves and so school children take on the task, which parents rarely approve of,” he explained. The robot could be controlled by a human user within a range of 500 meters – it stands erect as the stature of a man with lights on its head to indicate the motion of traffic and even with the capability of whistling and simulating hand gestures. It also has cameras to capture emergency incidents.

“It cost me around Rs. 50,000 for development and research. Obtaining the patent rights also cost me Rs. 4,000, which is expensive. It took me more than one and a half years to get my patent right,” said Chandrasena. “My last invention, the dip cooling system for milk farmers, won the best innovation award, while a multinational organization was even interested in the device, but I did not have the resources to go ahead,” he said. He added that the delay in processing needed to be improved, while the need for a system of support to help commercialize our inventions.” He further went on to say that his invention of a computer for people sans hands, won first place in Geneva in 2009, while he also received first place at an awards ceremony in Korea. Despite this indisputable proof of his talents, he had to fund himself for the production of the Electronic Traffic Robot.

Access to capital has been a major obstacle in hindering inventions in the country, explains the former Commissioner of the Sri Lankan Inventors Commission Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, added to this access to market and technology further burdens them, he explained.

Access to capital could be provided by the Angel Investors, who invest and provide freedom to convert the invention, provided the inventors have entrepreneurial skills as well. ‘Angel funding’ is a phenomenon, popular in the US and other developed countries, wherein an affluent individual provides the capital for a business start-up, to commercialize an invention, usually in exchange of ownership equity. There is an insufficient Angel investment culture in Sri Lanka, Sooriyaarachchi says, explaining the issue.

If the person who created a new device is not willing to make it a business, then he or she had the option of selling it to someone else. But there aren’t organized incubators who could take the product and convert it in a big way, Sooriyaarachchi claims.

“Jinasena and Slintec are a few who undertake it, but it is difficult for banks to provide loans unless there is collateral. So the need arises for regulatory changes,” he said, adding that this was where the corporate sector could chip in.

If the Corporate sector could pick one or two inventors an year and support them, this would be another possible method,” he explained. He said another bottle neck has been the patenting process, as it hinders the selling process as well.

“The problem with patenting is that there are no proper patent-application drafters. Patent drafting is a science and an art – you need a technical and legal background as well, so that claims could be conveyed well and you need people from different fields such as IT, physics, chemical and so on. There is a lack in the number of competent people at patent offices, which is a challenge throughout the world and a patent application takes time,” Sooriyaarachchi explained. Patent offices have a number of vacancies to be filled, while attracting quality people has been a challenge, but they are doing a great job given the limited resources. Many of the inventors in Sri Lanka have limited market access, a situation the Commission attempts to remedy. Access to markets is the responsibility of the organizations, as they need to take it to a global level.

There are limited opportunities, although the Commission helps people to go places,” he said. One such success story is air cleaning device developed by Manju Gunawardene. The contraption which uses nanotechnology to provide clean air in rooms and hospitals is selling like hot cakes in India. Sooriyaarachchi is positive that the new approach by the government could go a long way in encouraging such innovators as Gunawardene’s. The 2016 budget promises to help inventors in collaboration with the Sri Lankan Inventors Commission with an allocation of US$ 100,000 for the funding of inventors.

However, there needs to be a homogenous, coherent policy framework to develop the sector, he said.

“There must be a policy dialogue,” Sooriyaarachchi stressed.

The Government should have a platform where policy makers from different areas could meet together and support and fund and protect the innovators and their inventions,” he said. 

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