Friday 17 July 2009

Will "Jugaad" Lead the Way in Indian Technology and IP?

I have just returned from two weeks in India. Starting from an inquiry from INTA about participating in a programme on trade mark valuation, the visit transmogrified into 9 presentations across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. I will likely comment from time to time about my experiences there, but permit me to mention just one now.

My last talk was at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIMB as it is known). Many of you may well recognize the campus; it is the picture that it is often shown of a Indian campus set in the midst of a small forest, a cross between Silicon Valley and New England. After the never-ceasing cacaphony of the city, it was almost surrealistic to have the chirping of birds (and not the shrill of a car horn) awake me in the morning.

My was talk was on "IP as a Management Tool." Without boring readers about the substance of the lecture, my final topic was whether there will be a distinct form of Indian IP arising out of the particulars of the Indian experience. The way I framed my comments was in terms of "jugaad". And what is "jugaad"? Here is what Wikipedia has to say here:

"Jugaad ... are locally made motor vehicles that are used mostly in small villages as a means of low cost transportation inIndia. Jugaad literally means an arrangement or a work around, which have to be used because of lack of resources. This is a Hindi term also widely used by people speaking other Indian languages, and people of Indian origin around the world. The same term is still used for a type of vehicle, found in rural India. This vehicle is made by carpenters, by fitting a diesel engine on a cart.

.... They are known for having poor brakes and cannot go beyond 60 km/h. They operate on diesel fuel and are just ordinary water pump sets converted into engine.The brakes of these vehicles very often fail and one of the passengers jumps down and applies a manual wooden block as a brake. ....

"Jugaad" is also colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix,often pejoratively used for solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such or a person who can solve a vexatious issue. It is used as much for enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers. In essence, though it is a tribute to native genius, and lateral thinking. Even though in everyday life, a Jugaad can be a solution, in context of Management, Jugaad is essentially a person who has some special capability or access to a resource or even access to another Jugaad that can be useful under extreme or special circumstances."

Jugaad, as it originally was

I suggested to the students that the notion of "jugaad" might help characterize that way that technology and innovation, and the IP that is brought to bear on their protection, will play out in the Indian context. One example, as I wrote about in May in this blog, is medical services. Medical tourism to India is not merely about price. It is equally about how quality seems to be melded into a general orientation whereby the technology succeeds in delivering the same medical service (or more) for less.

I mused whether this orientation runs more generally through the world of Indian technology and innovation and, if so, whether it will result in a distinct form of patent immediately recognizable as "Indian". If so, attention will likely be made to the role of traditional knowledge as part of the Indian experience. As has been observed in the "basmati" rice episode here, the technology of the past still bears on the technology of the present. In that episode, a U.S. patent was originally obtained in connection with "basmati" rice, considered a long-standing type of rice identified with its Indian source. Ultimately the patent and trade mark issues were resolved to the satisfaction of the Indians.

I wish to conclude with a personal anecdote about "jugaad". I was leaving from a meeting with IP people at a well-known Bangalore company. Somehow the frame of my spectacles brushed up against the interior of the cab and the plastic cord holding the right lens in place was torn. I faced my last days in India with the prospect of wandering about in sun glasses (trust me, grandfathers are not cool in sun glasses). My driver, who had been with me throughout my time in Bangalore, did not hesitate. He proceeded directly to a storefront along the strip, entered and came out 30 seconds later with something in hand. He smiled and said--"I fix it"--and so he did. He had somehow come up with an adhesive that he applied to the cord and lens. The lens is still in place. I am becoming a believer in "jugaad".

Is there a Jugaad-inspired patent here?


Tom Blackett said...

What an interesting blog! 'Jugaad' is a very Indian concept and epitomises the resourcefulness of a poor yet very ambitious society. I am not sure, however, whether this is the way modern India would really like to be perceived. The country has made so many advances in technology industries - look at their achievements in pharmaceuticals, for instance - and now owns famous brands like Jaguar and Land Rover. For a country aspiring to join the front rank of industrialised nations Jugaad is a rather embarrassing throwback to the days of the Raj.

Tom Blackett

Vinu said...

Great Post Indian couldn't have put the concept of Jugaad more clearly. Ingenuity and resourcefulness have been the greatest tools for mankind for ages. Earlier necessity sufficed for invention/discovery now it is more complicated. Innovation sounds good but the aim is not for the fix or solution but more focussed on who I can sue when I have this patent.
I differ with Tom in that India -having made many advances in technology and business - would never consider the quick fix jugaad as an embarassment. Hey if it works it sure is good enough! One can't wait for cutting edge solutions to small yet persistent problems

Vinay Kris

Neil Wilkof said...


Thanks for your interesting observation and your comment about the antecedents of "jugaad". My point was that there may be something fundamentally deep-rooted and positive in the notion that may translate into a distinctive form of Indian innovation going forward, whatever the roots of the concept. Building on the past while pushing forward to the future is a valuable trait for any society, particularly for one with a tradition and heritage as old and rich as India. I wish them well, whatever path they choose for themselves.

Data Gurus said...

Mani: that is an interesting way of looking at Indian innovation, Neil.
"Recycling" of materials is very common in India. Making do with fewer resources is now respectable even for large companies. Like "frugal engineering".