Rewarding Innovation | Sunday Observer

Rewarding Innovation

The State sector is often thought of as having men and women who are inefficient, lethargic and absolutely non-innovative. While this generalisation may indeed paint a wrong picture about the service, we have come across occasions where the public has every right to feel this way. However, there are many men and women who serve selflessly in the public service – they will go out of the way to resolve a problem faced by a member of the public. They will also think of ways and means in which they can improve their efficiency, safety and service.

This calls for “thinking outside the box” and a streak for trying out new things. Innovation is not a word that readily springs to mind when one mentions the public service, but we find that in many Government offices innovative suggestions by employees have improved the workflow. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here – all you need is a product, process or service that makes work smarter and efficient.

Now, an electrical Superintendent of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has literally stepped into these shoes by making a product that will bolster occupational safety (safety at work). Electrical Superintendent Nihal Samarakone attached to the Hatton Electricity Consumer Centre has made a pair of iron shoes that could be used to safely and quickly climb concrete and wooden lamp posts.

Speaking to our sister paper, The Daily News, Samarakone said, currently CEB workers use ladders to access power lines, which are a hassle to transport and are also dangerous. A worker could climb a post at the same speed of walking with the help of these new shoes.

There are certain places where it is hard to transport a ladder which would also require several persons to carry it. On the contrary, this new invention weighs a mere kilogramme and it also offers safety for the CEB worker, while allowing him greater access to work comfortably for longer periods. A worker has to stand on the ladder and this sometimes causes numbness in his legs. This also limits the time he can stand on the ladder. However, this new device makes it easier on his feet and prevents such difficulties, according to Samarakone.

He said, measures have been taken to apply for a patent for this new invention. It is essential that he patents this product lest someone else take the credit or even steal his blueprints. There have been occasions when some of our State and private companies as well as individuals have neglected to patent their products and inventions, only to see the idea being copied elsewhere.

Samarakone seems to be a veteran in this department, having around 30-40 other patents for various inventions. He should also be rewarded for this invention in a way that is consistent with the promotions and rewards applicable to Government service. Indeed, all other Government servants who contribute towards efficiency or safety must be similarly rewarded. Workplace hazards can kill and maim, so these safety innovations must be duly recognised and implemented.

The other moot point is commercialisation. A new product may be a breakthrough, but most inventors lack the capacity and finances to take it forward. What if no one came forward to commercially make the incandescent bulb invented by Thomas A Edison ? What if no one was interested in John Logie Baird’s TV set ? Behind every successful inventor is someone or some organisation that takes it forward and commercialises it (if it is a physical product, to perfect it and make it in bulk). The idea is that the inventor also benefits by way of royalties or commissions.

This is where Government organisations, private companies and NGOs can step in. With the help of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission, they should look for the best innovations and inventions that come out every year. If the annual ‘Sahasak Nimavum’ (A Thousand Inventions) exhibition is any indication, there are many schoolchildren who come out with really useful inventions. But sometimes their products are never seen again, because they could not find anyone for commercialisation. This is indeed pathetic – some of the products are good enough to be sold commercially not only here but also overseas. (There is a slight difference between innovation and invention– an innovation is a process or product that improves on an existing product or service; an invention is usually a totally new physical product that does something new. There are occasions when the two definitions can overlap)

It is interesting to note where we are in terms of innovations worldwide. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index 2017 was 90th. This is a huge improvement from the position we held just four years ago – 105. But before you say “that’s great”, Sri Lanka was in the 82nd position just seven years ago. So there has been some zigzagging in the sphere of innovations. We can and must do better, with our vast talent pool of young inventors. As I stated before, schoolchildren who make outstanding new products must be amply rewarded.

International exposure is vital for inventors. Sri Lanka has been sending some of its best inventors to the main event for inventors – the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva. This year was no exception. This is one place where inventors can meet fellow inventors and more importantly, investors who can take their products from the lab to the showroom. The 46th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva held in April this year saw a record 822 Exhibitors from 40 countries. With 50 more exhibitors than in 2017 and more than 1,000 working inventions on display, the International Exhibition in Geneva confirmed its position as the most important specialist event of its kind in the world. This year’s show was marked by a very high proportion of inventions in health, medicine, the environment and security. According to the organisers, the exhibitors were pleased with the contacts made and business done.

Sri Lankan authorities should be on the lookout for suitable candidates to be sent to the next edition which is to be held in April 2019. Moreover, our universities must focus more on Research and Development, as should private companies.

Nations that do not invest in Research, Innovation and Development risk lagging behind in the global development race. We must foster a culture of new thinking and innovation that will take Sri Lanka to greater heights in the development stakes.

Comments

Country well behind many countries. Anyone trying trying to create something of value to dociety must be supported and subject to various tests guidelines by others qualified before patenting and manufacture public private use

Country well behind many countries. Anyone trying trying to create something of value to dociety must be supported and subject to various tests guidelines by others qualified before patenting and manufacture public private use