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Article by Mohan Babu

Ideas for sale? Go global!

As portals providing idea interchanges get popular worldwide, scientists and technocrats are starting to appreciate the convenience of solving global problems while enjoying the convenience of home, writes MOHAN BABU

Most of us in the IT industry appreciate the power of innovative solutions. The e-commerce revolution in its early days spawned dreams of revolutionising business models, increasing productivity gains and changing the way consumers dealt with corporations. Some of the predicted changes are already here, albeit taking place in a slower, steadier way. Online banking, trading stocks, auctions, etc, are already a way of life for many of us. Businesses too have benefited tremendously from the productivity gains stemming from the instant availability of data.

The e-commerce revolution also led to the innovation in a number of other areas. Many “new” ideas bombed, some hibernated and a few succeeded. One such idea that hibernated for a while before taking hold is the solutions marketplace. The idea behind the solutions marketplace is very simple—businesses pose cryptic problems that they don’t have the right in-house expertise to solve (or it would take a great effort and infrastructure to solve). Instead of hiring consultants or specialists from a local talent pool and trying to solve the problem, companies are realising that they can benefit from the global availability of intellectual capital. During the height of the dotcom boom, a number of online ventures were founded to act as solutions exchanges. A few like Sabeer Bhatia’s Arzoo didn’t even take off while the likes of eLance continue to limp along. One such exchange that specialises in solving complex problems in the chemical industry is the portal launched by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly,

called InnoCentive Inc (URL: The portal was initially launched by Eli Lilly to solve its own in-house problems but has now attracted the attention of other multinational giants too. These companies post challenging synthetic organic chemistry problems and request the world chemical community to solve them.

Dr Apparao Satyam, principal scientist at Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, one of the participants of this forum who recently won about $75,000 in rewards by solving a complex problem describes the workings of the portal: “There are two types of problems-The first category involves paper synthesis where a scientist/chemist just offers his solution to a problem based on his/her scientific knowledge. The best solution to the problem will be selected by InnoCentive scientists and the respective solver will be awarded cash prize. Since these problems do not require experimental verification of the proposed solution, InnoCentive offers cash rewards in the range of $1000-$5000 (depending on the complexity of the problem).

They also offer problems that require the solver to not only propose a solution to it, but the scientist has to actually verify his proposed solution experimentally in his/her laboratory using his/her own resources. Each problem comes with certain minimum requirements to be met and the scientist has to actually make the chemical compound in his laboratory using his proposed route and submit a multi-gram sample of the prepared compound to the InnoCentive, along with a detailed experimental procedures and analytical data with in the deadline set by the InnoCentive for that particular problem. Since these type of problems need lab work to solve them, they are called “Wet Chemistry” problems. These types of problems carry cash rewards in the range of $15,000 to $100,000 (depending on the complexity of the problem). The best solution to a problem will be awarded the InnoCentive prize. Finally, the scientist needs to transfer intellectual property right to InnoCentive to claim the award.”

Dr Satyam described the problem he solved for and InnoCentive seeker as “Regarding the InnoCentive problem that I had solved, an InnoCentive seeker was in need of a novel and economical synthetic route to produce kilogram quantities of 7-Formyl-Indole, which might be an Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API). In fact, 7-formyl-indole is a known compound and is commercially available at a price of US $310.00/1 gram of 98% pure compound. By using our novel method, we produced 5gm of 7-formyl-Indole (>99.6% purity) for less than US $200 (which is seven to eight times cheaper). The seeker can now produce kilogram quantities of 7-formyl-Indole using our new method. Since I am an employee, any research work done by me will become the property of my employer and only my employer can transfer the intellectual property rights related to InnoCentive problems. My employer has transferred those IP rights to that invention, and obtained the award money, which will be used to fund our on-going in-house research and development. Since we have transferred the IP rights to the invention to InnoCentive to claim the award money, InnoCentive has acquired the rights to utilise that technology.”

Mumbai-based Dr Satyam and his peers are already reaping the benefits of globalisation, using Web technologies as a tool. Working away at their labs in India, they are positioning themselves to solve complex problems for their global clients. This is exactly the kind of revolution that the Internet and e-commerce technologies were supposed to bring forth. Tightening of immigration laws in the West notwithstanding, globalisation of portals such as those which provide idea interchanges continue unabated. If anything, scientists and technocrats are starting to appreciate the convenience of solving global problems while enjoying the convenience of home. Who says only thing that can be successfully outsourced is IT?





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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