How to support a crazy inventor, ahead of her/his time?

The tradition of neglecting inventors who are ahead of their time is not typically Indian. It happens in many parts of the world but that does not absolve us of the responsibility of remembering our forgotten heroes. Thanks to Dinyar patel at BBC,  we just read about the story of Shankar Abaji Bhisey, who had set up a inventors club in Bombay and patented so many innovations particularly the printing industry related typefaces in 1914 and granted in 2017. What do we learn from his life for future policies in India and at global level. Will the unfortunate painful story of Shankar Bhisey be repeated again and again?

Lesson one: we should not expect always a rational resolution of the inventor’s dilemma by the inventors? They are far too confident of their ideas and will not easily conclude their designs. They don’t often accept that version one can be simple and may not meet all the expected customer need but then one can always begin with it. Cashflow form it might field his yearning for further versions. lesson two: being incorrigible improvisers, they keep on adding new features and functions to the prototype. Lesson three: they need financial support, as unconditional as possible and only benevolent, public-spirited funders can meet such needs. One should create a separate pathway in the taxation, and social assessment policies for encouraging such inventors to support early-stage inventions. May be they should also be allowed 150 per cent tax deduction like an approved R and D lab. Rather than to fear misutilization of such provisions, the quality pf patents and assessment of ideas by people well versed in the field might be enough.  If Bhisey had got such sustained support from Dada Bhai Naroji, Tatas and others who took interest in his case, maybe he would have delivered much better results. Why can not we take care of such scattered, few and pioneering inventors? Lesson four: Should their prospects and case be screened through same sieve that applies to most incremental innovations?

Let me recall another such cases which Honey Bee Network volunteers scouted and he  was honored posthumously by NIF in 2002. Late P L Mistry, “thought of several other ideas such as inflating the tyre of a punctured cycle while it is in motion, bullock drawn water lifting pump and generation of power by the movement of traffic on road. Other innovations that he developed and in most cases patented are improved tea/coffee maker, animal body weight drawn water lifting pump, device for the constant pressure of water in pipeline/tap, improved machine for making chapatis/puris, system for prevention of train collision and accident due to derailment and sabotaging, improved churner, small flour mill, folding cradle, cloth washing and drying machine, folding swing bed, automatic lighting and delighting kerosene lamp and power generation from road traffic” Honey Bee, 14(4) & 15 (1): 2-3, 2003. An innovation which brought him to the attention of British rulers was making a wise platform ticket issuing machine which would not accept counterfeit coins, patented in 1939.Lesson five: the societies which ignore such stories and don’t include them in textbooks to inspire and ignite the minds of the young potential pioneers. Look at any textbook of any class in any state, one may rarely find a couple of stories by chance but no systematic attempt to include such stories in school books.

Lesson six: it is quite possible that many ideas of such crazy inventors may not appear to be very viable, or may just be showpieces. They may not be functionally very effective. But at the same time, some others might be quite functional. How to make allowance for whimsical inventions vis a vis socially desirable ones? Inventor put weight on irrational wishes as much as on rational ones. Will the UNDP global network of innovation acceleration Labs provide space for creating an institutional context in which rational and irrational may coexist and fuel the human spirit to transcend the horizon of what seems impossible? 


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place