John Hoffmire: You are a principal scientist at the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, which is known for its excellence in scientific research in chemistry and chemical engineering. Tell me about the work you do there, if you will.
Nitin: The saying, “Do what you’ll love, and you’ll never work another day in your life” definitely applies to me so I would say, rather than work, I follow my passion for studying new technologies being developed in my institute and coming up with the best strategies to turn them into intellectual property assets for the organization. This involves reviewing disclosure to identify and define patentable features, and checking on the features’ ownership. We do this because inventorship matters especially in case of collaborative research. We need to prescribe IP protection accordingly.
In addition, I look after the IP planning, management and value addition regarding the existing portfolio. As a scientist, I am also committed to scholarly aspects of the work, like advising on IP-related issues for project agreements and licensing, Private Public Partnership negotiations, policy prescriptions relating to IP law, as well as innovation and technology policy.
Further, I contribute to my organizational mandate of developing an ecosystem to promote innovation; I organize courses on IP for researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs at various levels starting with introductory and moving right through to advanced and specialized classes. For the last few years I have started conducting a few programs under the aegis of “Skill Development Program of India” to do my in bit in answering the call of nation building.
John: How does NCL Innovations differ from National Chemical Laboratory?
Nitin: National Chemical Laboratory, a flagship laboratory of a national program, is a research, development and consulting organization focused on chemistry and chemical engineering. It has a successful track record of research collaboration and partnership with industry. With all the cutting edge science going on in the lab, NCL decided to create a way to increase the chances of its science breakthroughs going from lab to market. With this background, the forward thinking leaders of NCL decided to create a “cradle” for NCL technologies in 2007. This organization is NCL Innovations.
NCL Innovations brings a fresh focus to and champions the cause of technology development and acceleration, as well as technology commercialization. NCL Innovations has under its umbrella the Intellectual Property Group (of which I am a part), Innovation Management Group (the team dedicated to technology commercialization), and NCL Innovation Park (the technology business incubator, Venture Center). Each year since inception NCL Innovations has surpassed its own records of taking enterprises “from a cradle” and growing them into a “nursery” of mature technologies.
John: I understand you specialize in patent litigation and prosecution. How did that come about?
Nitin: At the start of my IP career as a women scientist, I had the opportunity to assist senior members of the consultancy where I worked. Our senior mentors had expertise in patent law enforcement, litigation, and so on. As I was exposed to this, my interest grew and I undertook studies in patent litigation prosecution.
With my studies, my interest grew deeper, especially as I realized the importance of being judicious as our publicly funded lab invested in certain kinds of technologies. IP protection and prosecution has to be very strategic in considering long-term integrated national and organizational goals while, at the same time, keeping in mind our responsibility to public stakeholders.
The responsibility of a planned IP portfolio requires that we act proactively rather reactively. Given that litigation can be involved with IP activities, we have to be careful and well informed.
John: You have such a broad range of expertise. If you could focus on one project or area of research to make a major advancement in science, what would that be?
Nitin: If I were to pick just one area of research, it would be around making potable water available for all. Water scarcity, purity, and making it potable and available to all is a challenge affecting too many developing and underdeveloped countries. Research on such issues is happening in pockets around the world, and the application of that research is being applied in pockets. There is a dire need to scale up existing solutions and come up with better solutions that can be market ready and able to cater to the populations in need.
In my capacity I would like to contribute to this cause.
John: I met you when you were a scholar in the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP). Tell me about your experience at Oxford and how that has shaped your current work?
Nitin: My experience at Oxford was very enriching and inspiring both personally and professionally. We were “professional students” for the duration of the fellowship. During the day we were professionals; we all were learning new things in a new set-up like thorough professionals. But in the evenings we were more like students. We made connections between topics that seemed unrelated. We attended events. We cooked together, and relived our school days, only this time at Oxford!
The contribution of the CRISP fellowship in shaping my current work, I would say, has been immense. As a CRISPer, I personally have benefitted greatly by having a team of advisors — my co-participants and others whom I have access to — who help me with any issue I face, personal or professional. Additionally, I am currently working with some of the colleagues from my batch on building up course programs in intersectional areas of science and technology. These should be available to the public soon. Having this close network of colleagues has been tremendously rewarding.
Finally, my experience at Oxford helped to map my core competencies and identify weak spots. With this knowledge, I have been able to make some improvements – particularly in areas related to technology transfer models.
John: I understand what you mean about the CRISP programme being a catalyst for positive change. I see it happen every year with each new batch of scholars, and I feel its influence in my own work and personal life. Thank you, Nitin, for taking the time to catch us up on your work and on CRISP’s influence. I wish you continued growth and success.
Nitin: Meeting you all in Oxford was such a pleasure. My thanks to the spouses who invited us over and made us feel “at home” cannot be expressed in words. We made friends and memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks again to all of you.
Dr. Nitin Shukla is a Principal Scientist at the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India, Foundation and an alum of the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP), 2018.
Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business