26 September 2007
South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology has launched a campaign to help local researchers, artists and inventors to patent ideas and findings that could be turned into viable business opportunities.
Through the Innovation Fund’s intellectual property management programme, the department is helping researchers at publicly funded institutions to patent viable research findings, with the broader aim of helping to turn South Africa into a knowledge-driven economy.
Speaking at the programme’s launch in Cape Town on Friday, Innovation Fund patent attorney Maclean Sibanda said that South Africa currently had a very low patenting rate, which had remained stagnant since 1998. In addition, about half the patent applications filed in South Africa emanated from abroad.
Though there were about 10 000 to 11 000 patent applications filed through SA’s Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro) each year, they had failed to show the kind of growth seen in countries with gross domestic products similar to South Africa’s, such as South Korea.
Sibanda emphasised the importance of researchers and inventors – as well as artists, musicians and writers – considering patenting their ideas before publishing them.
“Researchers need to appreciate the fact that the protection of their intellectual property should precede publication,” Sibanda said. “Researchers and innovators have a right to participate in, gain recognition for, and benefit from, the commercialisation of their work.”
Sibanda said South Africans needed to wake up to the right to intellectual property as the country moved into the “knowledge economy” phase.
One result of failure to patent is that foreigners could do so, which would preclude South Africans from owning a particular concept that could be rendered into a tangible commodity.
This would raise the possibility of any add-on inventions being produced under licence, which would see money moving offshore and not retained for onward investment by the local economy.
Local patents are seen as having the potential for a powerful role in the country’s economic development, with the government wishing to push the country further up the global technological achievement rankings.
According to the United Nations, South Africa currently ranks 39th out of 162 countries for technological achievement, and is seen more as an adopter of technology than as an innovator.
However, spending on research and development in South Africa has grown considerably over the past few years, and now stands at about R10.1-billion a year if one includes spending by the public and the private sectors.