Strides made in S Africa’s IP landscape, but more substantial participation required

30th January 2019 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

Strides made in S Africa’s IP landscape, but more substantial participation required

Dr McLean Sibanda

The intellectual property (IP) system in South Africa has evolved since 1994, leaving the country with a much better, more inclusive system than before – barring a few constraints, former Innovation Hub CEO Dr McLean Sibanda said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a public lecture on South Africa’s IP and innovation landscape post-1994, he said innovation was required for economic and social growth in a middle income country like South Africa.

In this vein, he noted that IP and patenting polices should be viewed as an economic entity, rather than just the protection of intellectual ownership that can help foster innovation and growth.

However, he lamented that while the IP system had evolved since 1994, it was not being effectively capitalised on by South Africans, with the majority of patents received by the patent office being from foreign entities.

While this was not an issue in itself, it pointed to a lack of effective domestic patent use, with local patent use having remained stagnant over the last 20 or so years; which also then prevents local entities from patenting globally.

Moreover, he highlighted that the private sector had “not been coming to the party” in recent years, with more participation required from businesses, State-owned enterprises and small, medium-sized and microenterprises.

He posited that there was plenty of opportunity for the country to innovate by increasing its knowledge base and manufacturing capacities and moving away from a services based economy.

For example, the country currently ranked the lowest among the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, or Brics, countries in terms of high-technology exports, and opportunities could be found there, Sibanda indicated.

Another avenue was for the country to strategically use its natural resources, such as the beneficiation of mining resources, for example.

“We have to look at what the country can be good at, how we can use the knowledge that we’re generating, and how we can use the IP system holistically, not just for patents, but to holistically generate value in the market place.

“With this, we can then look at how to positon ourselves to tackle some of the most pressing challenges we face – unemployment, poverty, inequality.”