Survey on South African publicly-funded intellectual property launched

12th April 2017 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor launched the first 'South African National Survey of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at Publicly Funded Research Institutions' in Pretoria on Wednesday. “The survey reveals many trends that we did not know before . . . [T]his survey constitutes a critical baseline study,” she said.

Pandor put the spotlight on four of these trends. “First, the management of technologies, patent families, trade mark families, registered design families and new patent applications filed increased more rapidly than the increase in research expenditure. This is clearly good news.” On average, between 2011 and 2014, 100 new technologies a year were added to the portfolios managed by science councils and universities.

Second, the number of licences issued annually by intellectual property (IP) developers and owners to enterprises to commercialise their innovations quadrupled during the same period. However, most of these deals produced revenues of less than R100 000 a year. She noted that it was necessary to increase this figure, but that it was a start. And, during these years, 88% of the total revenues accrued annually went to just four institutions, which have well-developed capacities for technology transfer.

Third, one result was the creation of 45 start-up companies to commercialise the technologies developed by the publicly-funded institutions; 73% of these technologies were based on publicly-funded IP. But Pandor pointed out that, in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Harvard University area (both institutions are based in the same town, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the US) alone, there had been 1 400 start-ups. She pointed out that if South Africa could have hundreds of such start-ups it would result in many new jobs and businesses. “We need to significantly ramp-up our skills pool in this domain . . . in converting the investment we make into actual revenue . . . for our country.”

Fourth, most of the staff in technology transfer offices are not very experienced in the field – 53.5% have four years' or less experience in technology transfer – and most are women. In higher education institutions, 56.4% of technology transfer staff are women, while in science councils the proportion rises to 65.2%. She expressed concern that this might lead men doing research and development to undervalue technology transfer, seeing it as a “soft” and purely administrative function.

“What these results show is that we are making progress,” affirmed Pandor. “Incremental, but progress nevertheless.” She expressed the hope that future editions of the survey would include extra details on the IP portfolios of the publicly-funded institutions and the results of commercialisation activities, as well as provide some international comparisons.