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South African IP Push

Author: Institutional Advancement: Munyaradzi Makoni

If you want to create a knowledge-based economy and be part of it, be a player, not an observer. There isn’t a stronger backbone than having an understanding of what Intellectual property is all about.

South Africa’s Push for Knowledge-Based Economy through Intellectual Property at UWC

“If you want to create a knowledge-based economy and be part of it, be a player, not an observer. There isn’t a stronger backbone than having a real understanding of what intellectual property is.”

So said Mmboneni Muofhe, Department of Science & Technology (DST) Deputy Director General for Technology and Innovation, at the 9th Intellectual Property Summer School held at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in early December 2017. 

The meeting brought together students, lawyers, scientists and various professionals from Africa and other parts of the developing world for a ten-day intensive programme focused on intellectual property.

UWC has hosted the summer school for six of the nine years that it has been held in South Africa.

“We are really proud of the contribution we have been able to make to developing IP in South Africa,” says Janine Chantson, Director of UWC’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO). “It has also been important 

in contributing to the capacity development of the UWC TTO team.”

 “When we started the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Summer School, South Africa, was only focused on IP in its different forms. That has now broadened to include the transfer of technology,” says Kerry Faul, head of the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO). 

“Since then we have seen how the use of IP - along with the innovation value chain - has changed over a period of time.”

Sixty students who had completed the introductory WIPO distance learning course on Intellectual Property Management participated in the 2017 Summer School. Issues covered included copyright, the role of patents, IP funding, and the interaction between industry and academia in Technology Transfer (TT). The training was presented by top-level local and international experts in the field of IP and TT. This training was complemented by discussions on case studies, and practical exercises on select IP and technology transfer topics, with an emphasis on the interface between IP and other disciplines.

Faul says that owing to South Africa’s success in hosting past summer schools, the cap on student numbers was scrapped. In addition, the hosts now decide how much they want to charge, and can manage the resultant funds in alignment their own priorities.

Driving the annual gathering is the Geneva-based WIPO Academy, which runs various summer schools and IP courses around the world aimed at developing a deeper understanding of a modern, balanced IP system that can be effectively used to encourage economic, social and cultural development.

Also involved in the prestigious programme are the Japanese Patent Office (JPO), the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), which promotes education and awareness of IP laws and the registration of IP Rights.

Africa and Beyond: An International Perspective on Intellectual Property

In South Africa, the WIPO Summer School has trained over 400 students since its inception nine years ago. An improvement to the December 2017 summer school was the inclusion of more practical courses in which lecturers ask students to develop and implement relevant skills from conception to delivery, to shape their expertise.

It is clear, however, that gaps in IP knowledge across Africa are still a challenge.

“One of the biggest gaps is the basic understanding of IP,” Faul says. “And where it’s understood it is being taken as the end goal. People should understand about IP’s marketability, and its role as a tool to bring social and economic development.”

Muofhe put it in a nutshell when he said the spirit of Ubuntu should stop when it comes to IP.

Yasushi Naito, the Consul of Japan in Cape Town, says establishing and improving IP systems is essential for promoting innovation throughout the world. Japan used to be a developing country, but it was able to transform itself through industrialization.

“It is essential to share our experience with other countries,” he says. “Appropriate propagation of IP in Africa is not only to encourage investment in Africa by foreign countries. By bringing out the potential of Africa, this will lead to thriving sustainable economic growth in Africa.” 

As South Africa develops its first Intellectual Property Policy – the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) released the draft version in August 2017 – issues of Intellectual Property (IP) and technology transfer (TT) are again taking centre stage in the country.

At the same time, debate rages internationally on the pros and cons of existing patenting laws, and related consequences for innovation and the public good that can or should stem from technological and health innovations, especially.

Nomonde Maimela, executive manager for innovation and creativity at the CIPC, says different roles in the value chain of IP are in need of expertise.

“Our main concern is to empower small to medium enterprises that currently have little or no participation in this area, to benefit from their IP,” she says, adding that South Africa launched a two-year IP asset management training initiative for small- to medium-enterprises in November 2016.

On average, South Africa receives 9 000 patent applications annually. According to WIPO, over a 15-year period from 2000 to 2014, non-residents topped the number of patents registered in South Africa. They were followed by applicants from abroad but originating from South Africa, and local South Africans came last. This is a situation that Maimela hopes will change in future as course participants help to train other players in IP.​

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