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Government Places its Faith in New Intellectual Property Rights Act

January 15, 2009

Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology

The Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development (IPR) Act has now been signed into law, legislation which is considered by government as the anchor behind the department of science and technology’s ten-year plan aimed at “driving South Africa towards a knowledge-based economy”.

In a statement recently released by the department after the new Act was published, the fact that a number of South African institutions had been bought by foreign companies and had been commercialised overseas “with no benefits accruing to South Africans” was named as a major reason for introducing such new legislation. The new law provides for a completely revised enabling environment for intellectual property (IP) development and management in South Africa.

The statement recently issued by the department reiterated much of what was said by the minister of science and technology, Mosibudi Mangena, earlier when he addressed the National Assembly on the second and final reading of the Bill in August 2008. He then told the House that an assessment had revealed how much was being lost by South Africa in the field of intellectual property rights, mostly due, he said, to lack of clarity on how such rights actually worked and how these should be managed and commercialised.

This especially applied to intellectual copyright issues involving public funds, he said to parliamentarians. He pointed out that the new bill before them was aimed at facilitating the creation of new knowledge-base on IP rights and a system whereby the country could go about protecting such in their own interests.

The implications of forming an “office function” within the department of science and technology known as the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) are extensive, it emerged during debate, a budget of around R90million being needed by NIPMO over three years to manage IP rights where the state is involved.

Much of the work by NIPMO would be focused upon earnings primarily aimed in support of black business projects and would primarily provide for the establishment of an intellectual property fund that would fund patenting costs where this was in the national interest.

The first draft of the Bill was approved by cabinet in May 2007, this draft being subject to public comment in June, after which “extensive work went in reviewing the numerous public comments received, revising the Bill, and testing its various provisions against international best practice and the objectives set out in terms of government’s own R&D strategy.

Companies such as Anglo Operations, Sasol, Microsoft, SAPPI, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor team and Eskom were consulted in the drafting, including also members of science councils, leading experts on technology transfer and the major higher education institutions. Some fifteen international experts and institutions in the USA, Canada, and India specializing in intellectual property rights and research were also consulted as part of a “benchmarking exercise”, government told the parliamentary portfolio committee when the bill was first tabled.

The new Act is closely allied as legislation to the Technology Innovation Agency Act, first published as a bill in late 2007, gazetted as an act in November 2008 and which specifically deals with the setting up and establishment of the public entity, NIPMO, to finance individuals and entities to commercialise their innovations and inventions.