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Legislation designed to stimulate technology transfer and research

October 27, 2008

Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology

Various key stakeholders in technology research and development have expressed concern that proposed legislation on intellectual property rights could dissuade private sector companies from purchasing licences on new technology. The University of Pretoria has made a submission on the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Bill to Parliament’s portfolio committee on science and technology. The tertiary institution recommends that amendments to the bill were necessary to further support the protection of intellectual property rights flowing from public funded research. Reference was made to the Universities and Small Business Act enacted in the United States in 1980 that promoted the commercialisation of research output that had been financed by means of public funds. Research institutions were also able to grant licences and file patents. Similar legislation has subsequently been promulgated in major industrialised and developing countries.

The university warns that the legislation should not hinder normal university practices in any way. South Africa has experienced a substantial increase in the amount of scientific information generated by research in the past 13 years. Brasil, India and China have also undergone escalation in scientific output with China registering a nine-fold increase. On the African continent, Nigeria and Tunisia have also experienced significant increases in research activity. The process depends to a large extent on sound academic practice to provide rigorous teaching that in turn contributes to effective research that ultimately results in innovation. The right to exclusive licencing would have to be solidified to encourage further private sector investment and development. Universities remain the primary source of new knowledge and knowledge workers and should receive financial support in terms of research.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) made reference to section 10 of the bill that focuses on the rights of intellectual property creators to benefit-sharing. The CSIR declares that this section should be regulated on an institution-by-institution basis. Little evidence existed to support the notion that current benefit-sharing policies tended to disincentivise researchers. The provision was seen as eroding institutional autonomy. The CSIR advocated that the section should only direct institutions to share benefits with intellectual property creators. The National Intellectual Property Management Office should be instructed to produce a model benefit-sharing policy to assist in the benefits process.

The CSIR asserted that technology transfer was a complicated business and the mere existence of enabling legislation could not guarantee a vibrant technology transfer enterprise. The National System of Innovation could be strengthened by other factors such as overseas collaborations and local research interactions. The CSIR held the view that the bill did not elaborate enough on South Africa’s development context, but various measures existed to promote technology transfer for the public and social good. Measures included socially responsible licencing, global access imperatives and open source models. A fine balance had to be maintained between promoting research and over-regulating. The CSIR was concerned that some provisions would discourage private sector companies from buying licences from research groups once the research process had ended.