The Impact of Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act (IPR Act) on Researchers
The South African government launched an IPR act in 2010, which is aimed at guiding how IP generated at research institutions (universities, universities of technology &science councils) using public funds is managed and how subsequent technologies get transferred to market, especially for the benefits of the society.
Consequently, since the launch of the IPR Act in 2010, many researchers have battled with accepting the reality of the new way of conducting research with relation to research output and understanding the impact of the Act on researchers. As a PhD student myself, I had a lot of questions and concerns when I first heard about the IPR Act. Here are some questions from researchers, which being part of the technology transfer landscape since 2010 and joining the Wits Technology Transfer office I have learned the real answers to. It has helped me to be open to understanding the impact of the IPR Act to researchers;
Does the IPR Act make research institutions steal researcher's hard-work generated invention?
- The IPR Act seeks to provide platforms to assist inventions generated by researchers to reach their relevant market for the benefits of society.
- Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) at research institutions act as a platform to facilitate identifying and hopefully out licensing inventions from research and development activities. The TTOs manage the inventions by forging a best possible strategy to protect and commercialize these inventions.
- Inventions are generally protected using a best suiting form of IP (such as patent) in relevant countries. The cost of protecting inventions is generally high at an average value of R 500 000 to R 1 million per invention, depending on the nature of IP and the number of territories they are protected in. An individual researcher cannot afford such costs, and it makes sense to create these TTOs, which the government supports financially as result of the IPR Act, to do this for them.
- Inventions, particularly at an early stage like universities' could be generally commercialized using various methods such as different types of IP licensing, IP assignment/ selling or establishing a spin-off company. All these methods require resources and don't always succeed. So again the role of the TTO here can be really important.
Because researchers do not own the IP, does this mean no benefits for the inventor if there are any accrued from the invention?
- The researcher (inventor) is very valuable in transferring the technology to market and where possible, the inventor remains involved in both technology development and commercialization. Each research institution has an IP policy which governs benefits sharing between the inventor and research institution. The IPR act dictates certain minimum sharing percentages. The Wits IP Policy is much more generous than these minima.
The IPR act thus, seeks to ensure that the society of the Republic of South Africa and the world benefits from inventions generated using public funds and more so, that the commercialization of the inventions is optimized, and that each inventor (researcher/academic) can share in the spoils created.
If a researcher is interested in discussion the impact of IPR act, can contact me directly at Bheki.Zulu@wits.ac.za or any member of Technology Transfer at Wits Enteprise.