The National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) explained that it is a entity within the Department of Science and Technology. Its aim is to protect intellectual property and intellectual property rights that are created with public funds. NIPMO operations and its goals moving into the future as well as the challenges facing it in implementing the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, 2008, were noted.
Members were interested in protecting the intellectual property of indigenous people, because there is often a literacy barrier and the lack of availability of information in rural areas. In the past, they said commercial companies have stolen intellectual property from indigenous people, and marginalised them so that the indigenous people do not see any of the benefits.
NIPMO assured the Committee that they are working to ensure this does not happen. It is currently compiling a database where people can register indigenous information so that it is not stolen.
Members were interested to know how NIPMO operated on a budget of only R25 million. However, NIPMO replied that as it was expanding in the very near future, it would be needing additional funding, so this is something it is very concerned with.
NIPMO’s role and mandate, and Intellectual Property as a tool for economic growth
Dr Kerry Faul, Head of the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO), explained that NIPMO functions as an agent within the Department of Science and Technology. Their primary function is to protect intellectual property (IP) and intellectual property rights (IPR) that are created with public funds.
In addition, NIPMO serves as the implementing office of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development (IPR) Act, 2008, which has created some challenges. The purpose of the IPR Act is to provide for more effective utilization of IP emanating from publically financed projects. The Act also established NIPMO and the IP Fund, in addition to providing for the establishment of Offices of Technology Transfers (OTTs) in relevant institutions.
The IPR Act, however, has created a couple challenges for NIPMO. First, there are financial and human constraints within the organization. In addition, the organization lacks support from senior management in government, science councils, and higher education institutions to carry out the mandate. Additionally, NIPMO is facing a lack of awareness from the public. There is also a lack of availability of entrepreneurs to take new technologies to the market. Finally, NIPMO must de-risk funding and legal/administrative support during new company set up.
Dr Faul gave examples of how IP can be used as a tool for economic growth. She highlighted Google as a prime example. She then gave some examples of IP leading to economic growth within South Africa (see document).
Mr O Sefako (ANC) thanked Dr Kerry for her presentation. This presentation is very important, because of the historical and systemic challenges facing South Africa. He brought up the concern about indigenous people who are creating things that are being exploited by others. Indigenous people are being marginalised and not seeing any of the commercial benefits. He suggested that NIPMO create information desks so that all citizens of the country can be reached and made aware of their IPR.
Dr Faul explained that the Department of Science and Technology is developing an Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill. This system would work based on centres where individuals could report indigenous knowledge so that it could not be stolen and commercialised without benefiting them. She acknowledged the challenges in this surrounding literacy and making people aware of their IPRs. She assured him that a national system is currently being developed to protect these people. If they wish, they can partner with them on a commercial scale in order to ensure that the indigenous people benefit from it.
Ms N Mokgosi (EFF) asked about the slide containing a photo of the employees – was this a photo of all the NIMPO employees as Dr Faul said there were twelve employees?
Dr Faul replied that three of the people in the photo were interns; two employees were missing from the photo, but represented on the next slide; and one employee was on leave when the photo was taken. She promised to send a complete list of employees to Ms Mokgosi.
Ms Mokgosi asked if NIPMO was responsible for identifying small businesses to work with or if the businesses approached them, and if they identify the businesses, what are their criteria.
Dr Faul replied that the businesses come to them when they are ready to license a new technology. She reported that NIPMO is working on creating a portal to connect people with new technologies with people who wish to license these.
Ms C Labuschagne (DA) asked about NIPMO’s role in regulation. She asked what would happen if they did not fulfill that role.
Dr Faul explained that this is a role that NIPMO needs to fill; therefore they are working on becoming a ‘government component’. They do not wish to operate as a totally independent public entity, because they operate under the Department of Science and Technology. They would still be under the management of this department, however if they are given status as a ‘government component’, they will be given more autonomy. She assured Ms Labuschagne that NIPMO takes its regulation role very seriously, which is why they are working to make it easier for them to perform these duties.
Ms Labuschagne asked if its R25 million budget covered all of their expenses and where the fund money comes from. In addition, she wanted to know who manages their funds.
Dr Faul explained that within the R25 million budget, some of it is designated for salaries and goods and services. She indicated that they have been receiving financial help from the government, but in two years that would be exhausted, so NIPMO is working on submitting requests for additional funding. The fund management director manages the money. In future NIPMO will need R45 million in additional funding to maintain its functions.
Ms Labuschagne wanted to know the relationship between students and universities and ownership of IP rights. She gave the example of a PhD student who received funding from NIPMO. She wondered who had the rights to the IP, the student or the institution? She also wondered what happens if the student receives public funding for their project. She wanted to know what NIPMO’s role was in protecting the students.
Dr Faul explained that this funding excludes scholarships, so that if a student receives a government scholarship, they still have full rights to their IP developed at the university. However, if government money is given to the university first and the student second, their IP rights are transferred to the university. There are, however, rules in place to protect the student, and to ensure that they benefit greatly from their work. For example, they receive 30% of the net profit from their IP, and they can become as much of a part of the start up model as they want to. The IP cannot be sold without their approval, so as to protect all parties.
The Acting Chairperson asked what the relationship between an employer and an employee was as far as IP was concerned.
Dr Faul explained that if an employee developed new IP within the scope of their job, then it also belongs to their employer, because the employer provided the resources to make that possible. However, if a person is working in the mail room and they develop a new app, it does not belong to their employer because it is not in the scope of their job. She stressed the importance of employees in this position filing disclosures with their employers so that there is no confusion about from where the original idea came; which can be tied back to the importance of people understanding their rights.
Ms Labuschagne asked what the implications of becoming a government component would be.
Dr Faul explained that it would give NIPMO more autonomy, because currently they need more to fulfill all of their responsibilities. NIPMO would like to remain under the management of the Department of Science and Technology. The government component would make it easier for them to implement the mandate.
The Acting Chairperson asked Dr Faul what she thought the Committee could do the best to assist NIPMO.
Dr Faul replied that it is important that the Committee make suggestions as to what NIPMO can do in terms of effectiveness. Also NIPMO would like to enhance its presence, so it is important for Members to help make people aware of NIPMO and its services. She then thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present to them. It is very important for NIPMO to share its message at all levels of government.
The Acting Chairperson thanked Dr Faul for sharing NIPMO’s ideas and goals with them. He hoped things continue to get better and improve for the organization.
He adjourned the meeting.