Intellectual Property Rights from publicly financed research; IP to transform ownership of the economy; SA patent development landscape; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

10 March 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee met with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) to receive a briefing on the outcome of the NIPMO review and progress on the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Act amendment process; how the DSI and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) were using intellectual property to transform ownership of the economy, including links to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) via technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges; and South Africa’s patent development landscape.

During the discussion, Committee Members emphasised the importance of inclusivity, the promotion of the participation of women, youth and persons with disabilities in developing innovative products, acceleration of the pace of transformation, and the effort that should be put into expanding the footprint of technology and innovation into rural areas and townships. Some Members were very firm on the issue of transformation, and urged the Department to put transformation and inclusivity into action, focusing particularly on women from all different backgrounds, youth and persons with disabilities, as they should all benefit from the various initiatives presented. Although they were happy to hear that the performance targets on women and youth had been achieved, they felt disappointed that persons with disabilities had somehow been left behind.

The Committee asked about the incubation hub at the Vhembe TVET college, and whether its operation model could be replicated at other TVET colleges so that incubating ideas could be turned into actual businesses and products. Members wanted to know the types of occupational training that were being provided, the methodology which had been used to conduct the IP survey, the involvement of informal communities in the Grassroots Innovation Programme, how many of the funded 872 projects were led by women and youth, NIPMO’s challenge in being both an enabler and a regulator on intellectual property, as well as the current status of the IPR Amendment Act.

They urged government to assist universities, TVET colleges and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) to conclude intellectual property processes.

Meeting report

The Chairperson outlined the agenda of the meeting which was:

  1. Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) to provide the outcome of the NIPMO review and progress on the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Act amendment process;
  2. How the DSI and Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) were using intellectual Property (IP) to transform ownership of the economy, including links to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) via technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges; and
  3. South Africa’s patent development landscape.

Mr Daan du Toit, Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation and Resources, DSI, appreciated the opportunity to make the presentation to the Committee, given the work that the Department did was of crucial importance to economic growth and job creation. Intellectual property (IP) was a key mechanism for making a difference in the economy.

DSI on intellectual property rights from publicly financed research

The DSI and NIPMO briefed the Committee on the outcome of NIPMO review and progress on the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act (IPR Act) 51 of 2008 amendment process.

Ms Jetane Charsley, Chief Director: NIPMO, gave a timeline of the review process, and said the key problems identified were in the IPR Act itself, the NIPMO, as well as within the National System of Innovation (NSI), which limited the contribution of the IPR Act and NIPMO to the protection and commercialisation of IP from publicly financed research and development (R&D).

She explained how the DSI and TIA were using IP to transform ownership of the economy. The IPR Act enabled recipients of public R&D funding to attain the right to own the resulting IP, which would result in the potential to transform ownership of the economy.

Mr Vusi Skosana, Acting Executive: Innovation Enabling, TIA, described how intellectual property had been used to transform ownership of the economy via TVET colleges.

The presentation concluded with South Africa’s patent development landscape and the projects the Innovation Fund was financing. Those projects included business innovation support instruments for locally developed IP, a co-investment portfolio, and investments made in the health sector.

(See details in attached presentation slides).


The Chairperson commented that it was important for the government to aid universities, TVET colleges and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) with their ability to conclude intellectual property (IP) transactions. It was concerning that it was mainly academic institutions that were more familiar with those processes. Since this had now been identified as a key problem, it was vital to put together solid mechanisms to ensure inclusivity, and that non-institutional entities were also capacitated to comply with the relevant legislation.

She highlighted that innovation had a direct impact on the ground, and thus the government needed to ensure that the ownership of IPs was inclusive. She was pleased with the targets on slide 11 which focused on inclusive development, as this was in line with the Committee’s view as well.

She urged NIPMO to improve its targets on the promotion of women and youth. She emphasised that it needed to ensure that people with disabilities were able to use IP to transform the ownership of the economy.

The Chairperson noted that the Vhembe TVET college had a very strong incubation hub which the Committee had been happy to see during its oversight visit. It supported its students through work-integrated learning, conceptualising businesses, formulating relationships with those who may have capital, ultimately getting their IPs, etc. The presentation touched upon the interface and how to replicate that model across other TVET colleges.

She asked for clarity on the term “non-resident” in slide 17.  

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said the Committee had been impressed with the work of the TIA during its oversight. She emphasised the importance of inclusive technology and indicated that the Committee had expressed over and over that transformation in this area was slow- as if the Department was not committed to the transformation agenda. She suggested the Department should check with the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) on whether it pursued and promoted the equity issue, and intentionally included people with disabilities.

She was pleased to see from the performance indicators that the Department had done a good job promoting women and youth, and assured the Department that it was moving in the right direction.

She referred to the nine initiatives of TVETs mentioned in the presentation. She requested that the specific initiatives be provided, including a breakdown of the demographics and locations of those people. She also wanted more details on the informal knowledge exchange programme mentioned on slide 4. She needed the Department to provide specific timeframes on the status of the IPR amendment act in a written format.

Ms Mananiso noted the 139 innovators from the Grassroot innovation initiative across the nine provinces. She thus requested the specific breakdown of the demographics, as well as the breakdown of the six innovative products which were produced.

Was there any other occupational training besides textiles that TVET colleges offered? What methodology was used to conduct the IP survey?

Ms K Khakhau (DA) appreciated the indication from her colleagues that more effort needed to be put in to do better on disability beneficiation. She wanted to know whether there were reports which had been compiled to understand who the participants were and where they were located. Normally, there needed to be reasons for why a department or an entity was unable to reach a target, so she needed to know the actual challenges involved so that they could come up with better recommendations to assist the Committee.

Ms N Chirwa (EFF) wanted to know how informal communities were involved in the grassroots innovation process. She commented that when people spoke about transformation, Committee Members needed to consider the township economies and appreciate the magnitude of that vast constituency and the contribution they made.

She wanted to know how many of the 872 funded projects were led by women and youth, and also the  the demographics of the 139 innovators from the Grassroots innovation initiative. She stressed that it was insufficient to host only rhetorical events such as Women’s Month or Youth Month if those events did not translate into action.

Ms Chirwa wanted to know how the process of development had trickled down to the most destitute in society -- for instance,  whether those developments had reached out to those in the Eastern Cape. Government had to bear in mind those who were particularly vulnerable, such as queer women, immigrant women and disabled women. She commented that inclusion had to be by intention, because inclusion had never been achieved by chance.

The Chairperson again requested the timeframes for the amendments to the IPR Act.

She asked what the correlation was between the provisions of the IPR Act and the conversation around the open science policy and inclusivity.

How had the NIPMO overcome the challenges of being both an enabler and a regulator? How much funding had been disbursed to institutions to establish and capacitate offices on technology transfer to protect IP?

She agreed with Ms Chirwa that the Department and its entities need to reach all corners of South Africa. She had observed from the Committee’s oversight visit that the Northern Cape was so vast that it had many communities and places which were hidden and remote, and she did not think that the DSI had reached those places. She therefore wanted the Department to explain how it could effectively use its resources to reach those forgotten areas.


Mr Du Toit reassured the Committee that the commitment to inclusivity and transformation was the key driving force of the Department. He acknowledged that the Department could certainly do better and there was still room to improve. Ultimately, the Department’s hope was that science and technology could make a concrete impact on improving the quality of lives for South Africans.

He said the breakdown of beneficiaries would be provided to the Committee in writing.

Ms Rebecca Maserumule, Acting Deputy Director-General, Technology Innovation, DSI, explained why the Department struggled to achieve the target for transformation among the disabled population. She assured the Committee that the Department had given its implementing agencies their target of emphasis, urging them to re-orient their focus to increase the number of disabled participants. However, she added that even the Department’s implementing agencies were finding it difficult to meet the required percentages.

She said the Department did not have an answer to Ms Chirwa's question about the trickle-down process of development, and how much the informal and grassroots communities had benefited from that. However, she agreed it was important to reflect on her comment so that government could come up with a systemic approach to address the issue.

Ms Charsley explained that informal knowledge exchange meant that the knowledge exchange had happened at a more informal level, compared to a minister-to-minister approach. NIPMO had approached the offices and councils of universities of science and technology in Brazil, Canada and the UK to understand which issues were being worked on and the best practices that could be shared with South Africa.

She noted the Members’ input on the timeframe for the IPR Amendment Act, and said this would be provided to the Committee.

Explaining the methodology which it had used in its survey, she said NIPMO had recruited the assistance of an external service provider to implement the survey. There was a questionnaire through which NIPMO tracked the baseline queries. They also looked at benchmarking with other countries to compare South Africa with international survey statistics. With the third implementation of the survey, NIPMO was working with the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) in the United States and the Association of European Science and Technology Transfer Professionals (ASTP), which have experience in intellectual property and technology transfer. It was also looking to benchmark certain questions with Malaysia and Brazil. The methodology covered about seven pages, and NIPMO was willing to share the contents, which were also on its website.  

Ms Charsley said that "non-resident" referred to where the person who applied for patent was not a South African resident. Those people would usually tick "non-resident" in their applications. NIPMO had noted that there was an increase in the number of non-residents who were filing and being granting patents in the country.

NIPMO worked very closely with Open Science, and she assured the Committee that Open Science and IP were complementary, and not contradictory. It was working with the Open Science committee to ensure that Open Science was acknowledged. NIPMO also made it clear that when there was an IP that should not be on an Open Science platform -- it was protected first, before being shared on the Open Science platform.

NIPMO did not see any tension arising from it performing both an enabling role to educate and provide funds and being a regulator. It had a dispute panel, with members who the Minister appointed. Aggrieved parties could address their grievances to the panel for adjudication. For the past ten years, there had been only one case, and NIPMO had been able to deal with it well.

Between 2014 to 2018, NIPMO provided R260 million for IP registration and maintenance costs, and just over R315 million for technology transfer operation costs. In total, therefore, it had spent approximately R600 million on IP registration and maintenance costs, as well as capacitating the offices of technology and science councils at universities. As of 2018, NIPMO had about 170 technology transfer personnel situated in universities. She was happy to inform the Committee that NIPMO had just concluded its over-the-top (OTT) technology funding agreement with the Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape, which showed that it operates and assists those in rural communities.

Ms Charsley said that as part of the TVET initiative, NIPMO and the DSI were hosting intellectual property awareness workshops which had thus far covered seven TVET colleges. Those workshops focused on the importance and effect of IP on the economy. This initiative would be an ongoing process. NIPMO and the DSI were also entering into memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with those TVET colleges to further education on IP management issues.

Mr Patrick Krappie, Acting CEO, TIA, provided information about the Grassroots Innovation Programme. He said the TIA had presented a report to the Committee on 25 November 2022. That presentation had been led by the Department’s Deputy Director-General, and had provided detailed information. He had noted Members’ interest in knowing who those people were, and what the 26 products produced were, and said a response would be provided to the Committee in writing. The TIA had many interesting innovators' stories to tell the Committee.

He assured the Committee of the TIA’s dedicated commitment to promoting the participation of women and people with disabilities in innovative products. He acknowledged the challenge which the TIA faced. Its system tended to be driven by key performance indicators (KPIs), and it usually worked with individuals and organisations that were available to work with. However, the TIA had put in place intervention measures to bring on board the remote constituencies and segments of society, to ensure that no one was left behind. It had also launched an exclusive programme that would be budgeted through a set-aside fund for people with disabilities with innovative ideas. The same commitment applied to promoting women in innovation, as the TIA’s data analysis showed that it had assisted women in producing many innovative products. It always bore in mind how women and people with disabilities were developing many technologies, but asking that question alone was insufficient -- it also bore in mind how many women were recipients of licences which they could use to develop companies.

Mr Krappie said the Grassroots Innovation Programme had been implemented in 2018/19 as a pilot project. The TIA had then developed a portfolio of projects and initiatives, but later found that they became quite difficult for the entity to manage. It had thus adopted a decentralised operating model, by inviting partners in different locations of the country to inform the TIA of the needs of communities so that it could appoint those partners to be its implementing bodies. The TIA ensured the process was being managed as inclusively as possible. One of the biggest takeaways it learned was that it had to fully understand those problems before it could design appropriate interventions and hand projects over to implementing agencies.

He emphasised that inclusivity and adequate consultation with communities remained critical for the TIA. Those communities and their needs informed the TIA about designing products. The entity had also held online consultations during the hardest COVID-19 lockdown period. He highlighted that the TIA was doing a lot of work in the background, but acknowledged that as a system, it was an ongoing process of learning, researching and deepening understanding.

Mr Skosana confirmed that the incubation projects went beyond the training on textiles, and covered areas such as farming, manufacturing, 3D printing, automation, agri-processing, etc. The TIA’s interventions measures were informed by the needs of the communities. It has interacted with over 3 000 SMMEs across the country. It developed a data pack containing tailor-made training programmes that could be used for start-up entrepreneurs. In Limpopo, the TIA was also doing work with  TVET colleges, and more supplementary information would be provided to the Committee on the work it does.

The Chairperson repeated her question on the meaning of "non-resident" again.

Ms Charsley repeated her prior response, adding that a large number of non-resident applications were made by applicants from China.

The Chairperson asked the Department to provide what that meant in writing.

The Department committed to responding, and emphasised the importance of understanding the implications of patent activity in a global innovation system.

The Chairperson highlighted the mutual communication channel in which the Portfolio Committee acted as an intermediary to communicate government’s information to communities and report back to government on the communities’ concerns and needs.

The Chairperson asked the Department to respond in writing regarding the fact that only four institutions of higher learning accounted for 70 percent of the start-up companies that were established. Those institutions were the University of Pretoria, Wits University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town (UCT). Such a concentrated spatial footprint was not what the Committee wanted to see.

While she noted Ms Charsley’s explanation which justified the NIPMO’s role in being both a regulator and an enabler, she asked NIPMO to reflect on why the issue had been raised as a concern in the first place.

The Chairperson reiterated the need to process the amendment of the IPR Act. Bearing in mind that this Committee was nearing the end of its term, it wanted to leave some sort of achievement as a legacy for this administration.

She emphasised the need to build a collaborative work ethic to achieve inclusivity.

She also appreciated the positive impact of the IPR Act and NIMPO, which contributed to the national system of innovation despite the unintended consequences which they still needed to continuously improve and work on.

Ms Chirwa interjected to comment on transformation, and highlighted that the essence of transformation was that the first must become the last, and the last must become the first. Before she could conclude her input, her network failed and she left the platform.

Since the Committee did not form a quorum, the adoption of Committee minutes could not commence.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.


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