Question NW1379 to the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation

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22 May 2023 - NW1379

Profile picture: Tarabella - Marchesi, Ms NI

Tarabella - Marchesi, Ms NI to ask the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation

(1)Of the research work conducted by South African institutions including research conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, how much work has resulted in Intellectual Properties (IPs) in the past five years; (2) what total number of (a) IPs have resulted in job opportunities and (b) jobs have been created in the past five years; (3) what total number of IPs are not being utilised for the benefit of South Africans; (4) which IP can be used to benefit South Africans in terms of infrastructure, namely housing, roads and energy, but are not utilised for the purpose they were researched for; (5) what total amount has his department spent in the past five years on IPs which are not utilised for the benefit of South Africans?


1. The Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act (IPR Act) was enacted in 2010 with an objective to ensure that intellectual property (IP) emanating from publicly funded research and development (R&D) is identified, protected, utilised, and commercialised for the benefit of the Republic.

In terms IPR Act, institutions (including Higher Education Institutions and Science Councils) must report to the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO), a specialised service delivery unit with the Department of Science and Innovation, on all matters pertaining to the IP contemplated in the Act, including all IP from which it elects to obtain statutory protection and the state of commercialisation thereof.

These biannual reports are referred to as IP disclosures (in other words research outputs which could be translated ideas into products, processes and services).

Over the past 5 years the following number of IP disclosures were reported to NIPMO:

Financial year

Number of IP disclosures reported

Number of institutions
















2. The Department of Science and Innovation conducted a National Survey of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer (IP and TT survey) at publicly funded research institutions. The inaugural baseline survey was published in 2017, for the survey period 2008 to 2014. The second IP and TT survey for the period 2014 to 2018, was published in 2021 (Copy of the survey reports available on DSI website at: )

In terms of the second IP and TT survey for the period 2014 to 2018, institutions reported over 1250 actionable IP disclosures, over 900 granted patents, 300 granted trademarks, 65 registered designs and 45 new plant breeders’ rights applications.

Institutions further reported that they concluded, over the survey period 2014 to 2018, 290 IP licences, 235 of which yield revenues of R185 million. More than R23 million in commercialisation revenue was paid to over 270 IP creators or enablers situated within these institutions. Institutions yet further reported that they formed 55 start-up/spin out companies, which employed over 320 people.

A total of 100 start-up/spin-out companies were formed since 2008, 95% of which were from HEIs. Of the 100, 72 remained operational as of 2018.

The Department will embark on the third National IP and TT Survey in the 2022/23 financial year for the survey period 2019 to 2022.

3. Section 5(1)(e) of the IPR Act, provides that a recipient must refer disclosures for which it elects not to retain ownership or not to obtain statutory protection to NIPMO within 30 days of it making such an election. These referrals are made on an IP1 Form as prescribed by the Act.

As part of submitting an IP1 Form to NIPMO, the recipient must select the "reasons for referral”. The options available are: 1) Put into the public domain; 2) Not statutorily protectable; 3) Abandonment of IP: Unfavourable Search and/or examination; and 4) Abandonment of IP: Lack of market and commercial potential.

If a recipient states as reason for its referral “Put into the public domain” or “Abandonment of IP: Lack of market and commercial potential” it is compulsory for such IP disclosure to be advertised on the Innovation Bridge Portal for at least 45 days prior to NIPMO approving the abandonment of the IP.

The Innovation Bridge Portal is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation, supported by the World Bank Group, and the Department of Small Business Development and hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (access to the Innovation Bridge Portal at

The purpose of the Innovation Bridge Portal is to be “an open innovation platform that brings entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders together for the benefit of innovators and entrepreneurs. It seeks to promote collaboration amongst public and private ecosystem stakeholders, to become that “one-stop shop” repository of information, opportunity, and network connection”.

Over the past 5 years the following number of IP1 referrals were submitted to NIPMO and approved for abandonment:

Financial year

Number of IP1 referrals reported to NIPMO











Furthermore, Sections 14(2) and 14(3) of the IPR Act make provision that NIPMO must conduct reviews of non-commercialised IP in consultation with the recipient. Should it come to NIPMO’s attention, during the review process, that some IP may be commercialised, NIPMO must engage in further consultations with the recipient in an endeavour to ensure that the IP is commercialised. In this regard NIPMO has drafted and published NIPMO Interpretation Note 12 entitled “Procedure for the review of non-commercialised intellectual property at institutions”.

NIPMO initiated, as part of a pilot, the review of non-commercialised IP of its first institution in 2022/23. The pilot results necessitated NIPMO to consider alternative approaches to follow when engaging on non-commercialised IP. These alternative approaches will be researched and implemented in 2023/24 as part of the second stage of the pilot.

4. As at 25 April 2023, there are the following number of inventions being advertised on the Innovation Bridge Portal for further development and/or uptake:

Number of inventions



Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply 




Water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities 


Mining and quarrying 


Transportation and storage 



5. NIPMO has two funding mechanism to assist with the protection, and technology transfer of IP emanating from publicly financed research and development, namely the i) IP Fund and ii) OTT Support Fund.

(i) IP Fund

Section 13 of the IPR Act established the IP Fund to provide financial support to institutions (higher education institutions and science councils) for statutory protection and maintenance of their IP/IP rights.

NIPMO developed and published NIPMO Guideline 2 entitled “The Intellectual Property Fund Rebate Guideline” to define the scope of assistance. In accordance to this guideline NIPMO can provide up to 50% rebate for costs incurred by the institution depending on availability of funds from the South African National Treasury.

(ii) OTT Support Fund

The Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) Support Fund was established in 2011 in response to the mandate given to NIPMO by the IPR Act to support i) the establishment and maintenance of OTT, ii) building human capacity and capabilities within these offices and to iii) ensure that IP is identified, protected, utilised and commercialised for the benefit of South Africans.

Since the establishment of the OTT Support Fund, NIPMO has committed over R270 million to 35 institutions in support of activities such as human capacity development, access to IP Analysis Tools, conducting of IP audits, hosting of IP awareness activities, and attending NIPMO endorsed trainings.

To date, over 160 contract positions were (fully or partially) funded by NIPMO at OTTs since its establishment.

In 2019, NIPMO recognised the need to support more activities relating to the commercialisation of IP and has since committed over R14 million for activities including contract drafting, techno economic feasibility analysis, market assessments, business plan development and technology marketing relating to IP disclosed to NIPMO.

Due to the nature of IP and long lead time it takes to translate a research output into a commercial success, it is not possible to quantify the total amount the Department has spent in the past five years on IP which are not utilized for the benefit of South Africans.

It can be reported that the Department has recently started actively tracking the number of disclosures reported to NIPMO that are licensed for the first time as part of its Annual Performance Plan. For 2021/22, 5 institutions licensed 20 disclosures for the first time and in 2022/23 6 institutions licensed 17 disclosures for the first time.

In addition, NIPMO undertook a commercialisation trend snapshot for 2021/22. As part of OTT Support Fund requirements, NIPMO receives bi-annual/annual reports on active agreements from OTTs. These reports cover all activities within the OTTs and specifically its commercialisation endeavours.

For the 2021/22 financial year, NIPMO analysed reports received from 16 institutions. Of the 16 institutions, 9 (or 56%) concluded an IP license or were in discussions to conclude such in 2021/22. The top four sectors of commercialisation activities for 2021/22, following the analysis of the OTT Support Fund reports, are i) Medical and Health (32%), ii) Computer related services and Electronics (17%), iii) Food technologies/services (8%) and iv) Energy (7%).

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