SA Not Reaching its Full Research and Development Potential


The South African government have introduced many initiatives to promote and encourage research and development in the country, but according to specialist intellectual property (IP) firm Spoor & Fisher patent attorney, David Cochrane, South Africa is not reaching its potential.

Cochrane believes that South Africa is falling behind other countries with regard to creating innovations and filing patents to protect them. “It’s a pity that, despite all the effort that has been put into increasing research and development in South Africa, we have yet to see results,” he says.

Statistics released by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) show that there has been a decline in the number of international Patient Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications being filed by South African companies. In 2007, there were 406 South African applications and since then this number has steadily been declining with only a total of 319 PCT patent applications filed last year.

According to Cochrane, these numbers are something to be concerned about as they indicate that South Africa may be falling behind the rest of the world and it is certainly not performing to its potential.

“For companies to derive maximum benefit from their inventions, an international market needs to be targeted, in addition to having a local market. This is what our country should be striving for – selling goods internationally rather than being simply a raw-materials supplier, and developing into an economy that supplies technology,” says Cochrane.

While Cochrane cannot confirm why South Africans are seemingly dismissive of patenting their innovations on an international stage, he believes that it has to do with the costs involved in filing patents and the fact that many South African companies do not know about procedures involved in the patenting process.

A Long and Expensive Process

The patenting process can be a long and expensive one so Cochrane may be right in his belief that this could be a deterrent for South African companies.

The process begins with a company filing a provisional patent application for a new invention. This provisional application prevents anyone else from patenting the same invention for one year while the company decides what to do with their invention. After one year, the company then needs to file for international patents, followed by an application for each individual country.

It’s the individual country patent stage which creates a problem. A company isn’t guaranteed that the patent will be granted and it can cost between R60 000 and R200 000 to get a patent granted in a foreign country. Cochrane says this is where a PCT application comes in.

While getting a patent granted in a foreign country can be expensive, a PCT application will help delay those costs. A PCT application will cost much less (between R60 000 and R80 000) and gives a company an additional 18 months  before having to file international applications.

“The PCT system gives you more time to save before incurring all the costs of filing patents in different countries. It also allows you to make an informed decision on whether or not you should continue with the patent application internationally,” says Cochrane.

Patenting Supports Commercialisation

According to Cochrane, patenting is hugely important as it supports the commercialisation of an invention. In fact, he says they go hand in hand and you simply can’t have one without the other.

“It’s of no use to take an invention that is only going to be used in South Africa and file patents for international markets. You are wasting your money. Further, there’s no use in taking an invention and commercialising it internationally if you haven’t filed a patent for it, because you’re not going to benefit from your invention.”

South Africa has a huge talent base and a great potential for innovation, but if Cochrane is right, this innovations is not being protected and commercialised internationally and that’s what needs to change.


Categories : Science & Tech  |  Tags :