Who's idea is it anyway?

22 August 2005

Innovators: Among the UCT recipients of awards from the just-launched Patent Incentive Fund were, from left, Dr Tichaona Mangwende, Prof Jennifer Thomson, Dr Dionne Shepherd and Prof Ed Rybicki, here with McLean Sibanda and Dr Eugene Lottering of the National Research Foundation's Innovation Fund.

The information age and the consequent emergence of knowledge, the arts, life forms such as plants and the derivatives of human tissues as commercial commodities have opened a Pandora's box of issues regarding intellectual property rights.

Although intellectual property issues are very much global currency, they are particularly important from a developmental point of view for South Africa.

Hence the timeous and significant establishment of a new chair, as well as a research unit, in Intellectual Property Law at UCT, which was formally launched last Thursday.

"The existing legal framework emerged during the industrial age from the need to reward inventors of machinery, and is inadequate to deal with the complexities of balancing the interests of the legitimate holder of intellectual property on the one hand with those of the wider community," commented Dean of Law Professor Hugh Corder.

"Establishing a chair in this new branch of law puts UCT in a position to make a significant contribution to finding new solutions to the intellectual property crisis, in the region and also internationally.

"We can claim this for our institution because we not only have strong ties with leading IP centres internationally, such as those at Edinburgh and Sheffield Universities, but the faculty has also been involved for almost a decade in the cooperative teaching of labour law that involves six universities within the SADC. Our ties in the region are thus strong."

Speaking at the launch of the chair, vice-chancellor Professor Njabulo Ndebele said that his university was profoundly grateful to the Innovation Fund of the National Research Foundation (NRF) for the grant of R3-million. "Thank you not only for your funding but also for your endorsement of our capability in a socio-legal arena that is so central to building a sustainable future," he said.

In also thanking the Mellon Foundation for their support of the IP Law Research nit, Ndebele underscored the importance of such a unit in capacity-building. "The funds will be used to enhance the work of the chair by managing and supporting the research work of postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students, as well as developing UCT's linkages with policy makers within South Africa and within the SADC."

The chair was officially launched by the deputy minister of science and technology, Derek Hanekom. The launch was preceded by a half-day seminar led by two experts in the field, Professor Coenraad Visser and Judge Ian Farlam, and was attended by some 50 academics, practitioners and policy makers from around the country.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Science and Technology launched a Patent Support Fund and a Patent Incentive Fund to encourage higher education institutions to capitalise on innovations through patent and design registrations. Each year, Patent Incentive Fund awards will be made to researchers to recognise their achievements.

At the launch, the first of the Patent Incentive Fund cheques were presented to six UCT researchers for patents registered in 2003. The recipients were Professors Ed Rybicki and Jennifer Thomson, and Drs Tichaona Mangwende and Dionne Shepherd, of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, for their patent for making maize resistant to infection by maize streak virus, the worst infectious disease agent affecting maize in Africa; and Dr George Vicatos of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and surgeon Dr Keith Hosking for their titanium prostheses designs.

UCT also received a cheque of just under R96 000 in recognition of its patenting activities.

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