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Innovation Office

18/01/2012

The Director of Innovation Support and Technology Transfer, Jacqueline Barnett, contributes to a blog series on "Managing issues around Intellectual Property", found on the Emerging Researchers Network (ern.nrf.ac.za).  Her latest contribution is given below.

 

Intellectual Property doesn’t equal patent!

Very often we (researchers, Technology Transfer Office staff, university management) equate Intellectual Property protection and management with patenting. This is probably natural because patenting is so expensive that it makes sense to focus on resolving outstanding technical issues and trying to license the technology before costs start climbing. Also, patenting is an obvious way to license technology: it feels like a neat little package (even if it isn’t) that can be written into a license agreement or reported on to management.

However, we need to look beyond patents when we think about our Intellectual Property. Sometimes it is not appropriate to patent, we must rather do a design registration, or even keep knowledge secret as knowhow. Software and databases can be protected by copyright and can often be more quickly taken to the market than a patent.

By thinking in this way we can get more researchers in more diverse fields aware of Intellectual Property. No longer do we focus on Science, Engineering and Technology. Researchers from Arts to Architecture, from Business to Design, can understand, develop and benefit from the commercialisation of Intellectual Property. We may even find Intellectual Property in university services such as Student Counselling.

Since my office started in 2007, I have been working on a number of patented technologies. Only two are fully in the market, others are almost there or have been abandoned. Neither of the two that are in the market has covered their costs – yet. In contrast, our Student Counselling Centre developed two database programmes which we have licensed to four institutions, with two more licenses in the pipeline. And we have had very few costs. In the design field, we are currently commercialising five designs we registered last year and should be in the market early this year.

Don’t get me wrong - I am not saying to researchers that we won’t patent their inventions; it is just that I want to get away from the idea that only Science and Engineering researchers have any worthwhile Intellectual Property. So, if you are an Arts or Business student, approach your Technology Transfer Office with your research and discuss if it can be commercialised – you may be in for a surprise!