Change the world

Innovation Office

The major funder of late stage research and development (R&D) projects is the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which was formed in 2010. TIA funds projects based on novel technology ideas for either new or improved products, processes or services; or on existing technology ideas that can be further improved and exploited. TIA also funds the development of infrastructure and capacity building. The applicable stage of development of the idea is after basic research and before production. The project must be commercially viable. TIA Seed Fund grants up to R650 000 per project.

There are a number of calls for TIA Seed Fund applications throughout the year. Notifications for these calls will be sent out via the Nelson Mandela University Memo system. Please ensure that your application is submitted on the supplied template and meets the conditions and guidelines.

If you are a postgraduate student and your innovation falls within your field of study or if you are a staff member and the idea falls within your scope if work, the Innovation Office will assist you, provided your innovation has commercial potential.

A guideline on the processes and procedures for research-related funded projects is available here. The document addresses the “Policy on Budgeting, Costs and Levies on External Research-Related Income” – IRC 402.06 – and provides additional information regarding Intellectual Property and Full Costing of Projects. The Contracting Process is drawn from the “Policy & Procedure for Approval and Signing of Research-Related Contracts” – IRC 405.03. If you need any additional information, please contact Rheinard (041 504 2787 | or Mariam (041 504 3687 |

Indirect Costs refer to the cost of services and benefits/advantages provided to the Project via the University’s central offices. It covers actual and contingent services provided or available from a various departments. (Please refer to the guidelines here.)
As per budget guidelines - calculated by applying the Indirect Cost Recovery Rate (ICRR) to the Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC). Facilities and administrative costs must be included in the indirect costs unless the sponsor / funder has a written policy applicable to all potential proposers which deviates from these rates. All deviations are subject to Finance Department Approval (Rheinard (041 504 2787 | or Mariam (041 504 3687 | Supporting documentation must be provided with your proposal.
The scope of work, deliverables and budget will need to be addressed. Discuss the proposal with the Dean of your faculty and the proposed budget with Finance (Rheinard (041 504 2787 | or Mariam (041 504 3687 | before the proposal is submitted, as the budget must adhere to the guidelines for processes and procedures for research-related funded projects.

The budget needs to adhere to the guidelines for processes and procedures for research-related funded projects and should therefore be revised with the assistance of the Finance Department (Rheinard (041 504 2787 | or Mariam (041 504 3687 | and / or the Innovation Office (041 504 2546 | 

The Innovation Office deals only with Research-related contracts. All other contracts are dealt with by Legal Services.
Please contact the Contracts Lawyer in the Innovation Office on 041 504 2546. The Contracts Lawyer will explain the process to you and the documentation required for signature by management.
In most cases the funder will supply a contract for signature. Once received, please liaise with the Contracts Lawyer in the Innovation Office. Should a contract need to be drafted, the Contracts Lawyer (041 504 2546) will assist in drafting and negotiating the contract.
Please contact the Contracts Lawyer in the Innovation Office (041 504 2546) to advise further. 
The closeout process for sponsored projects is handled by the Finance Department. Please contact Rheinard (041 504 2787 | or Mariam (041 504 3687 |
In terms of Nelson Mandela University’s signing policy, the DVC: Research and Engagement has the authority to sign research-related contracts on behalf of the University.
If the contract is research-related, please contact the Innovation Office (041 504 2546) for assistance. If the contract is not research related please contact Legal Services (041 504 3263 |
The Contracts Lawyer will meet with the academic to discuss the contract to be drafted or reviewed. Once the contract is finalised with all parties, the academic (initiator of the contract) will need to submit the following to the Contracts Lawyer to process the contract for signature, namely:
1. Draft Contract;
2. Contract Approval Form (no contract can be processed without this);
3. If the research-related contract holds a monetary value, a budget must be included.
This depends on the collaborators involved. The contract signing process in the Innovation Office works efficiently and can be finalised within three weeks (depending on the type of contract), provided all signatories on the Contract Approval Form have approved the contract.
Delays are often caused by discussions regarding Intellectual Property rights and each party having to follow their own internal processes.

The Nelson Mandela University, as a Higher Education Institution, is bound by the provisions of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act 51 of 2008.  The IPR Act governs the ownership and utilisation of IP which flows from publicly financed research and development.

In terms of Section 4(1) of the IPR Act, the default position is that all Intellectual Property which emanates from publicly financed research and development is owned by the recipient. A “recipient” is defined as “any person, juristic or non-juristic, that undertakes research and development using funding from a funding agency [e.g. Government] and includes an institution”. Therefore the Nelson Mandela University, as a publicly financed institution, is bound by the provisions of the IPR Act.  The result is that the University owns the Intellectual Property which is developed during or consequent to publicly financed research conducted either utilising the facilities of Nelson Mandela University and/or any personnel of the University.

Nelson Mandela University cannot, in terms of legislation, negotiate on this point unless full cost is paid. In terms of the IPR Act, if an entity is paying the full costs of research, the IPR Act will not apply to the Intellectual Property developed during the research and in this instance Nelson Mandela University will be able to negotiate IP ownership with the entity.  For assistance in calculating the full cost of research, please contact the Innovation Office (041 504 2546) or see the guidelines here.

At the point where you are about to engage in discussions with industry and the discussions relate to confidential information, it is advisable to sign an NDA beforehand. The NDA will be signed by the DVC: R&E. Should you require assistance with an NDA – please contact the Contracts Lawyer in the Innovation Office (041 504 2546).
A disclosure is the "action of making new or secret information known" - in other words discussing your innovation with the Innovation Office. Any information you provide us is treated as confidential. We will use the information to determine which protection (eg Copyright) can be sought for your innovation. To disclose, please schedule a meeting with the Innovation Office on 041 504 4309 or

A public disclosure is any publication that is 1) enabling to a person of ordinary skill in the art, 2) sufficiently accessible, 3) and disclosed under non-confidential (implied or explicit) circumstances. Journal articles, including online publications prior to the journal’s hardcopy release, posters, slide shows, thesis publications, websites, e-mails, verbal presentations, and even funded grant applications (the NIH posts the title and abstract online and makes the application available in response to a Freedom of Information request) may be considered a public disclosure.

In most foreign countries, such a disclosure prior to filing a patent application will forfeit the ability of the university to obtain patent rights and, therefore, foreign patent applications will not be filed.

Under the employment contract you signed upon starting work at the University, you have an obligation to disclose all of your inventions, whether or not patentable, to the Innovation Office for evaluation. The disclosure is made and the accompanying disclosure form is completed during a scheduled appointment with the Innovation Office. The Innovation Office will review your disclosure and determine whether or not the University has ownership in the invention, as described above. The Innovation Office will ensure that the relevant protection is sought. The development, distribution and commercialization of your invention may provide significant public benefit and generate income for research and education at the university. A licensee of your invention may wish to sponsor research in your laboratory. Also, inventors receive a portion of net income generated by their inventions.

A patent is a monopoly or an exclusive registered right for a specific period of time (typically 20 years subject to the payment of prescribed renewal fees) in exchange for a full disclosure of the invention to the public.  This disclosure should be sufficient to enable somebody of reasonable competence in the field to put the invention into practice.  The monopoly entitles a patent holder to enforce the patent against others. After expiry of that period of time or earlier lapsing of the patent, the public is free to use the invention.

The full disclosure of the invention to the public is made in a patent specification which includes written claims to stake out the extent of the monopoly claimed.

A patent protects innovations with novel, useful and non-obvious applications.

Patent protection does not prevent publishing. It only requires that the publication be timed so that it doesn't appear in a journal or on the web until it is protected. Publishing an invention allows for its exposure to the scientific community and the public at an early stage, but does not prevent others from using the information for commercial purposes. Patenting an invention, on the other hand, increases the chances of cutting-edge research discoveries being pursued and developed for the benefit of society.
Registered designs protect the shape or outward appearance of an article.
Trade secrets are processes, strategies and items that are 1) secret, 2) valuable because they are secret, and 3) whose owner(s) take reasonable measures to protect the secrecy thereof.
Copyright is the right to prevent others from making, or causing to be made, unauthorized copies or reproductions of the relevant work, performing it in public, and in some cases, letting it or offering it for sale, without the consent of the copyright owner.  Copyright is a statutory right that comes into existence automatically and there is only provision in South Africa for the registration of copyright in a cinematograph film.

Copyright exists in:-
• Literary works: Novels, stories, poetical works, dramatic works, stage directions, cinematograph film scenarios, broadcasting scripts, textbooks, treatises, histories, biographies, essays, articles, encyclopaedia, dictionaries, letters, reports, memoranda, lectures, speeches, sermons, tables and compilations, including tables and compilations of data stored or embodied in a computer or a medium used in conjunction with a computer, etc.
• Musical works (compositions)
• Artistic works: Paintings, drawings, diagrams, photographs, engravings, sculptures, works of craftsmanship, works of architecture, etc.
• Cinematograph films, Sound recordings, Broadcasts, Programme-carrying signals
• Computer programs (software)

The ownership of copyright often vests in the author but in the instance of employees it often vests in the employer, in this instance the University.
Trademarks are marks or insignia associated with products or services as established in business.
Patent protection should be sought before publication takes place. Publication should be timed so that it doesn't appear in a journal or on the web until it is protected. Publishing an invention allows for its exposure to the scientific community and the rest of the public at an early stage, but does not prevent others from using the information for commercial purposes. Patenting an invention, on the other hand, increases the chances of cutting-edge research discoveries being pursued and developed for the benefit of society.
Disclosing to the Innovation Office is not equivalent to filing a patent application and does not directly or automatically protect patent rights. Protection of patent rights is only obtained through filing a formal patent application. The Innovation Office will assess each invention in terms of patentability and commercial potential, in order to determine whether to file a patent application. If the invention is appropriate for patent filing, the Innovation Office works with the inventor(s) and with external law firms to file and prosecute patent applications. The Innovation Office will continue to manage the patent application as long as it is deemed commercially valuable.

The Innovation Office will assign someone to your disclosure.  After evaluating the invention for patentability and commercial potential, a patent application may be filed. The Innovation Office will remain in contact throughout the development of the IP and will work with you towards creating a market-ready application.

If the student is an undergraduate student they are not required to disclose their idea to us and are encouraged to contact the Propella Business Incubator (Nelson Mandela University’s incubator) with their idea. If it is a post-graduate student who created a form of IP in the course of, or incidentally to, their studies, the student and supervisor(s) will need to contact the Innovation Office on 041 504 4309 or to discuss their idea further. Please refer to the Intellectual Property Policy for Intellectual Property ownership.

Unlike authorship of a scientific publication, inventorship is determined in accordance with South African patent law. It is not uncommon for the inventors on a patent application to not be the same as the authors on a corresponding scientific publication. A lawful inventor is one who makes an inventive contribution to one or more of the patent claims that formally define the invention. Someone who provides equipment, space or money, no matter how critical to the development of the invention, is not an inventor. Also, someone who only performs work under the supervision of another party is not an inventor, even though that person may have worked long hours or conducted a critical experiment. An issued patent that fails to correctly and completely name the inventors may be ruled invalid under certain circumstances.

Patent claims may change as the patent application is being drafted and also while it is undergoing prosecution by the patent office, the names of the inventors may change as well. For the purposes of filing your disclosure with the Innovation Office, you will need to include the name(s) of the inventors as those individuals who you believe have made a creative contribution to the invention (a creative contribution may include contributing a seminal idea towards the conception of the invention or overcoming a technical hurdle in the reduction to practice of the invention).

Under the Intellectual Property clause, you agreed to disclose all inventions – even those made on your own time or as a consultant – to the Innovation Office so that we can determine if the University has any rights to the invention. You will be entitled to own your invention if: a) you made the invention without using any university facilities or resources, b) the invention is not subject to a third party obligation, such as a sponsored research grant, and c) the subject matter of the invention falls outside the scope of the subject matter of the research conducted by you and your immediate work group. Please contact the Innovation Office (041 504 2546) directly to discuss the issue further.

The Innovation Office may, under certain circumstances and terms, release an invention to the inventor(s). For further explanation of when a release may be provided, please contact us directly (041 504 4309).

If the University does decide to release its rights in the invention back to the inventor(s), the inventor(s) must sign a letter stating he/she will not use University funds and facilities for further research or development of the invention. When ownership is released, patent prosecution and licensing becomes the responsibility of the inventor(s). Please contact the Innovation Office (041 504 2546) to discuss the issue further.

You are required to discuss your plans with the Innovation Office. To start, an Innovation Office staff member will request that you complete a disclosure form during a scheduled meeting. The staff member handling your case will determine the appropriate licensing strategy for this technology which may or may not include licensing to your start-up. The staff member has an obligation to seek the best means to commercialize the invention for the benefit of the public and the University.
Yes, you are required to discuss your plans with the Innovation Office. Please refer to the Regulations for the Administration of the University’s Intellectual Property Policy.
There are many advantages to using the Innovation Office, including:
• financial (the Innovation Office pays all patenting costs, and you share the benefits under the Regulations)
• experience (collective and individual)
• experience in commercialisation
• skilled negotiators
• extensive networks and contacts which lead to partnerships, and in some cases research funding
• reduction of risk (the Innovation Office enters into commercial partnerships through Innovolve, the commercialisation company of NMMU, not you personally – you are protected from product liability and other risks)
The aim of Nelson Mandela University’s Intellectual Property Policy is to encourage and reward research and development that leads to the creation of IP whilst fulfilling the main functions of the University as an institution of learning and research.

It is another aim of this policy to comply with the provisions of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, 2008 (Act No. 51 of 2008). Under the IP Act of 2008, the Nelson Mandela University must develop and implement policies and procedures regarding the disclosure, protection, management and exploitation of intellectual property developed using public funds.

This policy should be read in conjunction with the Policy on Copyright (IRC number 110.02) and Code of Conduct for Researchers at Nelson Mandela University (IRC 404.01). The policy document can be viewed here.
Please contact the Innovation Office (041 504 2546). It will depend on the research funding agreement (please let us have a copy if you have one).

We need to ascertain what the funding agreement says about important questions such as:
• does the University or the company own the IP?
• who has the rights to file the patent?
• who will pay for it?
• will there be any financial benefit to researchers or University from successful commercialisation?

Please ask your academic colleague to put the Innovation Office in touch with the technology transfer office (TTO) at the other institution so that we can discuss it. Which office leads, will depend on a)how this piece of technology fits with other IP you or the other academic may already have, and b)on the research funding. We will take your views and those of the other academic into consideration.

Attaining a granted patent can take up to 7 years (on average), but some applications never granted.

The process depends on many factors, including:
• which territories you apply in and the route you take for the application
• what type of technology it is
• whether or not you get a patent examiner who is rushing to meet his examination targets for the month
• how broad your claims and examples are

Before you publish – any patent must be filed before the first public disclosure of the invention. A good time to contact the Innovation Office is when you are starting to prepare a draft paper on the work.

We will always try to work within your timescales for publication. If you come and talk to us at an early stage, it makes this much easier and the patent will be of better quality.

A patent also needs to include as full a description as possible of the technology, and at least some working examples.
Each case will be evaluated on its merits (commercial prospects, strength of innovation) and the Innovation Office will continue to support the patent while viable prospects for commercialisation can be balanced with the costs. All Innovation Office projects are subject to regular reviews and we consult with the researchers their plans. Certain points in the patenting process are particularly expensive and these are key decision points for the Innovation Office, eg entry to PCT (12 months from first filing), national phase entry (30 months from first filing), post-national phase review. One important factor in the evaluation is the ability and willingness of the researchers to support the manager in the project which may include continued work on the technology.

If the Innovation Office decides not to continue with the patent, it will be offered to you and your co-researchers for you to take up at your own cost in accordance with Nelson Mandela University Statutes.

The Innovation Office staff members are well qualified and come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Many have scientific postgraduate degrees and commercial qualifications. Industry experience ranges from running small start-ups to senior positions in major companies.

We have found that this combination of scientific training alongside industry experience provides optimum technology transfer capability.

The Innovation Office works alongside Nelson Mandela University academics to identify, protect, and commercialise intellectual property where appropriate. Your Innovation Manager will work with you each step of the way from invention disclosure to the execution of a commercial deal.
Success comes in many forms. The latest technologies and spin-outs can be viewed on the website of Nelson Mandela University’s commercialisation company, Innovolve.
The Innovation Office:
• provides researchers with commercial advice
• funds patent applications and legal costs
• negotiates licence, consultancy and spin-out company agreements
• protects you from legal and financial risk
• industry and government networks
The Innovation Office pays for all the costs, provides all the support, and you get a share of the money on the successful projects. You pay none of the costs of the unsuccessful ones.

Nelson Mandela University’s Intellectual Property policy complies with the provisions of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, 2008 (Act No. 51 of 2008) Under the IP Act of 2008, the Nelson Mandela University must develop and implement policies and procedures regarding the disclosure, protection, management and exploitation of intellectual property developed using public funds. It also complies with the Policy on Copyright (IRC number 110.02) and Code of Conduct for Researchers at Nelson Mandela University (IRC 404.01). The policy document can be viewed here.

It makes more financial and commercial sense to license a technology than to form a new company. Please contact the Innovation Office (041 504 4309 / if you are unsure of which route to follow.
The Innovation Office, in conjunction with Innovolve (Nelson Mandela University's commercialisation company), Board of Directors.
This depends on the project and what the licensee requires the license for. There are different types of licenses and these, are negotiated by the Innovation Office, taking into account the projects needs.
Control and shareholding is discussed and negotiated on an ad hoc basis and is dependant on the background of the project, as well as the best route of commercialisation.
The IP belongs to Nelson Mandela University and you are therefore required to contact the Innovation Office (041 504 4309 | to discuss the issue further.
The Innovation Office will have a combination of discussions/negotiations with the innovator/entrepreneurs and Innovolve Board of Directors before deciding on the best commercial route. Please contact the Innovation Office to discuss the issue further (041 504 4309 |
This is decided through various negotiations and discussions on a case-by-case basis.

This is influenced by a number of factors, such as:

  • type of technology
  • market need
  • funding
  • production
  • costing
  • feasibility


Innovolve is the commercialisation company of the Nelson Mandela University. Working closely with the Innovation Office, Innovolve drives commercialisation of the University’s innovations through the licensing of IP and the establishment of spin-out companies.
The Propella Business Incubator provides support for innovators with disruptive technology which gives manufacturing in the Eastern Cape and the rest of South Africa a competitive global advantage.

Propella is a collaboration between the Nelson Mandela University, the Industrial Development Corporation and the private sector. Their main areas of focus are on renewable energy, energy efficiency and related technologies, advanced manufacturing and supply chain optimisation.

(The MAD Propella on Bird Street supports entrepreneurs in the music, art and design fields.)