Gray Area

A new draft bill on IP rights in publicly funded research


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We have known for a while that there was a bill in the offing on the management of IP in publicly funded research and this Draft Bill is now available for perusal on the website of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. The Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, when he visited CET, said that there would be a period for comment on the Bill and, as this draft Bill does affect universities and researchers in universities, I am providing a heads-up for those of you who have a particular interest in the management and ownership of the IP in the research that you carry out.

I was half expecting a Bill on the rights of public access to publicly funded research, along the lines of discussions in the UK, the USA and the EU, among others, for access to research publication. South Africa is a signatory of the OECD Declaration on Access to Knowledge from Publicly Funded Research, so probably needs to enact provisions of this kind at some stage.

This Draft Bill is not along those lines at all. It appears to be about institutional and government control of the commericalisation of research and provisions for any research that is potentially patentable. I have not had time to peruse it properly nor think through its implications - these in any event probably need to be teased out by an IP lawyer. However, it would be interesting to get reactions from researchers at UCT and other universities as to how they perceive this Draft Bill and how it might affect them.

The Australian government's Productivity Commission has recently undertaken a major exercise on returns from public investment in research and there is much discussion in the 800-odd pages of its report, issued in March 2007, about the kind of issues faced in this Draft Bill. From my perspective, as someone who deals in copyrights - the dissemination of research - rather than in patents, the following statement struck a chord:

 

Ultimately, in terms of community wellbeing, it is the transfer, diffusion and utilisation of knowledge and technology that matters. The social return from public
investment in R&D depends on: whether knowledge and technology are transferred out of universities (that is, whether they see the light of day); how fast and widely the knowledge diffuses among potential users; whether the knowledge andtechnology is developed into some form of practical application (that is, whether it is taken up in some form or other that is welfare enhancing); and how widely the resulting innovation is utilised. There are multiple pathways for achieving these benefits (p.280).