August is not only the month in which South Africans celebrate Women's Month, but also the birth month of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, or IPR Act, which came into effect on 2 August 2010. It is therefore fitting, in this month, to reflect on women and the IPR Act.

 

The purpose of the Act is to ensure that intellectual property (IP) resulting from publicly financed research and development (R&D) is applied to bring about social, economic and other benefits for the country.

 

The passing of the IPR Act led to the establishment of the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO), and of offices of technology transfer (OTTs) at universities and science councils across the country, to facilitate the identification, protection and utilisation of intellectual property resulting from R&D.

 

By managing and protecting IP appropriately, the OTTs help researchers – the creators of intellectual property – to translate their IP into useful and innovative products and services, thereby enhancing and extending the impact of their research. The OTTs also negotiate and provide industry with access to this intellectual property, so that it can be developed for commercial and other uses.

 

Women are strongly represented in the IP and technology transfer (TT) space, as evidenced by the second edition of the National IP and TT Survey, which tracks changes in the identification and utilisation of intellectual property at publicly funded research institutions in South Africa.

 

The survey revealed that, in 2018, well over 60% of staff at the country's offices of technology transfer – that is, 64% of OTT staff at universities, and 68% of OTT staff at science councils – were women. This represented a slight increase in female representation over the 2014 baseline survey.

 

While the survey did not go into the reasons for this strength in representation, the OTT staff we interviewed were particularly enthusiastic about the collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of the work in this space.

 

 

Dr Ncebakazi Galada, Technology Transfer Manager at Walter Sisulu University, said that what she valued most in her work was "the opportunity to contribute to the South African innovation ecosystem, where I am in a position to strategically work closely with and learn from not only researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs, but also our indigenous knowledge holders."

 

Working in technology transfer, Dr Galada said, enabled her "to play an instrumental role in the translation of research and innovation outputs into commercialisable products, processes and services that are relevant towards improving the socio-economic state of our society, particularly the grassroots communities."

 

For Dr Janine Chantson, TT Manager at North-West University, the nature of the work, and the people it brings her into contact with, provides her with endless stimulation.

 

"On the one hand, there are these new ideas and technologies we get to work with," she said. "On the other hand, one is often surprised by what's lying just around the corner to potentially scupper a deal, and so you get to practise your problem-solving skills a lot”.

 

"Whether commercialisation succeeds or fails, or whether projects progress or stall, it all comes down to people in the end," Dr Chantson continued. "So, when one comes across an inspiring innovator or an enthusiastic entrepreneur who really wants to journey with us on the rollercoaster ride that is technology transfer, it really makes the job worthwhile."