Programme Director;

Vice-chancellors;

Leaders of the South African national system of innovation;

NIPMO Advisory Board and Dispute Panel members;

Business leaders;

Intellectual property creators;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

I would like to welcome all of you to tonight's awards, and more importantly, I would like to congratulate all the intellectual property creators who are here tonight and express my sincere appreciation for all your hard work.

 

In today's world, the rate at which innovations are produced has accelerated, markets are shifting faster, products are evolving quicker, consumers are as fickle as ever, and the development and evolution of science continues at a frantic pace.  It is only countries with effective innovation ecosystems that are able to turn research into innovations and products fast enough to remain competitive.  This is because the speed at which technology is changing means that the process of intellectual property registration often lags the next innovation, making the one that is being protected obsolete.

 

The rapidity of this technological change has also made it very difficult to understand what the future will look like.  We don't even know in what ways our education system will have to evolve to accommodate all the changes.  According to the author Yuval Harari, "The Industrial Revolution has bequeathed us the production-line theory of education.  In the middle of town there is a large concrete building divided into many identical rooms, each room equipped with rows of desks and chairs.  At the sound of a bell, you go to one of these rooms together with 30 other kids who were all born the same year as you.  Every hour some grown-up walks in and starts talking.  They are all paid to do so by the government.  One of them tells you about the shape of the Earth, another tells you about the human past, and a third tells you about the human body.  It is easy to laugh at this model, and almost everybody agrees that, no matter its past achievements, it is now bankrupt. But so far we haven't created a viable alternative."

 

The one thing that will not change is the need for innovation in whatever shape.  We will forever have to create new ways of doing things and new products to help us live better.  It might even be machines doing innovations in the future.

 

We live in a world that is globalised and globalising, and as a result the impact of an innovation is no longer limited to the geographical space in which it was conceived.  The invention of the steam engine was the driver of the British industrial revolution, and as a consequence, Britain became a superpower.  However, despite the mechanisation in Britain, jobs were not lost in China's textile industry.  In today's world, by contrast, the South African textile industry was decimated because the Chinese were doing the same thing better.

 

Our economy has been experiencing very low growth levels, and this has stifled the pace of poverty reduction, employment creation and the reduction of inequality.  Our economic performance should be fertile ground for innovation, yet it seems we suffer what World Bank economists have called "the innovation paradox":  Despite the vast potential returns on investment from innovation in developing countries, these countries pursue innovation far less than their advanced counterparts.

 

For this reason, it is important for us to put in place mechanisms and platforms that will help us increase our capacity to innovate as a country.

 

To this end, the South African government is taking steps to ensure that publicly funded research generates intellectual property that will help grow the South African economy and, more importantly, help us deal with the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  The establishment of the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) was an attempt by our government to incentivise and promote innovation within publicly financed institutions. The NIPMO incentives for intellectual property creators seek to promote the conversion of research and development (R&D) outputs into products, processes and services that are of benefit to society.  Tonight's awards signal clearly that this investment is starting to bear fruit.

 

The recently promulgated White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation further supports an enabling legislative framework in the area of intellectual property rights from publicly funded R&D, and an increased uptake of locally developed technologies through government procurement.

 

As Bill Gates put it, "Governments will always play a huge part in solving big problems.  They set public policy and are uniquely able to provide the resources to make sure solutions reach everyone who needs them.  They also fund basic research, which is a crucial component of the innovation that improves life for everyone."

 

As the Department of Science and Technology (DST), we will continue to put more effort into ensuring that there is an increase in funding for basic research.  More importantly, we will put an emphasis on the conversion of research outputs into products, processes and services, so that we are able to defy the innovation paradox.

 

To the intellectual property creators who are here tonight, we commend you for your good work.  Please continue to be agents for positive change.  We are cognisant of the fact that, by making disclosures, you forgo the prestige of publishing your work in reputable journals, and for this we are grateful.  Please accept our token of appreciation tonight for your contribution to the innovation agenda, and know that you will continue to have our support.

 

Once again, congratulations!

 

I thank you