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University, science council spinoffs climbs to 45 startups, finds survey

The number of startups spun out of SA science councils and universities climbed from 29 to 45 between 2008 and 2014, following the implementation of a new IP law in 2009, a report released this week revealed.

The SA National Survey of Intellectual Property (IP) and Technology Transfer at Publicly Funded Research Institutions, which was released yesterday by the Department of Science and Technology, noted that some progress had been made since the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development (IPR) Act came into effect in 2009.

The act aims to get publicly-funded research institutions such as universities and science councils to commercialise IP.

However Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor told a media briefing yesterday that though the increase in startups founded from publicly-funded IP was a positive trend, it was dwarfed by the 1400 startups that have emerged from the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts alone where the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are based.

In a briefing note released yesterday Pandor said 73% of the 45 startups that have been set up to commercialise the institutions’ technology were based on publicly funded IP (The featured image above shows the number of startups operational at the end of each respective year).

Between 2011 and 2014, an average of 100 new technologies were added annually

Pandor noted that the number of filed patents, trademarks and registered designs increased more rapidly than the increase in research expenditure.

“This is clearly good news. Between 2011 and 2014, on average 100 new technologies were added annually to the portfolio managed by universities and science councils,” she said.

She said there had also been a quadrupling in the actual number of licences executed per year in the period — from seven to 28.

More than 88% of this revenue accrued consistently each year to the same four institutions that have well-established technology transfer units, she said, adding that the majority of IP transactions yielded less than R100 000 per year.

Dr Glenda Kruss, the deputy executive director for the Human Science Research Council ‘s Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, said technology transfer units need to be better resourced if SA is to vamp up the number of university and science council spinoffs.

“The system is very small and under-capacitated,” said Kruss, pointing out that at present there are only about 100 staff technology transfer centres at universities and science councils. Many of the centres need more staff in legal, marketing and administrative areas, she added.

Featured image: SA National Survey of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at Publicly Funded Research Institutions survey

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