The initiative aims to upskill UCT’s young innovators to negotiate the highly technical and complex journey from research to patenting and commercialisation. Launched during a webinar last month to coincide with World Intellectual Property, i2i is housed in the Research Contracts and Innovation (RC&I) and it was hosted by the innovation centre’s programme lead, Niall Naidoo. The World IP Day 2022 theme was: “Intellectual Property and Youth: Innovating for a better future”.
Embedding intellectual property
In attendance were a cohort of young innovators and researchers at different stages of their commercialisation including the university’s support staff and an IP legal expert. Naidoo said their mission is to plant intellectual property thinking among young researchers and to help sharpen their understanding of commercialisation. This includes assisting them on how they can use IP rights to achieve their goals, generate income, create jobs, and tackle local and global challenges, and support national and community development.
“Our mandate is to manage UCT’s IP and facilitate the technology transfer – the movement from applied research into the market so that you can see society using your research in practice,” said Naidoo, adding, “We constantly engage with industry, find opportunities and then facilitate the working relationship between those in academics and industry.”
RC&I’s daily work, according to Liesl Hattingh, marketing specialist at UCT, is to look after commercialisation, assess IP and assist with a strategy on how and when to file disclosures and patents including helping structure IP and commercialisation agreements. “IP is a very important tool in the innovation space. The new i2i will facilitate that development by supporting commercialisation for deep technology start-ups,” said Hattingh.
Key features of the programme
The i2i programme leans on six components:
- IP management
- Technology commercialisation
- New product development
- Project management
- Business models
- Funding strategies.
Some of the speakers who shared their IP experiences included: Manfred Braune: UCT’s director of sustainability, candidate attorney at Von Seidels IP law firm Kimberley Kasper and Dr Munyaradzi Musvosvi, an immunologist at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI).
Dr Sarah Carroll, a molecular and cellular biologist, worked closely with her colleague and associate Professor Dr Vernon Coyne to develop the commercial innovations behind MariHealth Solutions. The innovations were aimed at aquaculture health: monitoring, managing, and helping to develop diagnostic and therapeutical solutions for improved aqua farming.
Advice to young researchers
Dr Carroll advised the young researchers about the importance of developing a strong understanding of IP protection and rights early in their careers. In addition, she said this helps to foster innovation and also incentivises young researchers to push boundaries and solve global problems.” Kasper added that protecting and commercialising innovation also means looking hard at what already exists and where a young researcher may be able to fill a gap. “See what’s available in the field you are researching. But if you don’t see it on the market, it doesn’t mean it’s not patentable,” added Kasper.
Ask relevant questions
According to Kasper, the main questions to ask before applying for patents are:
- What is the problem your research solves?
- What do you need to build or make to solve that problem?
Kasper said before publishing a research paper, touting it on social media or in conference papers, make sure it’s protected and won’t hurt you later. “Be careful of what you share. Going public can destroy your ability to get a patent because there can’t be any public disclosures before an application is filed,” she said. “Involve RC&I as soon as possible, even if your idea isn’t fully developed. Ask questions about what you need to do,” she added.