South Africa’s TIA plans

Mar 08, 2019
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In my earlier post, I talked about how TIA came into being. Now I want to talk about what it does.

In 2007, the new Department of Science and Technology (DST) carried out an audit of its activities and achievements, and used the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to do this. The results showed a lack of focus, thinly spread human resources, lack of an appropriate intellectual property regime, lack of long-term planning instruments, narrow definition of innovation, fragmentation of instruments and the existence of the “innovation chasm,” otherwise known as the “valley of death.”

In response to the OECD findings, the government through the DST crafted a 10-year innovation plan to address both the technology infrastructure planning and fragmentation gap, and the lack of focus. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Act and the Intellectual Property Rights Act were enacted by parliament in 2008 to address the innovation chasm and the intellectual property protection gaps. The Human Capital Development Strategy is currently under discussion, but a number of initiatives are being taken to address this weakness.

The DST’s 10-year plan sets out projections to address the countries grand challenges, described as: Farmer to Pharma, energy security, global change, human and social dynamics, and space science & technology (Farmer to Pharma is directly related to the biotech space). This plan aims to have South Africa among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of the pharmaceutical, nutraceuticals, flavour, fragrance and bio-pesticide industries by 2018.

To improve in the area of intellectual property, the government established the National Intellectual Property Management office (NIPMO). This office was formed in order to address challenges of Intellectual Property Rights in the country. The Act further advocates for the establishment of Technology Transfer Offices at all universities that conduct research in the country in order to manage the IP generated and provide mechanisms for commercialization. As a foresight of the department, research chair positions in strategic fields were established.

The purpose is to increase the number of world class researchers, retain and/or attract back qualified research scientists, stimulate strategic research across the knowledge spectrum and create research career pathways for young scientists. In addition, the department is liaising closely with the government departments of higher education and basic education toward the development and training of a pipeline of high-level skilled scientists, engineers and technologists.

Like most emerging economies, South Africa is experiencing a major scarcity of high-level skilled individuals who have entrepreneurial flair. To change this situation, there are universities in the country that have started to teach students entrepreneurial skills at Honors level. These programmes will continue right up to the post-graduate level. To make the courses more interesting, industry experts are invited to share their experience with the students. To improve the skills shortage, universities are also creating MBA programmes that target or are tailored to certain industry sectors such as pharmaceutical, diagnostics or agriculture production.

There is, of course, no magic wand that can be waved to create a successful biotechnology industry. After establishing the innovation centers previously discussed, it was realized that consolidating these institutions would result in a better throughput of converting ideas to products and services. This led to the establishment of TIA with a mandate of stimulating and intensifying technological innovation in order to improve economic growth and quality of life of all South Africans by developing and exploiting technological innovations. TIA is attempting to mine the existing knowledge from its former entities, as well as generate new knowledge to bridge the innovation chasm in the country by developing technology-based products and services that have the potential of being commercialized and distributed locally and abroad. The TIA building blocks are the former institutions in the innovation centers, the Innovation Fund, Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy and Tshumisano.

The products offering of the TIA are aimed at maximizing socioeconomic benefits throughout the country by:

• Providing appropriately structured financial and non-financial interventions for the commercialisation of research and development results

• The development and maintenance of advanced human capacity for innovation as opposed to just research and development

• Establishing technology nursery programmes aimed at supporting technology development and the establishment of technology-based enterprises

• Facilitating national and international collaboration for technology development and innovation and proactively encouraging and supporting inbound technology transfer

• Leveraging local and international partnerships in order to facilitate technology transfer, build local technological competencies, and encourage foreign direct investment for the commercialisation of technologies in South Africa.

The other institutions that foster innovation in the country are the nine science councils, 16 universities and 8 universities of technology. Science councils involved in biotechnology research are the council for scientific and industrial research (CSIR), medical research council (MRC), the agricultural research council (ARC) and Mintek. The universities are focusing more on basic research while the science councils are focusing in the area of applied research. Together with TIA and the private sector, it is hoped that the innovation chasm will be closed and there will be more biotech products and services coming into the market.

Blessed Okole

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