Stellenbosch University Provides Free Access to Undeveloped Intellectual Property

The practice of university technology transfer in South Africa is almost identical to what occurs in the United States.  With respect to government sponsored research, the mandate in both countries is to make sure results are utilized for the maximum public benefit.  These benefits may take multiple forms, including the ability to provide new services, and the ability to stimulate economic activity.

Not every technology will have obvious value at the time it is disclosed, so the university must determine how to best allocate resources, directing efforts towards technologies that appear most likely to provide a positive return on that investment.  As a result, a small number of technologies can be efficiently managed, a handful of which may result in the desired public benefit.  It is not possible to dedicate the same effort towards the rest of the portfolio, so the majority of the technologies disclosed as a result of government sponsored research remain undeveloped, and the actual value remains unknown.

Stellenbosch University is the first tertiary institute in South Africa to offer these technologies to companies for further development without any upfront licensing fee.  The model allows companies to invest what resources they see fit to identify potential benefit, for a period of up to three years.  If the technology proves to have value to the company, a royalty rate of about 1% would apply.

This model has been introduced at institutions within the United States as well.  Without increasing the burden on university resources, it provides another mechanism for these technologies, that might otherwise have never been developed, to potentially provide the public benefit expected from government sponsored research.

Stellenbosch University is notable because it is one of the leading universities in South Africa, and in fact for the continent of Africa.  This raises the question of whether this will be seen as an opportunity for other universities in the region.

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