The Intellectual Property (IP) group at RC&I provides a number of functions that support the protection of intellectual property arising from UCT's research endeavors, as well as its commercialisation. It is important to contact RC&I before making any public disclosure of an invention as failure to do so could cost the researcher a possible patent.
RC&I is also responsible for maintaining and implementing the UCT IP Policy. A copy of the policy can be downloaded here.
A patent provides a useful 'currency' for trade in the knowledge economy defining the scope of a particular invention and associating with it an exclusive right to exploit the invention in a particular country for a certain period, which is generally 20 years. Learn more about patents here.
Invention Disclosure and Patenting at UCT
Visit the Patent Process page to find out more detail about how patenting is managed at UCT. The patenting process starts with disclosing your invention to RC&I. We use a standard IP Disclosure Form (see Download, top right) which provides us with key information relating to:
- The invention - its novelty, inventiveness, and utility, the three key requirements for patent protection
- How it was funded - often funders have IP rights that need to be considered
- Planned disclosures, e.g. conferences, papers, etc. - put the timelines in place that protection needs to be achieved in
- Confirmation that confidentiality has been maintained and non-disclosure agreements that have been put in place
- Summary of prior art - patent and literature reviews, which are important to establish novelty. We can also arrange access to the TotalPatent database which simultaneously searches the majority of international databases
- Potential commercial partners or licensees.
Materials Disclosure at UCT
We use a standard Materials Disclosure Form (see Download, top right) which provides us with key information relating to research materials. Completion of this form forms an essential part of IP due diligence that is conducted when preparing a Materials Transfer Agreement (MTA), to permit users outside of the university to use the material. The MTA controls the manner in which the material is used (governing issues such as commercial / non-commercial academic research use, onward distribution, etc.).
The process can be viewed as starting with the planting of a seed - one of our important goals is to raise awareness of intellectual property and its importance in the UCT research community. Identifying what is patentable and understanding that one can achieve the seemingly incongruent objectives of patenting, which seems to be all about secrecy, and publishing! By managing the timing one can have ones cake and eat it - all by ensuring that a provisional patent is in place prior to public disclosure.
Interface with Patent Attorneys
RC&I maintains a close relationship with a number of patent attorneys from a variety of South African firms and typically appoint an attorney based on their area of expertise, ensuring the quality of the patents that are put in place and benefitting from the specialist knowledge of the patent attorneys who can guide the patenting strategy and design the claims.
Patent Portfolio Maintenance
UCT uses a database, Leonardo, that has been developed to track the intricacies of the patenting process as one proceeds from provisional application, through patent co-operation treaty (PCT) stage and on to filing regional applications and patents in international countries. With the number of patent applications that have been filed by UCT and patents granted we have built up a knowledge base of how the different prosecutions proceed in many different countries, as well as the requirements and processes involved.
Leonardo supports statistical and information reporting, which is an important prerequisite for claiming the 50% patent cost rebate that the Innovation Fund awards to UCT. The database also tracks on-going patent maintenance expenses once patents are granted.
RC&I has an annual budget allocated by UCT to support new patent applications and maintain existing patents. The Patent Fund, established in 2003, has been a significant step towards securing UCT's intellectual property.
Parallel to the patenting process, RC&I facilitate technology commercialisation. This takes a number of different forms and intervention is often case specific. It is important that the route to market is assessed from the time that a provisional patent is filed for several reasons:
- to guide the patent application process, identifying the countries in which patent protection should be sought to protect commercial interests
- to determine the appropriate innovation route, which can range from licensing, or outright sale of the IP to existing companies through to the creation of spin-off and start-up companies
- identify scale-up, technology development, and market entry (e.g. registration) requirements and to source funding form these initiatives
- to ensure judicious spending of UCT's patent budget and upholding our objective of transforming society through social and commercial benefit.