South Africa’s journey to a knowledge economy: progress and challenges

Prof Sarjiker stresses the importances of well crafted IP legislation for economic development

For South Africa to join the ranks of high-income countries in the longer term it needs to start building a knowledge economy. That means ensuring its frameworks for the protection of intellectual property are of the highest standard, to attract international investment and know-how, and provide certainty to local innovators.

South Africa’s journey to a knowledge economy was the theme of a half day symposium in Johannesburg, co-hosted by Geneva Network and the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa, attended by a wide range of stakeholders from the private and public sector, academia and the media.

The keynote was delivered by Prof Sadulla Sarjiker, professor of law at Stellenbosch University. Prof Sarjiker shared his concerns about the quality of the draft amendments to the copyright act, which he argued would inflict serious damage on local knowledge industries and scare off foreign investment.

Patrick Kilbride of the Global Intellectual Property Center presented the 2017 edition of its International IP Index. The index benchmarks IP-related laws and their enforcement across 45 countries, allowing policymakers to compare the quality of their institutions with peer countries. South Africa’s entry is here.

Prof Kelly Chibale of the University of Cape Town gave an overview of the importance of IP in his drug development work. IP, he argued, gives certainty to all the disparate players in drug development and commercialisation, while ensuring high standards and quality in manufacturing.

Jetane Charsley of the National IP Management Office stressed the importance of IP for the commercialisation of publicly-funded innovations. South Africa has for some years had technology transfer legislation modelled on the US Bayh Dole Act which has helped both South African universities and companies deliver several useful new products to consumers.

Above all, participants stressed the huge innovative potential of its people. South Africans can drive the country’s transformation to a knowledge economy, but it needs the right policy environment to unlock that potential. A strong framework of intellectual property rights is fundamental.

Many thanks to the Free Market Foundation for their excellent organisation of the event.