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Picture: PEXELS
Picture: PEXELS

Inventors, designers, developers and authors can protect their ideas to prevent others from wrongly profiting from their inventions.

A recent Business Day Dialogue, in partnership with the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of SA (Ipasa), cast a spotlight on why protecting intellectual property (IP) is so important.

IP can be defined as creations of the mind that can be protected by patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets, said McLean Sibanda, MD and board member of Bigen Global. Most biotechnical and pharmaceutical innovations come from universities, and patents ensure the protection of research results and space at the negotiating table.

SA was the first country in the world to grant a patent to an artificial intelligence (AI) invention, causing global controversy as AI is regarded as a “black box”. Such administrative and technical considerations should be weighed carefully to establish whether the three principles of registering a patent, namely novelty, inventiveness, and utility, have been met or not. In the age of the fourth industrial revolution, robust debates are needed on this type of development.  

In SA, procurement regulations need to be formulated to support local production and incentivise it, as investment can be lost with restrictive conditions.

Zwelethu Bashman, MD of pharmaceutical company MSD and president of Ipasa, highlighted the importance of innovation in science and medicine. Bashman said patents guarantee an environment of certainty to enable commercialisation, which encourages innovation and development. He said the issue of access could be expedited by aggregating volumes, resulting in better pricing.

Watch the full discussion below: 

He said since the pandemic, voluntary IP licensing has allowed manufacturers access to therapeutic drugs, permitting patent holders to grow their markets while reducing the retail price of these drugs. He called for meaningful engagement between innovators and investors to secure mutually beneficial partnerships.

IP protection incentivises researchers to share information, which facilitates the development of new drugs, said Tsepo Tsekoa, chief researcher at the Council for Scientific Industrial Research. SA researchers need to base their clinical trials on local populations to minimise adverse side effects, and collaboration across borders should be encouraged. He said African governments should consider consolidating IP regulations so they apply uniformly across the continent, as investors need to have confidence that protection regulations apply. 

Susan Winks, head of research operations and business development at H3D Drug Discovery Centre at the University of Cape Town, said patent protection provides pharmaceutical companies the confidence to take research to full clinical trial phase, while simultaneously safeguarding a university’s technology and attracting foreign investment. It also provides open access, ensuring transparency and encouraging knowledge-sharing. According to Winks, there is a need for more drug research units to distribute research & development in Africa.

Universities are “solution shops” for industry, and students are the next generation of innovators, said professor Yahya Choonara, director of the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform. The value chain of knowledge, combined with human resources, will eventually affect the economy, but more investment in local innovation is needed now. Investor confidence is driven by IP protection, which is vital. 

The Business Day Dialogue moderator, talk radio and TV host Joanne Joseph, said that for innovation to thrive, access, affordability and procurement in the IP landscape needed the support and co-operation from all industry players. 

This article was paid for by the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of SA. 

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