SA’s patents landscape is characterised by easy patent grants to local individuals and bodies, as well as patents of dubious quality and value. This strongly suggests that the existing patent system plays a role in stifling, rather than stimulating, innovation. The publication by the Department of Trade and Industry of a draft intellectual property (IP) policy has resulted in debate on policy issues. Although the draft policy is expected to be finalised shortly, little attention has been given to the existing patents landscape. Understanding this landscape is important: who gets patents, whether foreign corporations or South African innovators; and the legal framework for granting and enforcing them. Assumptions appear to have underpinned the adoption and retention of certain entrenched positions. One of these, ordinarily advanced by those intent on maintaining the status quo, is that a soft regulatory touch stimulates innovation. This has included a failure to check whether patents...

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