Intellectual Property Unit

Current Projects

The Intellectual Property Law & Policy Research Unit is leading research projects on IPR and development issues and in areas such as:

IPRs, Innovation and Development

  • A project on IPR and development in medicines entitled 'Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Contributing to the Millennium Development Goals' which is funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Development.
  • A project funded by the NVO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) on 'Intellectual Property Rights and Responsible Innovation, a Productive Combination?

Copyright and Creative Commons

  • Caroline Ncube and Tobias Schonwetter are taking part in the African Copyright & Access to Knowledge (ACA2K) Project. The ACA2K project is probing the relationship between national copyright environments and access to knowledge in eight African countries, including South Africa.
  • In the near future, the headquarters of Creative Commons South Africa will relocate from Johannesburg to the Unit, in Cape Town, with Tobias Schonwetter becoming the Legal Project Lead. Creative Commons is a globally active non-profit organisation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the works of others, consistent with the rules of copyright law. For this purpose, it provides free licences and other legal tools.
  • The Information Society Project between Yale Law School and the IP Unit aims to prepare and deliver original, nationally-focused access to knowledge (A2K) research. The project seeks to generate and disseminate knowledge on A2K and play a role in advocating for policy reform to facilitate domestic coalition-building and facilitate international networking.

Nanotechnology and New Technologies

  • A EU FP7 project entitled 'Nanomedicine Round Table' coordinated by Prof Kinderlerer is running as a one-year project aiming to look at technical and legal issues related to the use of nanotechnology in medicine.
  • A EU FP7 project entitled 'Synth-Ethics' began in March as a 30-month project looking at ethical, legal and public consultation around the topic of synthetic biology. Prof Kinderlerer is again the coordinator.
  • There are two applications for funding being considered by the EU FP7 mechanism for examination of a code of practice for nanotechnology; Prof Kinderlerer is a member of the South African Nanotechnology Ethics Committee within the DST.
  • The Kluywer Centre in the Netherlands is funding two projects on biofuels, mainly 2nd generation products, which involves work in South Africa.
  • There are a number of projects in which the Unit is involved in Canada, funded by Genome Canada or Canada's National Research Foundation in relation to IP and valuation of research.
  • We continue membership (coordination) of an EU FP6 project on regulation and public research in the international context.

Advisory Roles

  • On an ongoing basis and going forward, the Unit will be working with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on IP issues, and as representative of the DST for meetings in Geneva.
  • The Project Bio4Reg is a two-year EU FP6 project which relates to assuring the voice of public sector workers throughout the world are heard during negotiations on International Treaties such as the CBD, the Biosafety Protocol, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and the Aarhus Convention.

Areas of Research Specialisation

The Intellectual Property Unit specialises in Patent law and Policy, primarily in relation to development issues for new technologies in the area of Health, Biotechnology, Genetics, Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology, Electronic media and Business methods. We also have expertise in Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) issues and in areas of copyright protection.

Patents and copyright are only the beginning of the system used in the protection of new developments and inventions. There are access issues that need considering around traditional knowledge and the protection of genetic information in relation to biodiversity. Geographical indications (GIs) and trademarks also raise global issues that need addressing. Furthermore, there are internet and other related broadcasting rights which are relevant to addressing the digital information divide in the global context. In addition, contracts and licences are part of the approach used by business to ensure that users recognise their rights. These need to be considered in the light of the needs of the emerging and developing countries.

Everywhere the basic question is being asked, "Can the IP system adapt to the changing nature and pace of technology and of society?" Is there a need to reconsider the classic monopoly rights and model and ask whether there is legitimacy for open and collaborative innovation?

Research Achievements

Recent Developments

With Richard Gold (McGill) and David Castle (Ottawa) a report has been produced 'Toward a new era of intellectual property: from confrontation to negotiation' published at the end of last year. This will continue with Richard and David programmed to visit the unit.

Prof Kinderlerer was one of the rapporteurs for the European Group on Ethics Opinion 24 on 'Ethics of modern developments in agriculture technologies' that was delivered to the President of the Commission, Barosso, towards the end of December 2008.