Innovative technology solutions are among the measures South Africa and the rest of the continent can look to in addressing the challenges in areas such as education, employment and health care. Unfortunately, very little innovation is actually happening.
Patents provide some indication of the research and development (R&D) activity taking place in a region. Africa accounts for less than 1% of global filings, according to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo). South Africa, in turn, contributed about almost two-thirds of African filings.
There are pockets of R&D activity in South Africa, with initiatives such as the Silicon Cape, Technology Innovation Agency and some government-led programmes. But it’s evident that activity needs to be increased significantly. The numbers from other emerging markets are also low, but South Africa is among the lowest contributors. Statistics from Wipo show that few South African businesses are contributing to patent filings, with the universities still the main drivers.
This needs to change if technology is to underpin economic growth and development in South Africa.
Worldwide, business is driving innovation. The R&D engines of the big, global tech companies are hard at work. Indeed, these companies have driven a sustained boom in technology since 2009 that shows no signs of slowing down.
Whether it’s Tesla Energy’s Powerwall or Apple’s Watch, innovation by the private sector continues to drive the technology world forward.
According to Wipo figures, a record 215 000 patents have been filed worldwide in recent years. The number is growing at 5%/year. Asia overtake North America and Europe and commanded a 40% share of all patents filed globally in 2014.
Huawei, ZTE, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung are all in the leading pack, with patent filings registering double digit percentage growth in the past few years. Tencent, Alibaba, Xiaomi and Baidu are some of the Eastern companies to look out for, as R&D activity from Asia continues to rocket.
The activity has also led to an increase in patent court cases, with Apple and Samsung leading the fray with their high-profile spats. Other organisations have chosen to monetise their patent portfolios through licensing, selling and M&A activity.
South Africa’s low level of R&D is a key issue that needs to be addressed. It’s alarming that more than 90% of patent filings in Africa in 2014 were from non-residents.
In most cases we have taken technology developed for mature markets and tried to adopt it for the continent. We should look to develop local solutions to local problems.
- Mophethe Moletsane is media and entertainment leader at Accenture in South Africa