SARChI Working Paper Series No. 2015-006

South African Competency in High Technology: An exploration of patents granted in USPTO to South African Inventors

Swapan Kumar Patra and Mammo Muchie

In the post-apartheid era, new democratically elected South African Government had realized the role of technology and innovation for the national development. The science and technology based industries were considered as the priority area. Using the analytical framework of Technological Capability (TC) and Network analysis, this paper is an attempt to assess the national capability building in the high technology areas. Patents granted to South African inventors in ICT and Biotechnology industries are considered to measure the TC of South Africa in high technology areas. The patents granted in USPTO during 1970-2014 shows that in recent years there is certainly an increase in patenting activity of South African entities. However, a clear and significant trend in high technology patents is yet to emerge. The study further isolated the high technology patents based on the OECD suggested IPC codes. Based on the OECD suggested codes about 1,100 patents are considered as the high technology patents among the total set of 5,264 granted patents. These high technology patents are grouped into three categories. These categories are South African entity assigned patents (530 patents, about 10 percent of total) foreign entities assigned patents (456 patents, about 9 percent of total) and unsigned or individually assigned (220 patents, about 4 percent of total) patents. In ICT sector maximum patent was granted in computers and office machinery areas (G06, G07) in Biotechnology Industry the maximum patenting are granted in A61K, C02F technology classes. Amazon Technologies Inc, (34 patents) is the most prolific patentee followed by University of Cape town (29 Patents) and CSIR, (28 patents). Although, the number of joint patents is very limited but the increase in their number in recent years, shows an increase in collaboration activity among SA and foreign entities. University of Cape Town is the most prominent among the SA institutes in terms of collaborations. Although, the collaboration map shows that the collaborative patents are only among a few institutes, there is scope for collaborating entities to learn and elevate along the value chain. The study is concluded with relevant policy lessons regarding the increasing foreign R&D in SA.

Keywords : Technological Capability, South Africa, Patents, Social Network Analysis

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