Intellectual property (IP) created at universities can contribute to economic and social development and can support entrepreneurs in generating income through innovative business ideas. Innovation arising out of university research constitutes a rich source of IP.
The challenge is how to make this IP available within the entrepreneurial ecosystem and this is where intellectual property rights (IPR) – the right that vests in a university over its innovation – plays a role, he said.
Becoming entrepreneurial universities
I recently delivered a presentation at the annual Executive Leadership Workshop (ELW) of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) in Stellenbosch where the majority of South Africa’s 26 public universities were represented through deputy vice-chancellors, executives and other leaders relevant to entrepreneurship development.
I outlined key considerations in how university leadership could work towards university entrepreneurship. The EDHE programme provides a platform which assists universities to pivot towards becoming entrepreneurial universities which focus on leveraging its research and education towards economic and social development.
The entrepreneurial university represents an evolution from a focus on the traditional goals of education and research to a refocusing of these missions towards contributing to economic and social development within its community.
IPRs can assist universities in contributing to economic and social development through allowing effective management of university innovation to ensure inclusive access within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
All university innovation, whether technical, agricultural, social or artistic has potential value within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
University innovation is rendered legible and concrete through its associated IPRs which establish defined ‘intangible assets’. South African universities already have a wealth of assets.
In 2018 alone, more than 1,000 disclosures were managed by universities and more than 150 patent families were managed by universities.
Contributing to economic and social development
The challenge for the South African entrepreneurial university is, therefore, not necessarily in innovating, but rather how to manage access to its IPRs so that it can be translated into products, processes and services by entrepreneurs towards the economic and social benefit of South Africa.
According to Statistics SA, South Africa’s official unemployment rate at the end of 2020 stood at a record high of 32.5% with a youth unemployment rate of over 60%.
For a university to contribute to economic and social development, and the creation of jobs, a key focus must be on supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which includes not just early-stage businesses (start-ups) but also existing firms.
Innovation is a facilitator of entrepreneurship and access to innovation must be pursued in an inclusive manner for better alignment to correct past injustices and inequality.
Bridging the knowledge transfer gap between a university and the entrepreneurial ecosystem will require establishing a policy and competency framework to allow for effective and efficient access to university innovation.
This policy and competency framework should include a focus on creating continuity in the interface between the university, its innovators and industry.