Stop The Regulations
Dear Sirs We the undersigned write to you on an issue of great importance to the future of research, innovation and academic freedom in South Africa. Although research policy and administration are not often in the spotlight, they have important ramifications for education, development and the economy in this country, as well as for our standing and status in the eyes of the research community all over the world. The reasons advanced for the Act are to: • Prevent appropriation of research results from publicly funded research in South Africa by foreign multinationals; • To measure research output from publicly funded research and development in South Africa; and •To serve as the means by which technology transfer takes place from research entities to industry in South Africa. While we applaud these sentiments and understand the principles that guide them, we believe that the negative impact these regulations will have on innovation and research in South Africa far outweigh the positive stimulus effect they may have. We object most strongly to the following areas in the Draft Regulations: • The Act and its Draft Regulations are narrowly focused on the use of patenting and other forms of IP protection for the commercialisation of research in the interests of innovation. It is hostile to, or at the very least suspicious of, open source and open processes. The definitions of "open source" and "public domain" are unclear in the draft, and a clarification of this would be useful. • The Draft Regulations impose a series of bureaucratic reviews at institutional and national level before open approaches can be allowed, at the discretion of an advisory board that appears to be made up of patent lawyers and business experts. This is at odds with the working methods of many international research consortia, and will set local researchers at a disadvantage. • There does not appear to be a role for researchers in the process of decision-making, and the freedom for the universities to make their own decisions on how to make the most effective use of their research has been taken out of their hands. • The Regulations provide for intrusive and invasive march-in rights, through which the Department can retroactively reverse decisions made by the universities, threatening that uncertainty will be the dominant mood of South African research. We believe that these Draft Regulations will put South Africa significantly behind the rest of the world when it comes to innovation in research. At a time when the rest of the world is looking for ways to open up the processes and access to knowledge, our government is proposing legislation that will not only make access to knowledge more difficult for South Africans, but will also have a chilling and stifling effect on the very kinds of research that the government hopes to encourage through this proposed legislation. Given the objectives above, we believe that the Draft Regulations will have wide implications within diverse groupings, and not only on the research sector. We would like to propose that the Regulations be withdrawn at this time, and that a broader group of Minsters from different departments, as well as civil society and academic stakeholders should be invited to redraft the Regulations. We appreciate the opportunity to be able to make this representation, and hope to be involved in the creation of and commentary on any oral presentations or further drafts that may be made in the future.