Innovus e-news 27th edition

December 2014

2014: A Stellar performance

Innovus had a stellar year, with a large number (37) of disclosures received, nine licenses signed and seven companies added to our Group of which five are new technology spin-out companies. "We are very proud of our achievements and grateful for the support received from researchers and Stellenbosch University (SU) alike," says Anita Nel, CEO of Innovus and senior director: Innovation and Business Development.

"The large number of disclosures tops our total number of 33 for 2013. According to the latest list of published PCT patents by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, SU is still the leading tertiary institution in South Africa regarding patent activity between 2009 and 2014.

"Regarding start-up companies at the University, we have seen a significant increase in the establishment of such companies. At the beginning of this year our group of companies consisted of ten, but has already increased to 17, with at least four more scheduled to join in 2015."

LaunchLab, the epicentre of entrepreneurship on campus, has also grown from strength to strength this year. It is now a fully-fledged company within the Innovus stable and is home to 30 tenants with 17 student interns working there since its inception in August 2013. As part of the LaunchLab's development of an entrepreneurial culture not only on the SU campus but also on other university campuses in the Western Cape, the annual Pitching Den competition allowed five finalists to walk away with a total of R80 000 in seed funding for their own businesses. The collaboration with the University of the Western Cape contributed strongly to the success of the Pitching Den and it will be expanded in 2015.

"The construction of a new building for LaunchLab in Hammanshand Road in Stellenbosch will be completed by February 2015. We are very excited about the big move and believe this creative space will allow for even more great ideas from our entrepreneurs," says Anita.

Innovus is also responsible for the Copyright and Short Courses Division and can boast more than 480 short courses with more than 5 000 student registrations on our system. The SU Council approved the brand-new Short Courses Policy on 1 December 2014, after several rounds of a highly successful campus-wide consultation process over the past 11 months. The new policy will be implemented on 1 January 2015.

Another major area of involvement by Innovus is the management of the Football Development Programme which aims to create a high performance football culture on campus and also in the surrounding communities.

The Football Development Programme achieved the following during 2014:

  • A total of 18 local coaches were trained at the Dutch Royal Football League (KNVB) training course
  • 750 players participated in the successful Stellenbosch Primary Schools cup
  • Our SAB league team qualified for the Nedbank Cup Top 32 prestige round
  • SU sponsored the Local Football Association (LFA) Easter tournament with 31 teams participating
  • A new solar-powered mini football pitch opened at Lentelus
  • Two SU High Performance under 14 players and their coach attended a football training camp in the Netherlands
  • Our Football Development Programme was short-listed as a finalist in the Discovery Sports Awards in the Development Programme of the Year category of which the winners will be announced in February 2015.

"Innovus cannot achieve such positive results without an excellent team and operational structure. And most of all, it is really a great honour and privilege to work with the high calibre researchers and other staff members at Stellenbosch University. We are extremely proud of their success and are inspired by the outstanding research outcome we see on a daily basis. We look forward to another exciting year," says Anita.

SU scientist's technology aids Philae landing

The recent successful landing on the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet was made possible by a flywheel developed under the leadership of a researcher from Stellenbosch University. Professor Herman Steyn, head of the Satellite Engineering Group at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University, was the project leader of the team that developed the flywheel for the Philae lander while he was working for Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) in 2000.

The Philae lander was first launched along with the Rosetta spacecraft in March 2004. After travelling to the comet for over 10 years, the Philae lander was finally released from Rosetta craft on Wednesday, 12 November. The lander took approximately seven hours before it landed on the comet, first bouncing twice, before it eventually stabilised on the comet. The flywheel was designed to stabilise the lander during landing and it met this brief with great success, despite the challenging circumstances. "The wheel maintained the correct lander orientation due to its angular momentum spin direction, in spite of the bounces on the comet surface," says Prof. Steyn.

The afternoon of 12 November was a fairly tense one for Prof. Steyn. "I spent most of the afternoon online to watch the live feed and commentary from the lander ground station at the German Aeropsace Centre (DLR) in Darmstadt in Germany. I was equally tense before and relieved after the landing success was announced. In particular, the words of Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager, when he said '… it has landed and the flywheel is now spinning down …' were a huge relief," he says.

According to Prof. Steyn, the flywheel took about nine months to develop as it was an emergency project due to failure of the original wheel by a German manufacturer. "The greatest challenge was to test the wheel according to European Space Agency (ESA) requirements, as we had not done it before and we had to improvise some of our equipment to get it all done timeously," he explains.

Prof. Steyn has since received many e-mails from colleagues who worked with him at SSTL in 2000 exchanging congratulations on the successful landing. "I also received an e-mail from Stephan Ulamec saying 'the flywheel did an excellent job... stabilising our lander even during several jumps...'"

The flywheel weighs in at 1.5kg and has a diameter of 20cm. The wheel moves at a speed of 10 000 revolutions per minute and was essential to ensure the successful landing of the Philae lander on all three legs. The wheel, made of aluminium and copper, remained vertical during the entire landing process.

Developing a wheel which would only be put to the test ten years later was a strange experience, admits Prof. Steyn. "It was a weird feeling and one can only hope for success after this long period of hibernation. However, we designed the wheel's special bearings and electronics to survive this long period as best we could," he concludes.

SU at top of patent list for 2009-2014

Stellenbosch University (SU) leads the pack in South Africa for Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) international patent applications over the past five years. During this period SU filed an impressive 59 PCT applications, which is more than any other South African entity. Remarkably, the top four PCT filers in South Africa are publicly funded entities such as universities and research councils. The highest ranked privately funded entity on the list is energy giant SASOL.

A PCT patent application is an international application which is filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and which reserves the applicant's rights to obtain patent protection in all of its 148 contracting states. It is therefore generally regarded as a first step towards protecting, and an important step towards commercialising an invention on an international scale. As the PCT filing process generally involves not insignificant costs, it can also be seen as an indication that the applicant is serious about the technology and considers it sufficiently innovative and viable to warrant its commercial exploitation.

According to publicly available WIPO data , the top five South African PCT filers for the period 2009-2014, collectively filed 249 PCT patent applications, with Stellenbosch University in first place contributing almost a quarter of this total.



PCT registrations









Stellenbosch University









University of Cape Town


















University of the Witwatersrand









SASOL Technology








(Source: WIPO)

During the same period, a combined total of 2683 PCT applications were filed by private and publicly funded South African entities, with privately funded entities contributing almost 90% of the total number. "The fact that the total number of PCT applications by privately funded South African entities is that much greater than those filed by publicly funded entities makes the fact that the top five filer positions are held by publicly funded entities, like Stellenbosch University, even more remarkable," says Anita Nel, CEO of Innovus and senior director: Innovation and Business Development. "It is a clear indication that our publicly funded research institutions are actively producing innovative and internationally relevant technologies."

The protection of intellectual property developed at SU remains one of the core focus areas of Innovus. But while protection of intellectual property is key, it has little value if it is not properly commercialised. "Last year, we concluded 19 licence agreements and an additional nine new licence agreements have been concluded in 2014 thus far," says Anita. "The introduction of the Innovus Instant Access ™ licence product which is a simple and temporary licence agreement to allow industry to test the product and even commercialise it to test the market, has played a great role in increasing our number of licences. We have also recently upgraded our first Innovus Instant Access ™ licence to a full blown licence agreement and we expect more to follow."

The establishment of spin-out companies to commercialise intellectual property is also a major focus area for Innovus, which is evident in the fact that there were already 10 Innovus spin-out companies in operation at the beginning of 2014. By the end of 2014 there will be a total of 17 spin-out companies in operation, with at least another four more in the pipeline for 2015.

"For a TTO to achieve success, it depends on cutting edge technology and research output of its researchers. In this regard, we are very privileged to work at Stellenbosch University as the institution has consistently maintained the highest research output per staff member of all South African universities over the past five years. Our position as the leading South African PCT filer over the past five years is evidence of the exceptional quality of research, education and innovation that is being conducted at SU, as well as the relevance and commercial viability of the technologies emanating therefrom. I'd like to conclude the year by thanking everyone involved in our success for their support," concludes Anita.

South Africans will have to wait for cheaper generics

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) recently passed a judgment in the long running patent battle between German pharmaceutical giant Bayer and Cape Town-based generic pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics. The judgment prohibits Pharma Dynamics from selling their cheaper, generic version of Bayer's popular contraceptive "Yasmin" in South Africa.

Yasmin was first protected by South African patent number 1990/3754, which expired on 16 May 2010 after its allotted 20-year term. Pharma Dynamics launched Ruby on the South African market in September 2011, but had to withdraw it shortly thereafter as Bayer obtained an interim interdict against the continued sales in November that year. The interim interdict was based on a so-called "improvement patent" of Bayer, which also includes Yasmin within its scope of protection. Bayer obtained the improvement patent on 25 May 2004 and, unless it is revoked, it will only expire on 31 August 2020. This means that South Africans will have to wait a lot longer to get this popular contraceptive at a lower price.

Although foreign equivalents to the patent in suit have been the subject of widespread litigation around the world, Justice Brand, representing a full bench of the SCA, which also included Justices Chachlia, Wallis, Mbha and Mathpo, decided not to consider foreign judgments in their reasoning, resulting in South Africa now being one of the few countries in the world where it will not be possible to buy the cheaper generic alternative to Yasmin. Currently, Yasmin sells at around R 140 for a one-month supply, while Pharma Dynamics' Ruby pill would have cost around R 80 per month.

The improvement patent covers a pharmaceutical composition in which one of the key active ingredients is provided in a form having a rapid dissolution rate. This particular ingredient is (and was at the time the improvement patent was filed) well known to be poorly soluble and to degrade in an acidic environment (such as the stomach). The court agreed with Bayer's expert witness that the patent was inventive as it would have been counterintuitive to include the active ingredient in a tablet without a so-called "enteric coating", a coating to prevent the ingredient from being degraded in the acidic environment of the stomach when ingested. Pharma Dynamics' expert witness, on the other hand, argued that the development of pharmaceutical formulations is not based on the expected behaviour of drugs, but rather on empirical evidence obtained through pre-formulation testing. He argued that if such tests were done, as they should have been, it would have been clear to the formulator that an enteric coating was, in fact, not needed. In short, he argued that the fact that Bayer decided to formulate the drug without an enteric coat was not an invention, but merely the logical conclusion of pre-formulation testing that any person skilled in the art would have arrived at.

Although the patent specification itself makes no mention of an enteric coating, or lack thereof, the court held that a person skilled in the art reading the specification and knowing the properties of the drug, would read this into the specification.

Both the court and Bayer's expert witness found it irrelevant that almost 10 years before this patent was filed, Bayer filed its 1990 patent, a much broader patent which covers a composition which would include the claim of the improvement patent within its scope. Of course, the older patent did not specifically mention the fast dissolution rate that the new patent does, or any enteric coating for that matter, but given that the claimed dissolution rate is one typical of oral pharmaceuticals and the court's views on the interpretation of patent specifications, it is equally likely, or so it could be argued, that a skilled person would likewise have read the dissolution rate of the later patent into the earlier Bayer patent.

The court also made a ruling on the scope of so-called "divisional" patents, of which the improvement patent is an example, which is likely to have a huge impact on patenting practice in South Africa. The South African Patents Act allows an applicant to make a fresh application based "on part of the matter disclosed" in an earlier application; with both applications able to enjoy the same effective filing date and period of monopoly.

The procedure of "dividing out" of applications has generally been used where an application contains more than one invention. The two inventions are separated into individual applications to enable them to be separately protected, but the purpose of the procedure is not (or should not be) so as to allow narrower and broader applications for the same invention. However, the SCA has now ruled that a divisional patent can have broader, (or narrower), claims to the same invention protected by its parent application as long as the claims of the parent and divisional applications are not "coterminous".

Although patent cases currently take up a minimal part of our courts' rolls, this ruling may lead to more litigation as alleged infringers may now conceivably be sued on multiple patents for a single offending product. Alternatively, it may simply dissuade generic pharmaceutical companies from entering the South African market with more affordable generic products.

Innovus provides assistance relating to inventions and patent-related issues through our partnership with Von Seidels Intellectual Property (IP) Attorneys. Please feel free to contact us should you have any queries.

(Source: Burrell's South African Patent and Design Law 3rd ed., 1999, Butterworths, Durban.)

Pitching Den final rewards promising pitches

On Wednesday 15 October 2014, the LaunchLab hosted the final round of its Pitching Den competition, which marked the end of the semester's LaunchLab Ideas programme. The competition provided young entrepreneurs with the opportunity to pitch their business ideas in an attempt to win their share of R80 000 in seed funding and attracted 81 entries from four different universities and other entrepreneurs in the Western Cape.

The LaunchLab is an initiative of Innovus, the university industry interaction and innovation company of Stellenbosch University. The LaunchLab is a mixed-use business incubator that differentiates itself from other business incubators through programmes designed to create a value chain and an ecosystem which accelerate entrepreneurs and businesses to a new level.

In July 2014, the LaunchLab joined forces with the University of the Western Cape to extend the scope of the Pitching Den. This collaboration saw the LaunchLab Pitching Den being co-branded by Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape. However, the Pitching Den, which forms part of the Microsoft BizSpark-sponsored LaunchLab Ideas programme, exceeded expectations and reached participants from all four universities in the Western Cape.

Participants were allowed to pitch an idea in a general business category or participate in one of the following industry challenges:

  • Alchemy-A (EMSS) Challenge
    Develop a disruptive software or electronics idea that will provide a technology solution that will aid economic development in Stellenbosch and help to make it a Smart City.
  • Deloitte Challenge
    Develop a social change enterprise designed to make a positive and sustainable impact on any of the vulnerable communities of Stellenbosch.
  • Transaction Challenge
    Develop a business idea in the electronic payment/encryption/transactions space.
  • WWF Challenge
    Develop a business idea for an innovative technology/service/process that can substantially contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions or enable energy access through a sustainable clean energy solution.

A first round of judging narrowed the field to 14 finalists for the Pitching Den final. "I was impressed with the standard of the pitches by the various young entrepreneurs. The winners certainly did themselves proud, and I think will gain lots of value from joining the LaunchLab programme, by getting the help needed to take their concepts forward," said Stuart Gast, Executive Director of Invenfin, and one of the judges of the competition.

The following winning pitches finally claimed their share of the R80 000 in seed funding:

  • Lumkani Fire Detection is an early warning, off-the-shelf, low-cost fire detector and alert service (General category, Deloitte and Alchemy A Challenges) - R30 000;
  • Specular is a visual interpretation app for the visually impaired (General category and Deloitte Challenge) - R20 000;
  • Riviernuus is a good news newspaper for the Stellenbosch area (General category) - R10 000;
  • StelliesFlats is an online property platform that makes flat hunting an effortless process for students (General category) - R10 000;
  • Workr is a web-based and mobile platform, which connects low-skilled labourers to the general public and the private sector (General category) - R10 000.

The audience voted on the most entertaining pitch of the evening and this award went to Superhero Status, new proprietary software which aims to mitigate the risks associated with the social media activity of "sub-brands".

The LaunchLab Ideas programme has helped many entrepreneurs to kick-start their businesses in 2014. "In 2015, the LaunchLab aims to build on these successes and, hopefully, with the help of sponsorships, take this programme to new heights," says LaunchLab marketing intern Avelino Rodrigues

If you would like to elevate your business to a new level, contact the LaunchLab at 021 808 9494 or You can also visit or follow the LaunchLab on social media for more information - Twitter: @TheLaunchLab or Facebook: /TheLaunchLab.

Football flourishes in Stellenbosch

The last quarter of the year was an exciting time for the Innovus team responsible for the Stellenbosch University (SU) Football Development Programme. In keeping with the programme's focus on the three pillars of high performance, community and campus, a number of events were held in September and October this year.

September saw the hosting of the inaugural under-15 Stellenbosch Cup. Participants included the under-15 teams of Firefighters, Hellenic, Stellenbosch High Performance, Stellenbosch Local Football Association (LFA) team, Supersport United and Vasco da Gama. The tournament lasted for three days and provided a showcase of some of the best rising football talent in the region.

Coetzenburg Stadium was the venue for the finals of the Stellenbosch High Schools Cup in September. The cup saw u15, u17 and u19 boys, and u19 girls from high schools in the Stellenbosch region all competing for top honours. A round of the Diski Reserve League (featuring the reserve teams of the PSL league) was also held at Coetzenburg in September.

During October, two programmes were presented in conjunction with the SU Centre for Human Performance Sciences (CHPS), with funds from the National Lottery. The first, a three-day coaches' workshop, took place at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport and addressed the topic of using sport technology to minimise the risk of injury in football. The second initiative was a Football Holiday Programme, during which 80 u11 and u13 players from LFA clubs were exposed to life skills training, sport technology and coaching.

October also presented the opportunity for overseas travel and experience for two Stellenbosch High Performance players, Luke le Roux and Aden Philander, and their coach, Jason Rhoda. The three travelled to the Netherlands during the October school holidays to participate in a training session with the respected Dutch football club, PEC Zwolle. Feedback received from PEC Zwolle has been overwhelmingly positive.

To crown a very successful year, the under-15 Stellenbosch High Performance Team claimed the title of Kappa Cup kings when they defeated tough competition from other LFA teams to win the second under-15 Kappa Cup, held on 22 and 23 November 2014.

However, football initiatives have not merely been limited to action on the pitch. At the Absa Football Forum, held in September this year, thought and industry leaders addressed students, coaches, academia and management on specific key areas in football. In addition, current Ajax Cape Town head coach Roger de Sa discussed the principles of building a high performance environment.

The SU Football Development Programme continues to grow in scope and influence. Many new initiatives will be rolled out during 2015, so keep your eye on future Innovus newsletters for updates.

It's not magic, it's technology – and you need it

We get bombarded with false promises and claims every day. We receive SMSs about 0% interest loans and tons of spam mail about our Irish lottery winnings worth millions of pounds. It is no wonder people automatically switch off when they hear about the "next big thing that will change your life". We see from experience that there are no shortcuts and if it is too good to be true, it probably is. There is no magic; it's probably just another scam. Unfortunately, our own cynicism and wilful avoidance sometimes cause us to miss out on something that could really make a difference, something that could be a potential game-changer.

Regardless of our disposition towards it, technology will continue to progress. We can fight change as much as we can push back the sea with our bare hands. With this simple fact in mind, it becomes obvious that we should be ready to adapt ourselves and our businesses to the changing environment. However, this doesn't seem to be the case… A notable example is that of the Blockbuster video rental chain in the USA, which was unwilling to acknowledge that a simple change in a business model can make or break an industry within a couple of years. Trends sometimes take a while to catch on, but once they really start taking hold, the laggards are often left so far behind that they have to cut their losses and close down shop forever.

One of these long overdue trends is mobility in the workforce. Almost everyone has a phone; in fact, there are currently more mobile devices in South Africa than people. Strangely though, businesses still decide to keep manual records. They still send out their sales forces armed with clipboards and a pen (or pencil). Mobile phones have replaced the need to write out personal notes, to place physical orders, to do banking, to use maps, to keep a contact book and so much more… Yet, they seem to have no place in the workplace (except to make calls, although there is often a landline for that as well).

This all brings us to the current buzz word: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Businesses are (finally) starting to adopt the trend in increasing numbers. Employees are encouraged to use their own smartphones/tablets to conduct normal business activities. Security concerns are also decreasing, despite the massive ("alleged") iCloud hack, as more companies are producing reliable security applications.

Mobility and BYOD are trends gaining increasing traction. As people's initial fear of new technologies give way to wonderment, the business landscape will be turned upside down with the increased efficiencies and glut of useful information. Orders can be processed in half the time, data is instantly available (and encrypted, of course…), which gives employees and employers alike the tools to thrive in the digital age.

It is possible to reduce your admin, to reduce turnaround time, to ensure more accuracy when capturing data. It is possible to actually simplify your sales processes. This can now be done with advanced apps which are incredibly simple to use. The question isn't whether to adopt these new technologies or not anymore, but whether you will adopt it in time. Anticipating future trends and adapting to the environment are key tasks for the small business leader, so don't get lost in the aftermath… there's definitely no magic that will get you out of there.

  • Duaan Dekker is the Technology Officer at Innovus. He completed his BComm in Marketing and Entrepreneurship and his BComm (Hons) in Strategy and Innovation at Stellenbosch University from 2008 – 2011. In July 2014, Duaan was awarded a Master's degree in Economics at Hunan University, People's Republic of China. This article initially appeared on