InnovUS e-news 7th edition

Friday, 3 September 2010

National triumph for SU innovation

The inventors of uMove, a patient-specific knee replacement product, walked away with an impressive third place in the final stage of the National Innovation Competition 2009 held in Durban last month. This as an extraordinary accolade both for uMove and InnovUS which, according to uMove co-inventor David van den Heever, provided the team with support of “immeasurable value”. “We would not have been able to do it without them and we really appreciate their input and professionalism throughout the entire process!”

“InnovUS is very excited about this project and aims to commercialise it in co-operation with Mr van den Heever,” says Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS. “We see enormous potential in this project and we are currently looking for commercial partners and investors to take this product to the market successfully.”

The uMove team is Mr van den Heever, Prof Cornie Scheffer, Dr Pieter Erasmus and Dr Edwin Dillon. They were one of three groups from Stellenbosch University who went through to the national rounds of the annual competition. The other two groups were PowerMon, a low-cost power meter, and Pacebot, an athletics training device. The National Innovation Competition aims to encourage the commercialisation of innovations of young entrepreneurs from across the country and InnovUS is currently busy patenting the three unique inventions from Stellenbosch University.

During the competition the business plans of innovative new products were adjudicated and Mr van den Heever says InnovUS provided a lot of support in this regard. He adds that his mentor, Yongama Skweyiya, Tektique Project Manager: InnovUS, supported him throughout the entire competition process. “He told me exactly what would be expected of our business plan and helped me to plan our market strategy. He really was a great help right from the start!”

Mr van den Heever says he entered the competition after InnovUS had urged him to do so. “Prof Scheffer, my study leader, told me to consult InnovUS about my customised, patient-specific knee replacement PhD project. InnovUS told me that the product was very innovative and could be patented. They also suggested that I enter the competition.” The uMove team then embarked on extensive market research in preparation for the competition. Mr van den Heever attributes their success to “a product which can considerably enhance the lives of patients”, a sound business plan and hard work and commitment from the entire team.

uMove has an individualised bone-implant interface which, unlike a conventional prosthesis, results in a better fit, a more uniform stress distribution, less bone loss and less misalignment. The product, which is customised to fit according to the results of a patient’s CT scan, also eliminates the conventional difficulty of choosing the optimal type and size of a prosthesis. uMove restores a patient’s original articulating joint surfaces thereby resulting in better kinematics and the possibility of knee replacements for a younger generation of patients.

“This is a wonderful accomplishment for us and it has motivated us to take our product even further and build our business through commercialisation,” says Mr van den Heever. He adds that this accomplishment has also given uMove a financial boost. “There is still a lot of work ahead of us but we are ready!”

Calling all entrepreneurial mavericks

Are you wilfully independent, ambitious and determined to achieve your goals? Do you want to know more about commercialising your electrical or electronic research? InnovUS is inviting all Electronic and Electrical Engineering undergraduates and postgraduates; researchers; Stellenbosch University staff; and entrepreneurs to its first Entrepreneurs’ Evening on Tuesday 14 September.

“The event will raise awareness of how InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s Electrical Engineering Department and the engineering industry can offer assistance with the commercialisation of relevant ideas and research,” says Philip Marais, part-time Business Developer: InnovUS.

The event will take place from 17:00 to 20:00 at Reitz Hall at Stellenbosch University’s Engineering Faculty and the programme includes talks by Philip, Gert-Jan van Rooyen (Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering), David Murray (Elprom) and Retief Gerber (NioCAD). There will also be ample time for questions and networking while refreshments are served.

InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s technology transfer company, supports innovation and the commercialisation of ideas. It assists inventors with grand ideas in making their way to the market and focuses specifically on patents, business plans, company formation, legal and tax issues and bridging the gap between research and the market by bringing together the experience of leaders in their respective fields. This event will give participants a better understanding of how to commercialise their ideas.

“By making students and staff more aware of the opportunity of commercialising their ideas and of the services available to them, we hope to see more disclosures presented to our office and subsequently more successful spin-out companies and licensing agreements,” says Philip.

To register, contact InnovUS on (021) 808-3826.

IP Act to protect and stimulate innovation

The new South African Intellectual Property (IP) Act was recently promulgated and all university departments are required to perform their research in terms of its regulations. The Act, mainly championed by the Department of Science and Technology, aims to protect inventors and creators of IP and to stimulate greater development in research and innovation in South Africa.

The new Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act No. 51 of 2008 regulates the commercialisation of South African IP and ensures that researchers share in the income generated by their IP. In terms of the Act, modelled on the American Bayh-Dole Act, the minimum benefit-sharing arrangements are in accordance with the international norm. “This minimum benefit is now much more than it has previously been at several institutions,” says Yongama Skweyiya, Tektique Project Manager: InnovUS. “The Act also allows IP creators to negotiate much better benefit sharing.”

Yongama adds that South Africa is relatively new to technology commercialisation (better known as technology transfer) and that InnovUS, despite being only 11 years old, is one of the oldest and most accomplished technology transfer companies in the country. “In a country with a myriad of financial and human resources, one finds that some of the leading researchers, as well as their research, leave our shores to commercialise their ideas in better developed countries and economies,” says Yongama. “This Act places great emphasis on the obligation of those researchers who receive public financing to ensure that all IP emanating from their research is actively managed and commercialised for the benefit of the South African public, for commercial gains, social upliftment or for military benefit.

“The Act, with its various regulations, is a blueprint for the development of a nationally applicable intellectual property policy for each tertiary institution. It guides institutions towards the proper management of all intellectual property emanating from that particular institution,” says Yongama. “This also encourages institutions to declare or disclose IP from publicly financed research and development.”

Yongama adds that the Act allows for third parties to better understand their position when dealing with South African universities or research institutions regarding IP from publicly financed research and development. “However, probably the most significant element of the Act is to provide for accountability to the South African public for government spending on research and development, as well as for the returns on such spending for economic development and wealth creation in the country.”

Opening the door to commercial viability

Without commercial viability, even the greatest innovations have no chance of being implemented. InnovUS is passionate about ensuring that the world-class outputs of Stellenbosch University’s researchers and inventors are successfully taken to the market. That is why they provide inventors with all the necessary information on innovation. For this reason, Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS, recently visited several companies in Japan where she gained valuable new insight into what makes an invention commercially viable.

“We understand that researchers want to focus on their specialist areas and that it is not always easy to bring their amazing and truly remarkable breakthroughs to the market,” says Anita. “That is why InnovUS provides researchers and inventors with valuable information on patents, business plans, company formation, bridging the gap between research and taking the research to the market, and legal and tax issues, and brings together the experience of leaders in their respective fields.”

David Weber is the chairperson of Stone Three Venture Technology and the director of Acorn, a private equity investment company. He discusses the issues researchers face when going to the market in an article entitled “Challenges of converting research output into a commercial product: How to survive and approach the gap between research and commercialisation”.

“Success in commerce is very different from success in academia,” says Mr Weber. “Academics measure success in journal papers, research grants and kudos from other researchers. In commerce, it is measured by the degree to which the product’s assets exceed its liabilities.”

He explains that when embarking on the journey from laboratory to market, it is of vital importance that inventors have a very good understanding of the market they intend to enter. “The earlier you consider (apparently) mundane details, such as who is going to buy your product and why, the better off you will be. And one can achieve a great deal of market knowledge with relatively little effort,” says Mr Weber.

He suggests that the first step to understanding the proposed market is to truthfully answer a few critical questions and compiling the results in a prospectus or business plan. These questions should cover the value of the proposed product; the size of the proposed market; possible competitors; production and maintenance costs of the product; technical and commercial risks associated with the product; the development process; product vision; and product lifespan.

According to Mr Weber, the second crucial step in the process is finding investors for the commercialisation of the product. These could be in the form of angel investors, venture capitalists, government schemes, private equity or stock markets, or self-investment. However, he points out that these options have specific sets of risks associated with them and that a business may rely on more than one type of investment during its lifetime.

In order to successfully navigate these and other risks and difficult issues, Mr Weber says the assistance of an intellectual property office is essential. “At Stellenbosch University, you are lucky enough to have an intellectual property office (InnovUS) which can make deals and guide you in the process. And believe it or not, they are on your side!”

He urges inventors and entrepreneurs to take the first step and visit InnovUS with their summarised business plan. “They can open doors and introduce you to various organisations that will be interested in what you have to offer. However, always remember that while they might help you open doors, you have to walk through the door yourself.”

InnovUS website has a fresh new face

InnovUS is known for its passion for innovation and its groundbreaking inventors and researchers continuously set new standards and stretch the boundaries of what is considered possible. InnovUS is alive with growth and positive change and therefore it is now unveiling a new look for its website. The website still offers its users all the essential information expected from InnovUS, but the new streamlined design facilitates easer navigation and offers even more information on patenting, licensing and the formation of spin-out companies.

The new website design is also aligned to the commitment of InnovUS to Stellenbosch University’s sustainability goals, says Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS. “Firstly we are champions of innovation, but one of our key values is sustainability and our website now portrays that.”

InnovUS website users have easy access to information about researchers, new technologies, and policies and guidelines, all with only one click from the homepage. They can also gain more insight into different licensing opportunities, detailed per department, and generate individual PDF documents for each technology listed.

The InnovUS website now boasts a whole new section on nanofibre technology, including information on bubble electrospinning, ball electrospinning, continuous nanofibre yarn production and permanently antimicrobial nanofibres. Furthermore, it provides the latest information on new disclosures, patents and licensing agreements at InnovUS.

InnovUS goes green

InnovUS is green! Since June this year, the InnovUS offices boast energy-saving solar panels with photovoltaic panels converting sunlight into electricity. “We are proud to be able to serve as an example of how this new technology works and how it benefits the environment,” says Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS. This implementation at InnovUS is aligned with the overall sustainability objectives of Stellenbosch University.

The panels were installed by the University’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies and Setsolar to serve as an example of how effectively solar panels can generate energy and at the same time contribute to a sustainable environment. This new system also helps InnovUS to monitor their energy consumption.

“As part of this implementation, Prof Wikus van Niekerk, Director: Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, gave us handy guidelines on how to minimise the overall energy consumption at our offices, including simple things such as switching off heaters and lights.

“To celebrate this innovation and our office’s dedication to sustainability, we are hosting a function in September to demonstrate how the solar panels work and to prove how they have decreased our energy consumption thus far,” says Anita.

According to Prof van Niekerk, some of the energy generated by the panels will be stored in batteries while the rest is used by the InnovUS team. In the evenings energy stored in the batteries will be available for usage through an inverter, ensuring that, even when the sun isn’t shining, the building will have enough energy to function.

Stellenbosch University as an institution has also embarked on a journey to coordinate all existing sustainability efforts that already take place. Dr Barbara Pool, Director: Projects, is responsible for coordinating all sustainability actions within the University and to manage the overall communications thereof.

The decade of Doris

Doris Peters this month celebrates a decade of service at InnovUS!  Doris, intellectual property and financial assistant, is responsible for the administration of Stellenbosch University’s trademark and intellectual property portfolio as well as for providing accounting support for InnovUS. The InnovUS team thanks Doris for the wonderful work she has done during the past ten years.