InnovUS e-news 8th edition

Thursday, 9 December 2010

2010 a record year for patents

The considerable growth in patenting activity was a definite highlight for InnovUS during 2010. At 30 November 2010, a total of 32 new priority patent applications had been registered, compared with just 23 for the whole of 2009. In addition, two new technology licences were concluded and four spin-out companies were in progress.

“During 2010, InnovUS adopted a more selective approach regarding the acceptance of new disclosures,” explains Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS. The result was a lower number of disclosures (45) than in 2009 (62), but the high quality of these disclosures is undisputed. In addition, InnovUS signed three licence agreements, and is currently concluding negotiations on five more licence transactions, as well as considering an equity transaction.

“We also had a record year in terms of income, having invoiced an amount nearly four times higher than our previous record income year in 2008,” says Anita. The income generated by InnovUS is distributed back to inventors, their environments and innovation activities.

The past year also included many highlights on the project front. “A project that needs special mention is the commercialisation of our portfolio of nanofibre patents,” says Anita. This portfolio includes two patents for high throughput of electro spinning of nanofibre, a nanofibre yarn patent, two patents covering the application of nanofibre and a patent on a lab scale bubble spinner device. InnovUS visited several large companies in Japan in August this year and many of the companies indicated their interest in this technology.

In addition, the water filter bag developed by Professor Eugene Cloete, which makes clean drinking water accessible to people living in rural areas, was exclusively licensed to a local company that is currently negotiating with a European partner regarding the manufacture of the bags in South Africa. A press release will be issued in this regard in January next year.

The past year also saw revisions to the University’s Intellectual Property (IP) policy, following the publication in August 2010 of the Regulations of the IP Rights from Publicly Financed R&D Act, No. 51 of 2008. A thorough campus-wide consultation process ensued, which eventually included more than ten rounds of comments. The feedback was very positive and approval of the new IP policy was obtained at the end of November this year.

The Short Courses division experienced yet another successful year, with 340 short courses registered and approved as at 30 November 2010. Extensive upgrading of the University’s short course online registration system has been completed and the University’s electronic student registration systems are in the process of being upgraded to accommodate short course student registrations as well. Short courses presented at Stellenbosch University have also been aligned to meet the new National Qualifications Framework (NQF) regulations.

Two new staff members joined the InnovUS team this year. Saberi Marais (Business Developer) and Philip Marais (part-time Business Developer) have both settled in well and are welcome additions to the company. Venessa Williams (Administrative Officer) returns to 15 De Beer Street next year after spending time at Summer School, while Doris Peters (Intellectual Property and Financial Assistant), who celebrated 10 years with InnovUS this year, has enrolled for the Entrepreneurial Business Management Programme at the Stellenbosch University Business School next year.

InnovUS has gone from strength to strength since its establishment in 1999. To accommodate the tremendous growth in the company, construction has begun on an additional wing at the back of the building which will be able to accommodate 15 more people. The InnovUS boardroom and parking areas are also being upgraded. Construction work is expected to be completed early next year.

One thing is certain: 2011 is set to be a very busy year, but the InnovUS team is undoubtedly up to the challenge.

New IP policy gets the thumbs up

InnovusInnovUS is very excited to report that Stellenbosch University’s new Policy in Respect of the Commercialisation of Intellectual Property (IP) is now officially in operation. After more than a year of very hard work, various meetings and many rounds of campus-wide consultations, the new IP policy was officially approved by the Council of the University on 29 November 2010. The new policy is applicable to all new disclosures received from this date onwards. “The policy has been warmly welcomed by all role players and we look forward to the challenge of applying it on campus,” says Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS.

The new policy is now available on the InnovUS website. An abridged guide to the policy will also be available on the InnovUS website in January 2011. The guide will provide an easily accessible toolkit to understanding and using the new IP policy. Researchers who have queries regarding the new IP policy are invited to send their questions, for inclusion in the guide, to Anita at ajnel@sun.ac.za.

The significance of the approval of the new policy is partly due to the long history (and many hours of work!) that preceded it. The IP Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, No 51 of 2008, was promulgated in December 2008, but the accompanying Regulations of the Act were only approved by Parliament in August 2010. From the outset, InnovUS was actively involved (on behalf of the University) in the formulation of this legislation and its accompanying regulations and regularly commented on the draft versions of both the Bill and the Regulations. “While the Act was initially regarded as ‘draconic’, we believe that the version that was eventually accepted is fair and acceptable. We are positive about the legislation and fully support it,” says Anita.

Work on the new IP policy, however, began long before the final acceptance of the Act and its Regulations. An InnovUS task team was formed in 2009, consisting of Roux de Villiers from Werksmans, Professors Piet Steyn and Izak van der Merwe, both formerly from the Division of Research Development, and Anita Nel. Consultations were held with key researchers in the science, engineering and technology environment, followed by further discussions with researchers in the humanities, specifically relating to the definitions of the Act.

Work then began in earnest on the new SU IP policy, with the first version being presented to the Division of Research Development by the end of that year. A thorough approval process followed, including feedback from the Rector’s Management Team, the Research Committee and the boards of the various university faculties. After incorporating feedback from all the parties involved, a final version of the policy was presented to the Institutional Forum, followed by the Executive Committee of the Senate and finally the Council of the University of Stellenbosch, who gave their final nod of approval on 29 November 2010.

“Given the fact that the relevant legislation only became effective in August this year, it is a considerable feat for this policy to have been finalised before the end of the year. I’d like to thank all the researchers involved for their positive attitude and valuable contributions to the development of the policy, as well as all the management teams of the University for their contribution to getting the policy approved so speedily, following a thorough and very wide consultation process on campus that included no less than ten rounds of comments and input campus wide,” concludes Anita.

SU implements full costing

InnovusInnovUS and Stellenbosch University’s Division of Research Development (DRD) work closely with each other to review and draw up research contracts which are currently being used by the University and its researchers. These contracts are based on their Policy for Costing and Pricing of Research and Research-Related Contracts (also known as the Full Cost Policy).

Therefore, in terms of the policy (and resulting contracts), companies who are involved in the development of Intellectual Property (IP) at Stellenbosch University and wish to retain ownership of IP pay at least full cost. Cornelia Malherbe, Research Contracts Manager: DRD, explains that the term “full cost” refers to the total cost of all resources used to complete a research project, which is in accordance with international financial reporting standards. It includes all applicable direct (all the costs that can be directly ascribed to a project e.g. laboratory consumables) and indirect costs (such as those expenses incurred by the University, which are essential to providing the necessary support to successfully manage and deliver a project, e.g. electricity etc.) as prescribed.

However, just because a company pays full cost it does not take ownership of the resulting IP free of charge. “Any company involved with the development of IP at Stellenbosch University will always at least get non-exclusive rights to use the IP,” says Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS. “However, full costing simply means that the University breaks even on the research done. In terms of the Full Cost Policy, InnovUS will then negotiate IP ownership and the commercialisation thereof with the company. In most cases, a fair additional amount will be added to the IP transaction.”

The Full Cost Policy was implemented on 1 July 2010 and InnovUS also played an integral part in its formulation. The purpose of the policy is to set a platform for a standard full cost calculation for the consideration of all costs related to research and research-related contracts at Stellenbosch University. The impetus to consider full cost research has been brought to the fore with the new Act governing Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development. The policy applies to all projects in which Stellenbosch University personnel contractually undertake to render research and research-related services and consultation to external parties.

“In the event that an external party or the National Intellectual Property Management Office requires a certificate as proof that a specific project has been priced on a full cost basis and/or has been completed, the University will request an external audit report,” says Cornelia. “The relevant research environment is at liberty to recover the audit cost from the external party as part of the full cost calculation.”

She adds that the DRD also works very closely with the University’s Finance Department and that the DRD is available for assistance to all the University’s departments and faculties. “The University strives to fully implement full costing and that is why the DRD wants to make the relevant tools and documents for practical implementation available to everyone,” says Cornelia.

For more information on full costing and Stellenbosch University’s policy on it, contact Cornelia Malherbe on (021) 808-3546 or Gretha Cronje on (021) 808-9019.

InnovUS attends AUTM TOOLS

Doris Peters, Intellectual Property and Financial Assistant: InnovUS, recently represented InnovUS at the Association of University Technology Managers’ (AUTM) Technology Operations Organisation Licensing Skills (TOOLS) course in Jersey City in America.

Doris, who is responsible for the administration of Stellenbosch University’s trademark and intellectual property portfolio as well as for providing accounting support for InnovUS, was one of about 30 people attending the three day AUTM TOOLS course from 4 to 6 October 2010.

“I really enjoyed the experience and it just made me realise once again that InnovUS is in no way inferior to the technology transfer companies worldwide,” says Doris. “Our business processes and day-to-day operations are right on a par with our American counterparts.”

AUTM TOOLS was designed and organised specifically for administrative and support staff of technology transfer companies. The course consisted of several workshops presented by technology transfer staff members experienced in handling the everyday issues facing administrative and support staff.

Attendees received information regarding the fundamentals of technology transfer and the patent and licensing process, as well as office operation processes such as budgeting, tracking expenses and managing the receipt and distribution of licensing revenue. Workshops also addressed critical issues such as compliance and information management.

“I received sound advice and learned so much during the course,” says Doris. “And now I can apply all this new knowledge at InnovUS so that the company also benefits from my attendance. I intend to share all the information I gathered and apply the new skills I learned.”

AUTM is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting, supporting and enhancing the global academic technology transfer profession through internal and external education, and training and communication. Its members represent managers of intellectual property from more than 300 universities, research institutions, teaching hospitals, businesses, and government organisations worldwide.

Green function a huge success

InnovusThe InnovUS office was abuzz with excitement on Thursday 21 October 2010! It is after all the first administrative building on the Stellenbosch University campus to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. This green initiative was celebrated with a launch held at its offices in De Beer Street, Stellenbosch.

The PV panels at InnovUS will allow the office to generate its own electricity, thereby reducing the amount of electricity purchased from the municipality. This is in line with the overall sustainability objectives of the University and the project will pave the way for the rest of the University to follow suit. “We are proud to be able to serve as an example of how this well-established technology works and how it benefits the environment,” says Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer: InnovUS.

The project is a collaborative effort between InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) and Setsolar, a renewable energy company specialising in PV solar module manufacturing and installation as well as solar water heating systems. The PV panels were donated by Setsolar and the system installed by CRSES. Inverters and other equipment were supplied by Emergent Energy (Pty) Ltd.

Duncan Palmer, Research Engineer: CRSES, was responsible for the installation and commissioning of the PV system. He says: “The peak production of the PV panels occur at midday, which coincides with the peak electricity demand of InnovUS. This new system also monitors the amount of electricity InnovUS has saved because of the PV panels.”

Palmer adds that the launch served as an opportunity to showcase exactly how the system works and how it can be used to reduce electricity consumption which decreases the use of fossil fuel and reduces CO2 emissions. “Installing an alternative energy source must go hand in hand with changing one’s habits,” says Palmer. “These include simple things such as switching off lights when not in use, wearing warmer clothing instead of switching on heaters during winter, adjusting air conditioners warmer in summer and cooler in winter, and cycling instead of driving to work.”

According to Professor Wikus van Niekerk, Director: CRSES, the project will be upgraded in future to make it even more effective. “Energy from the panels is currently being used as it is produced, but with the planned storage capabilities and the use of a bi-directional inverter, energy can also be used when needed, for instance during power outages, at night or on overcast days.”

Entrepreneurs’ evening the first of many

InnovusThirty of the most wilfully independent and ambitious minds from Stellenbosch University’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department gathered at InnovUS on Tuesday 14 September 2010 for its first ever Entrepreneurs’ Evening. The event is set to pave the way for many more of its kind, each focusing on a different department.

According to Philip Marais, part-time Business Developer: InnovUS, the Entrepreneurs’ Evening was the perfect event for all undergraduates, postgraduates, researchers, staff and entrepreneurs who wanted to learn more about commercialising electrical or electronic ideas.

“The event raised awareness of how InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department, and the engineering industry can offer assistance with the commercialisation of relevant ideas and research,” says Philip.

The Entrepreneurs’ Evening took place in the Reitz hall at the University’s Engineering Faculty and guests were addressed by Phillip, Gert-Jan van Rooyen (Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering), David Murray (Elprom) and Retief Gerber (NioCAD). “Everyone enjoyed listening to the speakers,” says Philip. “Each speaker’s presentation also contributed to making students and staff more aware of the opportunities of commercialising their ideas and of the services available to them on campus.”

InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s technology transfer company, supports innovation and the commercialisation of ideas. It assists inventors with grand ideas to take their ideas to 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 gave participants a better understanding of how to commercialise their ideas and therefore InnovUS is excited about hosting more such events next year.

For more information on future entrepreneurs’ events, contact InnovUS on (021) 808-3826.

‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’

Are you launching a new business? If you are aiming for the stars, you certainly want to avoid burning out shortly after take-off. Then the only answer is careful financial planning! So says Sol Bezuidenhout, Investment Manager: Hasso Plattner Venture Africa (HPVA). In an article entitled “Get your business idea ready for take-off”, published in The InnovUS Guide, he stresses that the sky is the limit for your new business, but only if you do some proper planning.

And he should know. Mr Bezuidenhout gained his experience of the venture capital industry as an investment analyst at Mark Shuttleworth’s HBD Venture Capital and holds an MEng in Chemical Engineering from Stellenbosch University as well as a Diploma in Executive Management from the US Graduate School of Business.

Take a long hard look at your finances

According to Mr Bezuidenhout, the first step is to assess your financial situation. “Before you even jot down your idea on paper, you must face any skeletons lurking in your financial cupboard.” Debt incurred to acquire assets that realise growth, such as property, is widely regarded as “healthy debt”. However, says Mr Bezuidenhout, many people unfortunately succumb to using their credit cards to pay for unnecessary goods.

“If you have any ‘unhealthy’ debt, it may be a good idea to sort it out now,” says Mr Bezuidenhout. “Otherwise you risk putting yourself in greater financial trouble if you run into hard times.” He suggests developing a schedule for paying off debt and strictly adhering to that schedule.

Let your cash work for you

“Now that you are free from your unhealthy consumer habits, consider saving some hard-earned cash,” says Mr Bezuidenhout. “This simple yet oh-so-smart move will allow you to accumulate the extra capital needed to sustain you during the first few years of setting up shop.” He suggests investing in unit trusts, money market deposit accounts or fixed savings accounts as these are simple, reliable options.

Get cash flow under control

“So, you have covered the basics. You have rid yourself of most of that unhealthy debt and have some spare cash nicely tucked away in a five-year investment plan that delivers high interest results,” says Mr Bezuidenhout. “Of course your gem of an idea is itching to get off the ground, but take a deep breath and work out some smart strategies to ensure you have your cash flow tightly under control.”

Mr Bezuidenhout says it is estimated that a staggering 90% of start-up businesses do not even make it off the ground. “And the culprit is generally cash flow. Getting yours into synch isn’t easy, but the extra slog upfront will charm you later on.”

It is vitally important to curb spending habits and limit overhead expenditure when starting a new business. Negotiating early payment terms with customers and favourable payment terms with creditors will also lead to a healthy cash-flow cycle which is very beneficial for any business.

Choosing a financing option

“Once you have put in the slog and your business is up and running and not at risk of going under in the near future, it is time to look at the next step: finance,” says Mr Bezuidenhout. He adds that banks should not be seen as the only financing option. Other options include government support, venture capital funding, and angel investors.

Where to from here?

Mr Bezuidenhout says finally it is important to consider which stage your business fits into: start-up, early stage, or later stage. Once you have established that and taken the above-mentioned planning steps into consideration: “Tighten your seatbelts. It’s time for lift off! Good luck, enjoy the ride.”

Magnetic gears moving closer to commercial reality

InnovusOne of the latest new technologies to originate from InnovUS researchers is a magnetic gear transmission system with improved manufacturability by Dr Rong-Jie Wang and Prof Maarten Kamper from the Electrical Engineering Department: Stellenbosch University. Magnetic gear transmissions have significant advantages over their traditional mechanical counterparts and Dr Wang and Prof Kamper’s invention can significantly improve the manufacturing and costs of these systems.

Other than mechanical transmission systems, magnetic gear transmissions offer excellent effectiveness and reliability; little or no need for maintenance; quiet operation; contactless torque transfer; and over-torque protection which are advantageous for safety-critical applications. However, high cost and problematic manufacturability often hinder commercial exploitation of magnetic gear technology.

Dr Wang and Prof Kamper’s invention offers an improved contactless design for magnetic gear transmissions which can reduce manufacturing complexity and cost while improving reliability without compromising performance. Dr Wang points out that this improved design aids in strengthening modulator assembly, solving existing production difficulties and reducing productions costs, all without compromising performance.

“Magnetic gear topologies are typified in construction by two concentric rotors separated by a coaxially aligned modulator,” says Dr Wang. “Existing technology involves expensive and complicated modulator moulding design, which increases cost and complexity in manufacturing. Furthermore, an inherent weakness can exist in the mouldings.

“This invention introduces a laminated steel modulator assembly which greatly strengthens the structure. The invention further allows for the inner rotor to be made more cost effectively.”

The concept design and first prototype of Dr Wang and Professor Kamper’s invention has already been successfully completed and evaluated with the help of InnovUS. And, according to Dr Wang, it can be of great significance for the mining, automotive, mechatronic, chemical and renewable energy sectors as well as any manufacturers of motors, generators, drive-systems and pumps.