Indigenous knowledge systems and designs are intellectual property and an alternative system to ensure their protection needs to be urgently put in place over and above the protection that is provided by the current legislation and common law.
We need to recognise that there are many criticisms of the IP system, recognised within South Africa, and that ‘open-source’ systems in IT and modern genetics, which are not currently addressed through the new IPR Act, may be as effective as the traditional IP system in encouraging innovation.
There are some areas of basic science research (like the human genome project, and open standards for interoperability i.e. ODF) that are recognised by the international community to be of such importance that they should be placed in the public domain. South Africa has contributed to some of the work within these fields. There is widespread concern that the current legislation would dissuade the international community from collaborating with SA.
Nevertheless, in many areas of endeavour, the copyright and patent system are important in encouraging innovation in that they enable the availability of venture capital and therefore the exploitation of the ‘know-how’ or IP.