CSIR scores with science patents

2011-11-16 22:39
Laurens Cloete of the CSIR Meraka Institute has said that mobile technology is being developed in SA. (picture provided)

Laurens Cloete of the CSIR Meraka Institute has said that mobile technology is being developed in SA. (picture provided)

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Cape Town - Science in South Africa has had a good year and the CSIR has secured 14 international technology patents.

This represents an increase of three over its target for 2010/2011 in the organisation's annual report made available to News24.

Part of the reason may be in the reorganisation of the CSIR.

"We have recently reorganised our activities into four competence areas and two special units, focussing on cyber infrastructure and we managed to attract very good leadership for those areas," Laurens Cloete, executive director of CSIR Meraka Institute told News24.

He said that the institute was not focussed on patents, but rather on development and support in internet and communications technology (ICT).

Incubator

"In ICT we're not directly focussed as much on patenting, but certainly in biosciences and material sciences, it's a very important issue."

To support the growth of mobile technology in SA, Meraka recently launched mLab (Mobile Applications Laboratory for Southern Africa).

This programme will serve as an incubator for mobile developers and entrepreneurs and include providing logistic support like subsidised office space, mentoring and business intelligence.

"We have a very exciting initiative called the mLab SA for which the seed funding was provided by the World Bank. We launched the mLab a couple of weeks ago and we have a website where people can have a look," said Cloete.

SA has about 100% penetration of cellphones and Cloete said the time was right to deliver additional technologies to build on the infrastructure.

"We have very good mobile penetration [in SA]; what we need to do now, is create services and applications on top of that infrastructure and that availability.

"As everyone has mobile phones, it's becoming the computer for Africa, and the idea of the lab is to developers both with the technical issues and with the business issues.

"How do you develop an app; how do you monetise that; how do you get it into the different app stores? We are assisting the developers with that," Cloete said.

Negotiations

The institute provides a supporting role to South African developers to create applications that could grow the local industry.

"For instance we have a Nokia test bay where we've got all Nokia's latest handsets - even sometimes handsets that haven't been released to the public yet.

"We can give developers access to that and they can play around make sure the applications work across all the platforms," said Cloete.

He added that they were in negotiations with other industry players to give developers a wider pool of platforms

Technology research firm Gartner revealed that in the last quarter, Google's Android operating system has a 52.5% market share in smartphones, while Nokia leads in mobile phone sales, albeit with a declining market share of 23.9%.

"We're in discussions with all the other providers as well: Samsung, Google and so on," Cloete said.

He conceded that the institute was operating in what may be regarded as a private company competency, but emphasised that the CSIR was playing a supporting role.

Innovation

"I largely agree that this is a private sector space, and we are working very closely with the private sector. But I want to make it clear on the mobile apps, this is to support private entrepreneurs. It's not as if we as the CSIR are doing it ourselves.

"We are doing it a little bit at arm's length; this is not in one of Meraka's research labs, this is based on the Innovation Hub which is a facility designed specifically for innovation and to support private sector companies."


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