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SAEON takes IP protection to the next level

By Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON
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A competitive public entity such as SAEON must take care to build its brand into one that offers public value.

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As the first African member of DataCite, SAEON is implementing uniquely identified datasets. This strategy ensures that SAEON’s ownership of open access data cannot be compromised.

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“The next step in protecting our data, information and software, whilst sharing those openly in the very fluid environment of cyberspace, had to be the protection of SAEON’s name.” – Johan Pauw, MD

For publicly funded knowledge organisations operating in a world driven by accessible information, intellectual property has become an important, albeit challenging, business strategy.

South Africa’s Act 51 of 2008 (Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development) makes provision for such intellectual property to be identified, protected, utilised and commercialised for the benefit of the people of the Republic, whether for a social, economic, military or any other benefit.

Open access to research data

Accordingly, the National Research Foundation recently made its research grants conditional upon the research group making their data publicly accessible. The argument is that, since such research was supported by public funds, the research results should be shared publicly for the benefit of all.

Act 51 of 2008 also compels public entities to register the intellectual property in instances of potential commercial value. Here the argument is that commercial value should be exploited on behalf of the South African public. Commercial exploitation of SAEON’s environmental research data and information will seldom be considered and our policy has always been open access to our data.

Retaining data ownership

A challenge related to open access is how to retain data ownership and provide proper attribution. One solution for this challenge, that SAEON has already begun to implement, is to uniquely identify datasets through the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) system. To this end, SAEON became the first African member of DataCite some two years past. This strategy ensures that SAEON’s ownership of open access data cannot be compromised.

But what if SAEON’s name is compromised, incidentally or willfully, by another organisation using the same or a similar name? Beyond our data and information, SAEON has also developed software for data management systems which we share freely with government departments and research organisations, and accordingly ownership of that software poses a challenge similar to the retention of data ownership.

Protecting SAEON’s name

The next step in protecting SAEON’s data, information and software, whilst sharing those openly in the very fluid environment of cyberspace, had to be the protection of SAEON’s name.

A South African trademark registration confers a negative right on a trademark proprietor to prevent others from using and/or registering a confusingly similar trademark. A trademark is legally defined as ”a mark used or proposed to be used by a person in relation to goods or services for the purpose of distinguishing those goods or services from the same kind of goods or services connected in the course of trade with any other person”.

As a result, any trademark owner is in a position to offer the statutory protection of a registration. Accordingly, SAEON recently filed an application to be registered as a South African trademark under CLASS 42 – which is specified as: Scientific and technological services and research and design relating thereto; industrial analysis and research services; design and development of computer hardware and software including but not limited to; formulation of management policies through science observation in relation to food production and population health; collation of environmental, scientific data and information management of said data.

With the measures described above, SAEON hopes to continue offering value to the public in the form of data, information and data systems, whilst protecting its name and ownership of such. A competitive public entity such as SAEON must take care to build its brand into one that offers public value.

Since aggressive marketing is not an option for a public entity, we realise that an uncompromised SAEON name has to stay associated with our outputs and products for the SAEON brand to grow in the public’s estimation. Ultimately the public, as our sponsor, has to be appreciative of the SAEON brand if we are to endure turbulent economic and political cycles, such as those we are experiencing at present.

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