South African Journal of Industrial Engineering
On-line version ISSN 1012-277X
POURIS, A.. Quantitative assessment of South Africa's inventive outputs: International patent analysis. S. Afr. J. Ind. Eng. [online]. 2009, vol.20, n.1, pp. 13-30. ISSN 1012-277X.
This article aims to identify and analyse the inventive activity of South Africans as it is manifested in the form of patents. Patents are used internationally as indicators of national and corporate inventive activity, but they rarely are reported in the context of the South African reality. Inventive activity is analysed in terms of patents awarded to South African inventors by the USA patent office (USPTO). South African inventors are identified to apply and receive approximately 110 patents per year from the USPTO. Analysis of the patents according to technological classes identifies classes that indicate the country's strengths. South Africa is ranked fourth internationally in technological class "Chemistry: Fischer-Tropsch Processes; or Purification or Recovery of Products Thereof"; and twelfth in "Specialised Metallurgical Processes". It is argued that government should support further innovation in the country's strong inventive areas. Corporate patent analysis identifies the most inventive organisations in the country; co-inventive analysis identifies the countries with which South Africans cooperates; and international comparisons set South Africa in an international context. An important finding is that South Africa appears not to have participated in the international explosion of patents during the last twenty years. It is suggested that neither the policy environment nor factors determining technological fertility have changed in South Africa during the last two decades.