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Call for digital patriotism

Digital patriotism is needed if SA is to not only protect, but foster local innovation, says Nhlanhla Mabaso, Open Source Centre manager at the CSIR.

Mabaso was speaking at the World Intellectual Property Organisation seminar, on the strategic use of intellectual property for economic and social development, in Cape Town, earlier this week. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) organised the event.

“Statistics show that 88% of all patents registered in SA are done by foreigners who are protecting their own innovation. This proves the point that SA is a net importer of technology, when, in many cases, we could be producing our own,” he said.

Mabaso also cited a claim made by the State IT Agency earlier this year that R40 billion leaves the country annually due to software licensing fees.

“If only a portion of that could be kept in the country to support our own innovators, it would start a cycle of innovation and wealth creation here.”

Mabaso said the open source strategy announced last year by Cabinet – that South African government departments would have to start considering alternatives to proprietary software – was welcomed. However, he noted that it would take time to change mindsets and ramp up the skills levels.

“The adoption of open source has been slow in some government departments, but it has also been surprisingly fast in departments where one may not expect it to be used.”

Mabaso said a fillip for the open source software community was that Microsoft had applied for and been awarded two public licences by the Open Source Initiative.

“When a proprietary company such as Microsoft applies for an open source licence, it indicates a fundamental change is about to happen.”

Fungai Sibanda, DTI chief director of regulatory policy and legislation in the consumer and corporate regulation division, says it would be all but impossible to put in place special laws to protect SA's software industry.

“The key is in the transfer of technology and expertise to help develop the country.”

Sibanda said the question of local innovation losing out to foreign competition was often a factor of two issues: mindsets and deep pockets.

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