The inventive capacity of South African universities and researchers is investigated through analysis of university patent applications. Patent applications to the South African Patent office from 1996 to 2006 are used as an indicator of inventive capacity. The investigation determines, for the first time, patenting activities of local universities at the South African Patent Office for the past 10 years and it identifies the performance of faculties and departments. We suggest that patent analysis of local patent offices in developing countries provides a more comprehensive picture of inventive activity than the analyses in the main patent offices in USA and Europe.
The assertion that industrial experience affects the inventiveness of academic staff is also investigated. The study finds that most inventors or co-inventors held at least one position in industry, or in some cases, specialized parastatals (non-university institutions) prior to patent application. The study supports the idea that experience and the professional trajectory of scientists through migration from industry to university leads to an increase of researchers’ scientific and technical human capital which is convertible into high performance or inventive capacity. We argue that this linkage is valid equally in developed and developing countries (like South Africa) and that universities internationally wishing to improve their entrepreneurial character should aim to employ academic with industrial prior experience.