Innovation means those ‘think out of the box’ ideas which usually result in the creation of new products or improvement of the existing product or services. Those innovations ultimately have to benefit the society. This you have to take your innovation to the general public and prove it benefit to the society. In taking those innovations to the market, how do we protect them from ‘theft’? How do we ensure that they remain ours and financial benefit us?
You have an invention or an innovative idea, rest assured that it can be protected. The protection of innovations is through what is known as Intellectual Property (IP) rights. Intellectual Property is defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as creations of the human intellect and include; inventions, names, symbols and artistic work. Therefore, intellectual property rights are rights given to owners or creators of such innovations to exclusively use and benefit from the investment of their innovations. The importance of intellectual property is not only to help innovative creators to enjoy the exclusive benefit of their inventions but also promote innovative thinking resulting in news creations for the betterment of our lives. This also results in the creation of employment and promoting economic growth hence improving the quality of life.
The most common form of intellectual property rights for groundbreaking innovations termed inventions is patenting. A patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor for protection if his/her invention from being used or commercialized by anyone else without prior agreement by the owner. The protection usually lasts for 20 years after which anyone can use the invention to their advantage. During the 20 years of protection, the patent holder periodically pays a fee for maintenance of the patent.
How do you apply for a patent?
To qualify for a patent, the inventor has to prove the novelty of their invention. That means an inventor need to prove that the invention is new and also demonstrate that it is useful and beneficial to the intended market. The mechanism of action of the invention and how it differs from the existing products has also to be explained by the inventor. Generally, a patent protects an invention in the country of origin, however, through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) of WIPO, an inventor can apply for an international patent. In this case, your invention is protected across the globe.
The first time I heard of HIV/AIDS, I was at elementary school. It was described as a dangerous disease that has no cure. Most emphasized was that the disease is transmitted through unprotected sexual coitus and or sharing sharp objects with infected persons. Growing in a rural village and for that matter, no television at home, all this did not make sense to me, except that I had to keep to my mind that there is a dangerous disease that has left many children as orphans. I also knew that it was a disease for the elderly only since the mention of sexual activities!
As I grow up, I put the childish ways away and started to think like a man. Then my knowledge of the disease increased. I learned that there is HIV, a virus that causes AIDS. Thank God I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science program, chasing that childish dream of becoming a doctor! That is when I learned in depth about HIV from the Virology and Medical Microbiology courses that I did. I began appreciating and understanding HIV/AIDS, and why it does not have a cure yet. Studying the structure of the virus, its genome and replication mechanism made more sense to me. I even envisioned myself being crowned the “founder of the cure for HIV/AIDS”.
On Saturday 4th August 2018, I bumped into an article with a title: HIV/AIDS is not a viral disease. Have I been lied to for all the years of life? Should I believe that AIDS is a metabolic disease as the title suggested? Shocked, I immediately downloaded the article and gave it my utmost attention. But before going to the content, I asked myself, which Journal published the article and who the author was. Journal of Metabolic Syndrome, I discovered. A highly reputable peer-reviewed journal by the OMICS International Publishers. And the author is Dr. Biswaroop Chowdhury, a Medical Nutritionist in India. So I read the article with interest. First I browsed through it very fast, I only read it slowly for the third time.
According to Dr. Chowdhury, the author, HIV does not cause AIDS. The author accuses the scientific community of having failed to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt that HIV causes AIDS. He outlined that the HIV – AIDS hypothesis by Dr. Robert Gallo in 1984 violated the scientific method, not only due to lack of supporting evidence but to also to the fact that an announcement was made before publishing the findings in a journal for scientific scrutiny. The author draws up to five major pieces of evidence to support his belief that HIV may not be the cause of Aids. One of his arguments is the specificity of the diagnostic tools used in the detection of the virus. ELISA and Western Blot test usually give a false positive test and the antigens they detect may be of other viruses like the Human Endogenous Retrovirus (HERV).
In further support of his ideology, Dr. Chowdhury brings Koch’s postulates in place. He argues that HIV has never been isolated from a human body hence there is a violation of Koch’s second postulate (To establish a microorganism as a causative agent of a disease of interest, the microorganism must be isolated from the diseased organism and cultivated a pure culture). It is therefore through such shreds of evidence that he believes HIV is not the causative agent of AIDS.
After stressing his supporting points, Dr. Chowdhury proposes that aids is a metabolic syndrome caused by oxidative stress. He intelligently draws out about five points as evidence for his ideology and ultimately concludes that HIV/AIDS is not a viral disease but a metabolic syndrome.
While I partially understand Dr. Chowdhury’s perspective, my opinion remains unchanged!
But the Apple story does make for a pretty good one. Young boys fooling around with pranks in a garage, then creating a computer, the rise and fall and rise of Apple, the plot twists and of course, the happy ever after ($1 trillion Company). But where did it begin?
Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. First Steve built a computer to prove he could and second Steve had the vision of every household having access to a computer. And so it began. It all started with a bunch of ideas! But one that changed the world forever. They didn’t doubt themselves or think that it was impossible. They did it! They built many computers; one more innovative than the other. Then came the iPod, iPad, iPhone, iMac, Apple watch and the list goes on. THIS was innovation at its best! Who would have thought we would get rid of those bulky walkmans and use the sleek, small iPods, all with digital songs we got on Apple Music? Or have a handheld computer (iPad)? Steve and his team probably did. Tim saw the vision too.
But it all started with one idea: build a computer. Apple revolutionised the world. And you can too!!
No idea is too small or silly. You honestly won’t know until you try. But an idea is not enough. You have to put in the work to develop it, and of course the capital. It may not be as big as Apple but it could change your community, your world.
Think of the person who designed a tractor. They probably had the idea to automate ploughing instead of oxen-driven ploughs.
What about Sir Alexander Flemming? He left a culture of Staphylococcus aureus for a month, came back to find mold and dead bacteria. But now we have antibiotics. Given it was an oopsy but it gave him an idea that revolutionised medicine.
The Internet!! J.C.R Licklider of MIT thought of a set interconnected computers around the world that would easily exchange data.
Think of all the little things you make use of now. A long time ago, it was just an idea.
So take that idea that you’re toying with in your head and do something with it! ‘Cause you’ll honestly never know. The least you can say is, “I tried”.
One thing that has resonated in my mind since theSANBIO Annual Conference in February is a conversation us youth ambassadors had with one of the professors present. He mentioned that his generation of professors, lecturers and supervisors had kinda failed us. And I understood that. Something I’ve observed over the years are the attitudes of PhD students and professors/supervisors. They almost seem dejected. Ask anyone that’s been through a science degree or worked in a research lab. I suppose it’s caused by the core motivation which is to publish in a reputable journal. And of course applying for grants. More often than not, you don’t get that grant so you apply for another. So it becomes a cycle:
It becomes mundane and no likes rejection. It’s almost a chore. Plus, you’re continuously buried in paperwork; at what point are you looking up to see what’s happening in the world? And you, personally, are no longer doing the research you so passionately wanted to do. You become unhappy, depressed, unfulfilled and your students see it. How are you motivating them to get into the world of science; that science is important, there’s a need for it? Science is a beautiful thing! It’s the gateway to shaping our future in agriculture, food security, disease diagnosis, treatment and management. All this research can lead to innovation.
Another observation I’ve made is that growing up and all the way up to undergrad, there hasn’t been an atmosphere of creativity or entrepreneurship or the emphasis on being inventive. Coming from Zim, I know. I struggle to name 10 items that we have produced ourselves. I don’t know if the schooling system is to blame or the atmosphere that was created by those before us but we’ve been missing that entrepreneurial spirit. Good news is, the winds are changing! People are starting to see the value of being entrepreneurial and inventive. Maybe it’s the situation that has forced our hand but I’m secretly glad it has. Spaces are emerging that allow for people to be inventive: creative hubs, innovation labs, business incubators, hackathons, you name it; it’s coming into existence. Some are taking advantage of them but sad thing is not everyone knows about them. Not everyone is talking about innovation; the possibilities; the effect it could have on our economy, our lives. This could be the epinephrine we need to resuscitate our industry.
But the question remains: Where do we begin?
My answer: schools. Junior school right through to colleges and universities. If we could teach our kids to start creating at such a young age then by the time 2030 comes around Zimbabwe would be in a much better place; Africa would be a much better place. Africa could be the go-to for new technologies and industry experts. Forget the mineral wealth and think about the uncovered gems in our skulls! There is so much knowledge there that we need to tap into. We just need the space and we need to start.
I was fortunate enough to participate in the inaugural Lab Hackathon Zimbabwe in June this year as part of the SANBIO team. It was very interesting! It was a space to learn, be creative and open our mind to other possibilities. The challenge was to recreate cost effective lab equipment to be used in school labs, e.g. centrifuge, magnetic stirrer, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine, microscope. As some of us know, these machines are expensive and most schools in Africa can’t afford them. So why not create our own?
My team, BioNova, created a centrifuge using a blender as the base and the motor with a redesigned rod and plate to hold the tubes. We won “Most Frugal Design” by the way :).
Others made some pretty nifty machines:
One team went on a completely different route. They created a hydroponic system for their greenhouse using nutrients derived from worm digestion. Vermi-culture I think. They created a programme which detected the nutrient concentration, derived from the worms, and diluted it with water to prevent the solution being toxic to the plants. They explain it better! *face palm*
What I enjoyed most about this was everyone’s participation. High school students, undergraduates, postgraduates, teachers, lab assistants, businessmen and women. Kids from different schools and backgrounds were there to learn and get involved, and understand what innovation and open hardware was. We were trying to solve the issue of inaccessible but necessary lab equipment for science. One team was made up of high school students who made a microscope from wood, phone camera and glass. This would mean schools wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on machinery. They just had to source the materials and make their own. In turn this would mean that no matter your socio-economic background, you could have access to different machines allowing you to learn more about the world of science, and get the education we all desperately desire and deserve!
Isn’t that what innovation is about? Using a different approach/new idea to re-create something already existing? And bonus if we’re solving a problem and helping our communities.
*All pictures taken by my trusty partner, my phone.
**More pictures of my team from the LabHack Zim 2018 🙂
Science will never cease to amaze me! The dynamic evolution of innovations keeps on intriguing me. The food industry is also benefiting from the innovations. Who would have thought meat can be grown in the laboratory? Cultured from cells!
Image from: https://phys.org/news/2017-12-lab-grown-meat-humanity-moral.html
The idea of cultured meat also known as ‘clean meat, in vitro meat or synthetic meat” dates back to the 20th century but gain momentum in 2013 when the first ever cultured burger produced by Professor Mark Post went on the public trail. From 2013 to 2018, the concept became more tangible and distributed across the science industry. All thanks to the start-up biotechnology companies who embraced the idea. It’s amazing how fast the dream became reality given the controversy of stem cell technology and the costs associated thereof. What is lab-grown meat?
This simply means meat grown from cultured cells in a laboratory set up. To produce this synthetic meat, stem cells are harvested from the animal of interest. The stem cells which can either be adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells or myoblasts are then cultured in a growth media in a bioreactor. The growth media usually made of amino acids, sugars and salts provide the growing cells with the necessary and essential nutrients just like a balanced diet to a growing body.
A proper ratio of amino acids is essential to induce and promote tissue growth. The growth media is periodically removed and replaced by a new media to ensure availability of all nutrients for maximum growth. Some developed laboratories use automated bioreactors which cleans and recycle the growth media just like it happens in a living animal body where liver and kidney purify and recycle blood. Once the cells grow and proliferate, a scaffold used is used to give the 3D shape of the meat.
Image from: http://thisandthatandmoreofthesame.blogspot.com/2012/02/would-you-eat-lab-grown-meat.html Why lab grown meat?
Pastoral farming for traditional meat requires a large land, something we do not have as the human population is rapidly increasing. Population increase means land is reserved for residential purposes and industrial developments hence resulting in the insufficient land for agriculture. Therefore, lab-grown meat greatly reduces the conflicts of land use since a small lab setup is enough to produce a bulk of clean meat. Traditional meat production is also associated with environmental degradation and climate: methane from cattle contributes greatly to global warming. Slurry contributes to eutrophication in water streams hence interfering with natural diversity.
Of recent, there has been an increasing trend of use of antibiotics in animal production which obviously contributes to antimicrobial resistance – a 21st-century global terror. Lab-grown meat production has the potential to eliminate almost all of the challenges associated with traditional meat production. Researchers believe clean meat is healthier than traditional animal meat since they manipulate amount and kind fat in the meat. For example, they can manipulate the concentration of omega 3 fatty acids to make health clean meat!
With continued research and evolution of start-up companies, we are not far from buying clean in supermarkets!
My name is Keagile Bati, a BSc. Biological Science and Chemistry graduate from the University of Botswana. I serve as one of the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio) youth ambassadors to Botswana. SANBio is a NEPAD Agency Flagship for collaborative research and development, and an innovation platform aimed to address Southern Africa’s challenges in health and nutrition. As an ambassador, one of my major roles is to promote SANBio and biosciences in my country and facilitate collaboration, resource, and knowledge sharing across the member states. I believe I have executed my roles diligently by far.
Of recent, I joined the SA Innovation Summit (SAIS 1) company in Pretoria, South Africa as a foreign Intern, thanks to my sponsor SANBio through their regional mobility grants. Here, I play a role Summit Coordinator, something a bit different from my background Biology. I never envisioned myself doing managerial and administrative tasks: well, that’s what I do and I believe I do it well! I am enjoying every bit of it and I’m secretly eyeing project management as my next step in my career. Enough about me!!!
The SA Innovation Summit will this year hold the innovation summit in Cape Town from the 12 – 14th of September. Cutting-edge innovations across the agritech, fintech, biotech, edutech, smart cities and big data will be showcased and explored during the summit. Pitching and exhibition competitions will not only get funding opportunities but collaboration, mentorship, and regional market opportunities. This is an event not to be missed, as an entrepreneur or spectator! Indeed, it’s time for Africa to rise!
Now back to my title; What is Innovation? Innovation can simply be defined as those new ideas which usually result in the creation of new products and services. Those ‘think of the box’ creative ideas may be on improving the already existing products/ system or a devising a totally new way of doing things. However and whatever the innovations are, at the end of all, they have to solve a problem or benefit the society in any way possible. Innovations also have to be conceptualized and materialized to reach the market for their intended use. Usually, innovations involve technology advancement and transformation leading to change or improvement in quality and productivity. It’s a work smart not work hard kind of doing things. Over the years we have seen various innovations across the spheres of knowledge and I must admit that they have affected and influenced our lifestyles in an enormous way.
Why is innovation important? Well, obviously the ‘work smart’ ideology implies innovations have reduced the laborious works to simple tasks. Think of it! Simple examples: The ploughing of a 10 ha field using a donkey or cow – moldboard plough versus the huge tractors we use today. Time – a precious gift the universe has given to us. How time it took a letter/message to be delivered from point A to B by post versus emails and social media platforms! Other systems like automation of industrial processes not only save time and make smart but improve the quality of products and services delivered to the market! It is through innovations that the efficiency of systems is improved so does the quality of life generally. Just mentioned a few!
Food for thought! Are all innovations affecting us positively?
A lot of people have asked me “why science”? My response: why not? And it’s not just science, its molecular biology! Molecular biology is AMAAAZING!!! Understanding how the human body works right down to the smallest molecule. That’s beyond mind blowing!
So I am a Medical Biochemist by profession hence my passion for molecular biology. I studied at the University of Cape Town (best university in South Africa) and obtained my Bachelor’s and Honours degrees. After sitting around on the couch for 3 months, I was fortunate to be offered a job as a research lab scientist at the Infectious Diseases Research Lab. This job was EVERYTHING I thought it would be and probably a lot more. I learnt so much!! I developed and learnt new techniques, met some amazing scientists from around the world, and I was part of one of the biggest research studies in Zimbabwe. It was great! But something was still missing. The biggest motivation I’ve seen back home and from my time at UCT, was writing a paper and being published in a top journal. And that’s great but that can’t be it. Can it?! Then one day when I got home, I got an email from a collaborator with the lab and it was about SANBIO and its annual summer school entitled “The Business of Clinical Research”. Hmm.. What does that mean? Can scientific research become a business? I was going to find out.
Fast forward to a month later and we were in one of the conference rooms at the Capital Hotel in Pretoria, learning about “The Business of Clinical Research”. It was fascinating! My mind was opened to a whole new dimension of science. Who knew?! Why weren’t more of us doing this? I mean, yes making money would be great but our research could actually work to help the communities around us. It wasn’t just about odd hours in the labs, culturing cells and doing RNA analysis, it was about ACTUALLY CREATING A PRODUCT TO HELP PEOPLE! That’s why I got into science in the first place; to help people. To help my community. How does a research paper in Nature help an HIV-positive man infected with a drug resistant virus? I posed this question to my former P.I at lunch one day with our lab team and she couldn’t give me an answer. The entire table couldn’t give me answer. That’s when I realised we need to change the perceptions of future researchers. Discovering something novel in a lab is not enough. We need to develop those ideas further and create a product that can be taken to market and distributed for use across the world to people who need it.
I suppose this is what brings me here, to Pretoria interning at the SA Innovation Summit. It’s all about INNOVATION!
It’s not where I thought I would be 6 months ago, but boy am I glad that I’m here. I love to learn, and I must say I am learning!!