Original Research

International patent applications and innovation in South Africa

Ulrich Schmoch, Anastassios Pouris
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 24, No 1 | a4146 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v24i1.4146 | © 2021 Ulrich Schmoch, Anastassios Pouris | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 April 2021 | Published: 17 December 2021

About the author(s)

Ulrich Schmoch, Department of New Technologies, Institution of Fraunhofer ISI, Karlsruhe, Germany
Anastassios Pouris, Institute for Technological Innovation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: Experts recommend support to patents for stimulating innovation. Also, the South African government supports patents, in particular, international patents. In this paper it is examined how this strategy can be designed to successfully trigger economic progress.

Aim: The present South African activities in patents are investigated in this paper and areas identified where an intensification of patenting looks promising for economic progress.

Setting: The patent activities since 1985 are analysed and compared to the annual export–import balance from 2009 to 2018, in order to identify starting points for improving economic structures. The data are linked to current suggestions to the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) for future technologies.

Methods: The analysis of patents is performed, using the international patent database PATSTAT, as well as the analysis of the export–import balance at the WITS database of the World Bank.

Results: The patent analysis reveals a low level of South African domestic patents, with a focus on less complex goods and a stagnation period of 35 years. The data on the export – import balance show negative figures for consumer goods and even more so for capital goods.

Conclusion: Economic progress can be accelerated by stimulating patent and economic activities to produce more complex consumer and capital goods. However, it may be necessary to focus on certain areas at the beginning in order to achieve a sufficient critical mass of competence and international competitiveness. In any case, the support of patents is only successful when it is closely linked to a strategy regarding technology.


international patents; domestic patents; export–import balance; future technologies; technology focus; South Africa


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