World Intellectual Property Organization

Innovation in Botswana

Background


BOTEC’s expertise in the design of energy efficient buildings is demonstrated in their own headquarters building

A solar powered hearing aid, a method for bonding sand from the Kgalagadi desert to make construction blocks, a photovoltaic charge controller – these are a few innovations to have emerged from the Botswana Technology Centre (BOTEC) in Gaborone.

BOTEC is a leading research and technology organization (RTO) established by the Botswana government in 1979. Operating under the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, BOTEC harnesses innovative science and technology for the transformation of Botswana into a globally competitive nation. Since inception, the Centre has consistently pursued the government’s policy objective of technology promotion and innovation as a tool for economic development and improvement of the quality of life in Botswana.

Inventions and Research and Development

BOTEC aims at making a positive impact on the lives of the people of Botswana in particular and on the society in general. Its research and development (R&D) programs operate in the areas of energy, environment, information and communication technology (ICT) and electronics.

In line with the broader government strategy, BOTEC’s principal focus is renewable energy. Considering the lack of adequate electricity in the country, one of the Centre’s earlier research projects concentrated on the development of alternative power sources. In 1998 BOTEC established a centralized solar power station, which provides power for a health clinic, primary school, street lighting and up to 14 households in the village of Motshegaletau. Similarly, a solar lamp that works with any power source has been developed by BOTEC. This useful invention, known as the Masa lamp, is widely used in many areas of Botswana.  

Sustainable architecture is another area of expertise for which BOTEC has become known. The building which houses BOTEC, completed in 2001, is itself designed as a demonstration project, incorporating climate-friendly and low energy features such as evaporative cooling, a reticulated atrium, solar chimneys, rainwater collection and sewage recycling. The Centre is also researching new methods of producing building blocks from the sand of the Kgalagadi desert. The aim is to enable people living in the sandy areas of Botswana to construct modern houses more cost effectively, using affordable, durable bricks and blocks.

Another BOTEC R&D initiative led to successful innovation in the field of solar-powered products for the hearing impaired. Some 167 million people in developing countries suffer from deafness, or disabling hearing impairment, which limits their opportunities for education and employment. Low cost hearing aids, while available, are not designed for conditions in impoverished communities where batteries are scarce and costly. To address this problem, BOTEC produced a body-worn, solar-powered hearing aid. The low-cost hearing device has become a great success in assisting hearing-impaired people in Botswana and abroad.

Partnerships

In order to strengthen R&D capacity, through information sharing and networking with other experts within this field, BOTEC has a long standing involvement and active participation with a number of local organizations including the University of Botswana, Botswana Institution of Engineers, Botswana Export Development & Investment Authority, Botswana Innovation Hub and some NGOs.

Additionally, BOTEC operates in cooperation with broad international networks and partnerships with a variety of organizations and institutes. For example, in the energy area, it collaborates with ETC Energy (the Netherlands), Solar Age (Namibia) and the World Energy Forum, to name a few. Some other alliance partners are the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (South Africa), the Danish Technological Institute (Denmark), INWENT and Technosol (Germany), the Zimbabwe Technology Centre, and the Southern and Eastern Africa Rainwater Network (Kenya)

IP Management

Botswana’s Industrial Property Rights Act (1996) provides a legal framework for the country’s innovators to seek protection for their intellectual property (IP). The industrial property office however has to grapple with a shortage of qualified staff, as well as high administrative costs of, for example, searching for patent information. BOTEC takes an active part in creating IP awareness in Botswana to assist inventors to be more creative and benefit from their innovations. BOTEC’s IP policy seeks to address a number of issues including increased participation of Botswana in international IP-related treaties (Patent Cooperation Treaty, Madrid Protocols, International Registration of Marks and International Deposits of Industrial Designs), access to information on protected works that are related to BOTEC activities, and dealing with new technology that has been transferred to companies.

Traditional Knowledge

BOTEC assists in on-going developments in protecting Botswana’s traditional knowledge by chairing an Indigenous Knowledge Task Force, which has been mandated to draft the indigenous knowledge section for the Industrial Property Rights Act in order to help Botswana’s indigenous knowledge practitioners to benefit from their IP. Traditional medicine processes can be successfully commercialized through such schemes. For example, researchers have successfully incorporated the medically-significant part of “Devil’s Claw”, a common plant found in Botswana and used for many years to treat different ailments , into capsule formats which facilitated its commercialization at home and abroad.

Trademarks

BOTEC underscores the importance of protecting trademarks for the commercialization of its products. SolarAid, the hearing device invented by BOTEC, for example, is trademark protected. The Centre is also seeking to register the logo of BOTEC as a trademark.

Commercialization

The products developed by BOTEC reflect the technological needs for the social and economic development of Botswana. Proper marketing and commercialization policies are needed to ensure that people actually get benefit out of these products. BOTEC therefore takes an innovative and practical approach to commercialization. Some of its early technologies such as the Masa lamp and the centralized solar energy system have been successfully transferred to local entrepreneurs. These local entrepreneurs produce and market the products to bring them closer to the people. 

BOTEC’s solar-powered hearing device was developed through a collaborative scheme with Motse Wa Badiri Camphill, a non-governmental organization (NGO) offering training, employment and rehabilitation services to people with disabilities in Botswana. The Motse Wa Badiri Camphill team conducted field-tests, raised funds for design improvements, branded the device with the SolarAid name, and took it to market. SolarAid generated considerable interest and was used in many developing countries. Yet the level of sales was not high enough to make it sustainable. So Motse Wa Badiri Camphill, with the help of BOTEC, set up a separate organization, the Godisa Technologies Trust, in order to focus the expertise necessary to develop the promising pilot project into a genuinely successful product. A Godisa team of young product designers and technicians developed a stand-alone, solar-powered battery recharger for behind-the-ear hearing aids. The recharger, now being successfully marketed under the SolarAid brand, requires only 6 to 8 hours of sunlight to maintain a full charge for a week.

Business Results

BOTEC is making significant contributions to the Botswana people through its innovative research and demand-oriented high quality products. The solar power project has improved the quality of life for the beneficiaries and facilitated growth in the local business community. BOTEC is now in discussion with the Botswana Power Corporation concerning a national strategy for solar power stations. The hearing aid, now in use in several countries, won the Design for Development Award from the South African Bureau of Standards in 1998, and went on to win international recognition at the 2002 World Awards for Sustainable Energy in Austria. It was also awarded a WIPO prize at Botswana’s 2005 National Design for Development Awards (NDDA), which were hosted by BOTEC. BOTEC came up with the idea of the NDDA in 1999 so as to recognize inventions and innovations that can offer solutions to some of the problems faced by Botswana. Until 2010, three award ceremonies have been hosted. WIPO and the African Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) supported all the NDDA ceremonies through sponsoring special awards for outstanding innovations in Botswana.

An Integrated Strategy to Build an Innovative Nation

BOTEC’s mission is to take the lead in harnessing innovative science and technology for the transformation of Botswana into a globally competitive nation. To this end, its activities are aligned to the national development plan. BOTEC is seen as key player in the national framework for innovation, By integrating the country’s intellectual, creative and entrepreneurial talent into the national development strategy, the government is striking out in pursuit of Botswana’s Vision 2016 goal: ‘a prosperous, productive and innovative nation.’

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