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People, Planet, Patent: Spotlight on the 50th IAP Invention

January 10, 2020

Since the introduction of WIPO’s Inventor Assistance Program (IAP), volunteers from Colombia, Ecuador, Morocco, the Philippines, and now South Africa have helped local inventors navigate the patent system.

We focus on solving the problems closest to us. To address the most pressing challenges in our own backyards, it is imperative to encourage the participation of local inventors in the patent system. This is the driving force behind the creation of the IAP, which matches under-resourced inventors in developing countries with volunteer patent attorneys and agents. Since its inception, the IAP has supported 50 inventions.

50th IAP invention

The 50th invention belongs to the first South African inventors to use the program; co-founders of "Waste Buddies", Boitumelo Tlhapi and Edward Mfatshe. Their solution is directed towards helping waste pickers recycle more efficiently. Waste pickers collect up to 90% of post-consumer packaging and paper recycling in South Africa and save their municipalities millions of Rand by reducing the need for landfill space. They engage in backbreaking work for long hours. For many South Africans, waste picking is their only source of income.

The two inventors with staff from the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission
The two inventors with staff from the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) (Photo: CIPC).

Few people want to live close to a landfill or recycling center, which is why cities often place these facilities outside of town. Boitumelo observed that waste pickers must travel to these remote areas to deposit their finds and get paid. This dynamic translates to reduced participation in recycling and an even harder job for those engaged in the informal waste economy.

Boitumelo and Edward started to think about how they could improve the recycling process, making it more efficient and accessible to South Africans. They invented a mobile container with integrated electronic payment system for different kinds of waste. Through this idea, their company "Waste Buddies" was born.

The two co-founders realized quickly that they needed to formalize their enterprise and start finding business partners and capital. The first step was to register their business with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). The CIPC is an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa providing services for both registering companies and protecting intellectual property.

When Boitumelo explained his project to staff at the CIPC, they recommend he apply to the IAP. The CIPC explained the value a patent could bring to his venture. For young enterprises like Waste Buddies, securing a patent gives its inventors some control over the destiny of their invention. This can be especially critical when a small company needs to work with partners that manufacture or further develop a product. A patent can also signal to investors that a product idea is new, with a significant likelihood of return if it finds success in the market.

Considering its potential, it is no surprise that Boitumelo and Edward were selected for support through the IAP. WIPO matched the Waste Buddies co-founders with James Davies, Partner at Adams and Adams, and the first South African patent attorney to volunteer for the IAP.

It was gratifying for us to be able to help the local company on a pro bono basis because, in addition to fostering local innovation, this particular invention has strong environmental and socio-economic benefits.

James Davies, Partner, Adams & Adams, South Africa

The IAP provided essential support to realize Waste Buddies’ vision. “The IAP gave us the hope to continue developing our idea. Being selected under the IAP really pushed our confidence again and we went back to the project positive,” said Mr. Thalpi.

The environment around Boitumelo and Edward inspired them to direct their innovative energy towards helping their fellow citizens. Thanks to the IAP and volunteers like James Davies, Waste Buddies and the planet may be in a better position in the future.

Want to learn more about the Inventor Assistance Program?

Visit the program’s website to learn more about how to apply as an inventor, become a volunteer or a sponsor of the program.