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Intellectual property rights systems are important policy instruments in the armoury of governments. They have the potential to have favourable or adverse consequences for the relevant national system of innovation, technology transfer, research and development and eventually economic growth. While there is a substantial debate related to the optimization of patent systems in the developed world, there is limited debate related to the approaches used in developing countries like South Africa. This article presents an effort to assess whether the South African non-examining patent system makes a contribution or it is detrimental to the country's development. We find that the current intellectual property rights regime not only does not support the objectives of the national innovation system but it facilitates exploitation by foreign interests and creates substantial social costs.