Intellectual Property in South Africa
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Intellectual Property, or IP, as it is colloquially called, is characterised as legal protection for commercially precious products of human intellect. There are, generally, three forms of IP: patents, copyrights and trademarks. Although these articles are similar many some ways, they each have individual idiosyncrasies and definitions which make them unique. Perhaps most importantly, there is no physicality to intellectual property. If effectively safeguards an intangible idea or process.
Generally speaking, in South Africa, patents are granted to inventors for inventions. These can include anything from machinery, tools, processes, chemicals, biotechnology, software, etc.
To qualify for a patent, an inventor must invariably create something that is:
- Of patentable matter
- Unique to patentee
- Merited and can be utilised
Under a patent, the patentee reserves the right stop or limit others from utilising and trading the invention. Without explicit permission from the patentee, persons using the patent in any of these ways are infringing, and could be subjected to legal action.
Computer programmes and inventions without industrial application are not patentable. Nor are inventions that conflict with public order or morals. Even while a patent is pending, application fees are still payable, as well as search fees and annuities.
As registration is invariably a lengthy procedure. An inventor may, instead, favour applying for a certificate of usefulness, which is easier to acquire, although provides less protection: 6 years compared with 20. Patents may not be renewed.
Trademarks are used to denote epithets, logos, symbols, slogans, etc, that are individual to a business and product. Fundamentally, the things that distinguish your product or service from a competitor's. Businesses understandably go to endless lengths to have control over their trademarks. Therefore, any persons found infringing upon them through unlawful use could be subject to legal action.
Famous examples of trademarks are Coca Cola and McDonald's.
A trademark that identifies a product or a service may be registered with either the INPI or the Commercial Court Registry. Fees are charged for application and renewal. Registration provides protection for 10 years and may be renewed.
Copyright gives someone to sell and reproduce a protected product, which is invariably printed work. Things like books, magazines, websites, photographs, music, film and art are common examples of copyrighted work. Copyright denotes five rights of the author, artist, etc: reproduction, distribution, adaptation, performance and display. Use of such materials or works without the explicit permission of the copyright holder is classed as infringement, and persons doing so could be subject to legal action.