How to protect an idea

Most ideas can be protected. New features can be protected by a patent; a new shape can be protected by a design; a written document / drawing / photograph can be protected against copying by copyright; and your brand can be protected by a trademark.

Basically, if you can point to a feature on your product that is new (without having to explain its “new” purpose), this feature may be patentable. Patents are your best form of protection. As, a patent will prevent others from adding that new feature to their product. Easily file a South African provisional patent online through GlobalIPCo for $199 or through Iptica for $99. Also see our provisional patent drafting and filing guide.

Designs will seldom prevent others from competing with you – they need only make changes (in shape) to your product that are at least as great as the changes (in shape) you made to the closest pre-existing product (as at the time of filing your design). But, a design will deter others from adopting a substantially similar shape. Easily file South African designs through GlobalIPCo for only $299.

Copyright is very limited. It only prevents others from making copies of your “work”. But, they can freely recreate the “work” without copying. It does not protect the underlying principle. Only a patent does this.

Trademarks are valuable after you have created a reputation in your product (by marketing and advertising). Until then, a trademark does little to deter competitors.

6 thoughts on “How to protect an idea”

  1. Tshepo Machethe says:

    I have a patentable idea, but may you please explain to me the benefits of filing patents across other countries too, instead of just in South Africa. And if I file a South African patent, does that mean that anybody in the rest of the world may use my idea, as long as they aren’t in S.A?

    1. admin says:

      Hi Tshepo

      For you to prevent another from making, importing, selling, advertising and using your invention in a country, you must register a patent in that country. So, if you file a patent in South Africa only, you can prevent others from making, importing, selling, advertising and using your patented product in South Africa. But, your patent will be published. So, anyone can read it. And, anyone can make, import, sell, advertise and use the same product in countries in which you have not obtained a registered patent. In other words, your understanding is correct.

  2. Tshepo Machethe says:

    Alright so… As it turns out, my idea has already been patented in the U.S.A… Does that mean I can’t file a patent for that idea as my own in South Africa or other countries and then own licensing rights in the other countries?… Or do those rights still belong to the person who filed the patent in the U.S.A?

    1. admin says:

      Hi Machethe

      If your idea has already been patented in the US, it has previously been disclosed. This means that it is not “new” and that you are therefore not entitled to patent it in SA or anywhere else.

  3. Tshepo Machethe says:

    But I can open a company that manufactures and sells that product here in SA and other countries except South Africa

    1. admin says:

      Tshepo, at the very least, you should check whether the US patent has been extended to SA. Basically, if your product falls within the scope of any valid and in force SA patent, you will not be able to make, sell, import, use or advertise your product in SA. To see where a patent has been extended, I would start by looking at the espacenet database. Insert the US patent number, click on the result, and in the left hand margin click “patent family”. This is not 100% accurate, but is a good start.

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