Registering intellectual property

Before registering intellectual property for an idea, consider the various forms of intellectual property rights available – patents, designs, trade marks and copyright.

In broad stokes, patents protect the underlying concept of how an invention works, whereas designs protect the way an article looks. Consider cell phones: a patent protects the technology that enables users in remote locations to communicate with one another, while a design protects the shape of the handsets.

Trademarks protect brands and logos that distinguish the goods and services of one person from that of another, e.g. Nokia, Apple iPhone, Samsung, etc.

A logo is also protected by copyright. Copyright is free is and does not need to be registered. You can add the (c) symbol with your name and date, if you wish. Copyright protects literary, musical and artistic “works”, and computer programs. So, it would prevent Nokia from copying the software used by Samsung’s phones.

Just remember to keep your invention secret until filing a patent. Should you need to disclose your invention to someone in the interim, only do so under a confidentiality agreement.

Designs are more flexible – they may be filed within 6 months of first disclosing it to the public. But, it is advisable to maintain your designs secret until you have filed a South African design application.

Since trademarks can be filed at any time, you need not file a whole bunch of trademarks in one go. Start with only the ones you really need, i.e. a WORD mark only – “NOKIA” in the most appropriate class.

If you are unsure how best to protect your idea, call us. One of our patent attorneys will point you in the right direction.

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