Legal terrain for entrepreneurs in this space, ‘how to’ with regards to IP


An Africa Earth Observation Challenge 2022 partner, IP experts in Africa, Von Seidels, explores the important legal concepts that entrepreneurs should be aware of when launching their initiatives.

Recognising the intellectual property (IP) needs of various businesses and individuals, Von Seidels is dedicated to developing and implementing tailored IP services for our clients.

Being a new business owner comes with exciting challenges, one of which is figuring out your business’s IP needs. IP is a term used that describes the rights afforded to intangible assets, such as ideas, concepts, or symbols and words used to identify goods or services of your business.

Intellectual property offers a proprietor various forms of protection, of which the most common are Patents, Registered Designs, Trade Marks, Copyright and Trade Secrets.

A Patent is a time-limited monopoly granted by the state to an inventor or another person or entity entitled to the invention in exchange for an enabling disclosure of the invention to the public. It is an exclusionary right which gives the owner of the patent the right to exclude any other person from making, using, exercising, disposing of, offering to dispose of, or importing the invention. Examples of inventions that can be protected are products, apparatuses, processes, or methods.

Two basic requirements must be met for an invention to be patentable. The invention must be novel (different from known technology), and it must involve an inventive step. South Africa (and most other countries) has an absolute novelty requirement. This means that the invention must be new in the whole world before the date on which you apply for a patent. For an invention to be inventive, the differentiating features of the invention must not be obvious to a person skilled in the art of such invention. Many technological innovations are key to developing new businesses, and protecting these innovations at an early stage is paramount.

A Registered Design protects the way how something looks, whereas a patent protects the underlying functionality of an invention. South Africa has two types of registered designs, aesthetic and functional. Aesthetic designs protect the aesthetic appearance of the article, whereas functional designs protect the features whose appearance is dictated by their function.

A registered design is granted if the design is new or if it was disclosed to the public less than 6 months before the date of application thereof. Additionally, an aesthetic design must be original, and a functional design must not be commonplace in the field in question.

If you have a means for identifying or distinguishing your goods or services, you can protect that symbol, word, logo or the like by registering a Trade Mark. To be able to register a trade mark it must be capable of distinguishing the specific goods or services from the same kind of goods or services of a competitor. Trade marks can last indefinitely if renewed.

Copyright is the right given to the author or proprietor of the copyrighted work to exclude any other person from reproducing it without authorisation. Copyright vests automatically in the author, once the work is reduced to material form. In most cases no registration is required. Examples of copyrighted works include source code, engineering drawings, or a user manual.

Trade Secrets can also be a useful way to protect your IP. The decision of whether to patent an invention, or to rather keep it a trade secret usually depends on how difficult it would be to reverse engineer the invention once it is released to the public. Unlike patents or designs, trade secrets can last indefinitely if they aren’t leaked out.

If you are looking to start a business and want to protect your IP, the first and most crucial step is to keep your idea, design, invention or creation a secret until you have consulted with an intellectual property specialist.

Need advice on this? Von Seidels would be happy to chat with you. Contact us at
+27 21 526 2800

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