Your guide to intellectual property rights in South Africa

What is the Definition of Intellectual Property?

The following definition comes from the Web.
The general term for intangible property rights which are a result of intellectual effort. Patents, trademarks, designs and copyright are the main intellectual property rights. 

The use of intellectual property rights in the global marketplace is a major facet of business today. The leaders in exploiting this source of wealth are probably the Americans and South Africans are fast learning to enter the game. 

Your inventive ideas, works and product designs, whether aesthetic or functional in nature, constitute intellectual property. The value of intangible assets should not be underestimated – but they must be protected by law. How often has the inventor not made a cent, while those who followed him made a fortune from his invention? It is essential that legal protection be obtained to ensure that you, the creator of the design and the investor who finances development of the design will derive the full commercial benefit of the design.

Legal protection of intellectual property ensures that exclusive rights are captured, which may be the only power which you can exert against powerful corporations. Conversely, they may be the prime value that you can sell or licence to powerful corporations. Even powerful corporations need to be able to prevent unauthorised use and resist powerful competition.

Your new product design may entail features that qualify for protection under one or more of the four major fields of law that govern intellectual property in South Africa and abroad. The provisions of these may overlap to cover different aspects of the same article or product and while there are differences of detail in foreign countries, the broad principles are the same. Taken together, the different laws and international agreements provide a system of design protection. In addition, your design may also form the subject for protection against passing-off or unlawful competition, in accordance with the common law in some countries.

In South Africa, the intellectual property division of CIPRO, the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office, is responsible for the registration of patents, trademarks, designs and copyright.  The division keeps records of all patents, trademarks, designs and copyright that are lodged in South Africa, including details of the owners/proprietors.  CIPRO came about after a  merger between the former South African Companies Registration Office (SACRO) and the South African Patents and Trade Marks Office (SAPTO). 

Researchers or inventors can do searches at CIPRO’s Paper Based Disclosure Centre.  Application forms for the different kinds of protection are available at these offices or can be requested from CIPRO by mail or telephone. These can also be downloaded from the CIPRO website at

In this publication the different fields of law that you may use to protect your new product designs will be considered separately, in outline. While every effort has been made to ensure that information is correct, no responsibility can be accepted for errors or their consequences. Also, it is not possible to deal with the many laws fully and it is essential that you consult an expert for details.

A short and simplified overview of the product development process has also been included, as well as explanation of the role of standards in the design process.